Our American Hero
As Barack Obama’s presidency becomes a part of the past, people will begin to deliberate about how they will remember him. Some will remember him for being America’s first Black president, halting and reversing the Great Recession, expanding healthcare to millions of Americans, and bringing about a new wave of environmentalism through executive action. Others will remember him watching Aleppo burn, leading the Democratic Party into a state of retreat, or for not addressing race-related issues as bluntly as the nation needed. These are only a few of the possible praises and criticisms that Obama will be subject to as his legacy is carefully considered.
For generations born before my own, Obama has represented many things. He has been loved. He has been hated. Those who have tirelessly worked in the name of civil rights will proudly remember our first Black president as a symbol of progress. Conversely, some have viewed the presidency of a Black man illegitimate. Despite Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential elections, run on a platform of hope and change, his critics claim he has either changed too much or not enough. Lost in this discourse, however, and most importantly, has been what seems to me a timely question: how will Obama be remembered by the American youth who have known no other president?
The answer to this question is critical, as today’s youth become tomorrow’s leaders, shaping American politics in the coming decades. College-age Americans do not have a strong recollection of the Bush presidency. Most do not even remember 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan. As today’s young mature into conscientious citizens and voters, they will have a different set of experiences to draw from.
The 2008 presidential race is our generation’s first momentous political memory. Obama’s renowned victory over Senator John McCain and his following two terms in office have substantially influenced how my peers and I have engaged with politics in our most formative years. Obama’s voice, through use of the bully pulpit, has been louder than any other political voice that has tried to reach our ears. He has rallied us in moments of optimism and consoled us in times of tragedy. While he has presided over a rapidly changing America, his message of hope and change has never faltered.
It is what he said to us in his farewell address that stands out most, “this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I've seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America. You know that constant change has been America's hallmark; that it's not something to fear but something to embrace.”
How then should we choose to remember Barack Obama?
I choose to remember him as a role model.
President Obama has been a role model for many Americans since his first day in office. His unshakable faith in Americans, calm demeanor, intellect, commitment to love and inclusion, ever clear understanding of our nation’s history, and (perhaps most beloved) his smile have left an indelible impression upon our nation and its youth. It is nearly impossible for any person to exhibit all these qualities on any given day. To do so while a nation watches, a nation that once would have bartered his life for change, is nothing short of spectacular.
There has never been a more potent cultural icon in American history than Barack Hussein Obama, the name itself unlike others in our U.S. history books. That day in 2008, Barack Hussein Obama sent a message to all eighth graders reading their history books and that message reverberated across America. The message was in contrast to our tired textbooks, that we can change, that with hard work and determination, we can get ahead of our past and wake up to a better tomorrow. And that we can overcome our differences if we stop and listen to one another, coming to see that we are not so different after all. We will carry this message in our hearts. We will also take his mistakes into account because President Trump’s harsh words, carelessness, and rash executive orders over the past seven days have illustrated the difference between one political mistake and a severely defective and deleterious agenda. For our generation, more than those before, we now realize that our President’s words carry a weigh that must be carefully considered. While our impressionable selves sat in school over 8 years ago watching Obama’s first inauguration, what we saw was not only who would become the most powerful person in the world, but who would also become our hero.