When Obama was first elected, I was a hope and change guy, too. I no longer am in part because of what this country revealed itself to be in response to a Black family taking residence inside a White House built by slaves. It was painful watching him across from Cooper diagnosing what ails this nation, explaining why democracies don’t die with one grand punch but rather by a thousand little cuts.
I parked my truck between a rotting slave cabin and a pool house on hundreds of acres of land that were redeveloped into a residential community with a country club and tennis courts and well-manicured golf holes. Obama had shown the world that we were ready to step out of our racist past — not into a post-racial society but something better, stronger, a society in which dark skin would become less of an impediment to the ultimate success, if only just a little. “No more,” I wrote then for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, about the significance of Obama’s victory, “do we have the luxury of assuming the worst because we are afraid that divided days of yesteryear will mean divided days tomorrow.”
Then came the overt racism, including from members of a mostly white evangelical church I had been attending. Then came Donald Trump using the bigoted birtherism lie to work his way up the ranks of the Republican Party. Then came all-out GOP opposition to Obama’s political agenda — even his efforts to dig us out of what then was the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Still, I hoped. In my professional life, I more confidently took risks that paid off, inspired by Obama’s example. In my personal life, I could tell my kids that the Obamas had nappy-happy hair, too, and were living in the White House. I felt more fully American than I ever had. We’ve drifted so far from those days, Obama told Cooper.
Our nearly 250-year-old experiment is bleeding to death from a thousand small cuts, not by the bayonet or Russian bomb. And in a real sense, it began the moment the country decided to defy its own racist past to elect a Black man in the form of Obama. That’s why it was so hard to watch him with Cooper maintaining the same calm demeanor he clung to no matter what happened during his eight years in office.
I’m glad Obama is still the hope and change guy. His ability to hold fast to that vision during a time such as this is admirable and should be emulated. It was particularly poignant watching him sitting across from Cooper and a handful of young Black men discussing the importance of education, maturity and fatherhood. It was a reminder for me of what his example once did for me.
“My hope is that the tides will turn,” the former president told Cooper.
This country surprised me before 13 years ago when it did the previously unthinkable. I hope it surprises me again.