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Obama’s Hopeful Farewell vs. Trump’s Boastful Hello

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Obama’s Hopeful Farewell vs. Trump’s Boastful Hello

The President’s and President-elect’s addresses could not have been more different

BY TAYLOR HARRIS

CULTURE  -  JANUARY 11

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Photo: Getty Images

God, were we lucky. 

Last night, President Obama gave his farewell remarks in his hometown of Chicago. It was far more poignant than one could’ve anticipated, swelling us up with immense gratitude. And with 10 days until President Trump, it gave most of us the good cathartic cry we needed. 

As someone who’s no stranger to an #imwithher hashtag, the past couple of months have been rough. Like most Hillary supporters, I’ve felt a strange confluence of emotions crescendo over the last few weeks, reaching critical mass as we walk the plank these next nine days. It may sound hyperbolic, but it’s felt something like the stages of grief. There certainly was anger and, of course, denial—the faint hope that the Electoral College would throw a Hail Mary. I’d passed bargaining and only recently arrived at a solemn, sad acceptance, kind of like the final scene of Toy Story 3, when the toys hold hands, accepting their fate to slowly march into the incinerator together. 

And that collectiveness—that understanding that we’re all in this together—has been the only small semblance of comfort. Not to sound defeated, but it’s a sense of communal terror, really, that has reassured me that my values won’t be dismissed. There are too many of us horrified. But I realize it’s only collective in my myopic purview, in my 10-mile radius bubble. We all have our bubbles, as Obama so aptly addressed. 

“Regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder,” he said. “We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do…and that’s not easy to do. For too much of us, it’s become safer for us to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses or places of worship or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.”

I’m certainly guilty of that. Last night, my Instagram feed was all college-aged Barack black-and-white photos with captions thanking him for his service. And practically everyone I know was disappointed by the election results.  

That said, it was President Obama’s urging for us to bridge the divide—speaking like the 2007 and 2008 Barack we all fell in love with—that really got to me last night. He acknowledged how striated we are but also emphasized our fundamental sameness in our inherent values as Americans—as protectors of civil liberties and foes of discrimination, oppression, and hate. There was as wave of oneness that swept over me as I watched. I even felt a small dose of the same exhilaration I felt when he first ran as he concluding his speech with “yes we can”. 

And then, today happened. This tweet from Westworld actor Jeffrey Wright, randomly enough, put it quite well. 

“Yesterday #Obamafarewell. Today, vomit.”

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Photo: Getty Images

I know it sounds dismissive and childish, but I can't help it. Given their proximity in the news cycle, the comparison between the President and the President-elect’s appearances is natural. Here were some of the highlights from Trump’s press conference this morning, his first in 167 days.

He said, again, that the Obama administration created ISIS. He said he won’t release his tax returns. He bitched about how the press has been unfair to him. He said that Russia could help us fight ISIS. He likened our federal intelligence agencies to Nazis. And in direct inverse to President Obama’s message of bipartisanship and unity, Trump called the Affordable Care Act “the Democrats’ problem.” When asked how he plans to repeal it and what, specifically, his healthcare proposal will look like, he did not provide specifics, only saying his will be “far better”. Right.

Puzzlingly, Trump also took multiple jabs at Hillary Clinton. It was grossly undignified and gratuitous. And, in contrast, awarded himself a spate of self-congratulatory remarks, sometimes even referring to himself in the third person. Needless to say, they were also grossly undignified and gratuitous. 

LVMH Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault, who recently met with the President-elect, even got a shout out, during one of Trump’s more masturbatory moments. “We had Jack Ma—so many incredible people coming here [to speak to me, like] Mr. Arnault. They’re going to do tremendous things, tremendous things in this country. And they’re very excited,” he said. “And I will say, if the election didn’t turn out the way it turned out, they would not be here. They would not be in my office. They would not be in anyone else’s office. They would be building and doing things in other countries.” 

The contrast is stark—between Trump’s raw self-admiration and Obama’s humility and reserve. “I am asking you to believe,” Obama said in his farewell. “Not in my ability to bring change, but in yours.”  To be fair, Obama did list his own accomplishments (killing Osama bin Laden, unemployment’s 10-year-low, etc.) but that comes with the territory. This is his legacy, after all.  

So we trudge on. And, as cliché as it sounds, it’s hard not to think about the Joni Mitchell lyric, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" in times like these. Except in this case, we really did. 

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