Today, my social-media universe is a little bit quieter than usual. I’m guessing it’s just most of us riding out the calm before the shitstorm that officially hits us at noon tomorrow. (That would be Jan. 20.) Every bit of corruption and ignorance and stupidity and heartlessness that has been brewing beneath the surface of our country’s veneer of decency and fairness is set to officially explode in our face. If I don’t end up on the streets and/or dead between now and the end of this administration, it’ll be a miracle. And that’s not hyperbole or drama, as you’ll read.
So today, I pause and reflect on the man who has led the country the last eight years. The most important president in my lifetime. Barack Obama 2009 and Barack Obama 2017 have been the bookends of the most turbulent time of my life – some ways certainly for better, some ways most definitely for worse.
I didn’t plan on it being this way. I didn’t plan on transitioning genders and I sure as hell didn’t plan on being in a wretched job situation.
I was among the millions who bought the Hope-and-Change line – but, in my case, only to a point. I had a feeling, honed by a lifetime of cynicism about politicians (I was in first/second grade when Bobby Kennedy was shot, Richard Daley unleashed his thugs on the convention protesters and Nixon nipped Humphrey) that Obama might not be the savior we all hoped for. I had a feeling, deep down, that as much as many of us wanted it, he wouldn’t be the Great Liberal Hope we were wishing for.
But I saw this coming two years earlier, when I watched him on Oprah, as a representative from Illinois who was running for the Senate. Actually, I saw his speech at the Democratic convention in 2004 and thought “The powers-that-be are grooming him for the presidency,” something that the Oprah interview only reinforced. The timing was just right – someone who was young (he’s two months younger than me), highly intelligent and articulate (a sharp contrast to the nominal president at the time), an equally intelligent and beautiful wife, came off as a cool customer, certainly more progressive and human than the Cheney administration (well, that bar was set pretty low) … and, of course, black.
So despite a few misgivings, I was swept away with the emotion like many that night when Charlie Gibson on ABC reported, just after the 8 p.m. closing time for the polls in California, where I lived then, that the state was projected for Obama. The historic moment so few us ever thought we’d see in our lifetimes. The tears in the eyes of African-Americans who had been through so much in terms of human rights. The lump in my throat. I gushed about it afterward with all the enthusiasm of a girl getting ready for her date with the guy she was hoping was the man of her dreams. Things would be different.
Fast-forward to Jan. 19, 2017.
My gender epiphany came in January 2008, but it kicked into full gear shortly after Obama took office, and the heady five years of my transition followed.
But even more importantly: I spent all but the first eight weeks of his administration out of work, struggling mightily to find a job that would pay me enough to keep me afloat, or working horribly paying jobs with no security.
Maybe you see where this is going.
I was really not happy with his early public stance regarding LGBT rights. His views on gays, lesbians and transpeople always seemed to be “evolving” – that we had to convince him of the importance of the equal rights of gays/lesbians and transpeople, drag him into doing the right thing. To me, it would’ve been as if black leaders had to convince Kennedy
or Johnson of the importance of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts – and, as someone with the same historical time frame as me, not to mention African-American, I thought his stance was unconscionable.
Well, it was all part of what I would come to recognize as his standard M.O., which could be infuriating as often as it could be effective: Move with a great degree of caution, play each move as if it were a seven-level game of space chess and try to plot out all the possibilities five moves ahead of time.
But it was his actions – or lack of them – that spoke the loudest. He figured early on that he wouldn’t be able to push equality through a Congress rife with radical-religious right bigots, so he did things away from the circus of Capitol Hill. He brought aboard the first openly trans appointee by any president. He signed away Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell. He used his appointees in the EEOC to expand job-discrimination laws to LGBT employees. The Social Security Administration made it easier for transpeople, especially those who couldn’t their birth certificates changes due to the bigotry of their state governments, to change genders legally in their eyes. The State Department made the passport process easier for transpeople (even if some TSA employees still sexually assault trans passengers).
Also, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bless you, Elizabeth Warren and Rich Cordray) extended the LGBT protections to banking, loans, mortgages and credit. And Health & Human Services expanded nondiscrimination to include healthcare. And the Justice Department, on his watch, gave up trying to defend the traditional one-man-one-woman definition of marriage and, with the Supreme Court striking down California’s Prop. 8, settled this matter once and for all.
It’s true that, while his words said one thing at the start, Obama, with help of the people he hired around him, as well as people who had his ear, was by far the most progressive president we’ve had in the realm of LGBT rights, and yes, he should be proud of that. Having lived in red-state Fresno and now my red-state Connecticut hometown through his presidency, I’ve seen the public perceptions of people in the LGBT alphabet soup change, generally, from apprehension to acceptance. Sure, there are still huge pockets of prejudice out there, but clearly a mountain was scaled, and in the end, it’s no big thang. Gays, lesbians and transpeople walk among you hetero, nontrans folks, and it’s pretty much “So what’s the big deal?” Which is what, in the end, we want.
Speaking of healthcare: I, like about 20 million other Americans, am waiting for tomorrow, or this weekend, with a huge degree of apprehension, as the Orange Menace, as we all know, called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare, previously known as Romneycare – and the blue-eyed demon from Janesville wants to do it without a replacement plan in place. Oh, and by the way, let’s get rid of that icky Medicare and Medicaid, too, and decrease the surplus population.
In my 50s, I have tiny health problems – very manageable ones, but still things that could blow up on me if they go unchecked. In other words, I fall squarely into middle age, even if spiritually I’m only 30. Having not worked a full-time job in 14 months – and having worked the last eight months at a part-time gig that pays Wal-mart wages, just pennies above the minimum wage – I now qualify for Husky D, my state’s insurance coverage for the lowest income bracket. On one level, that’s awfully fucking embarrassing for me to be in this situation, having worked and paid into the system much of my life, expecting that I would be in a much better place. On the other hand, the silver lining is that – for the moment – I’m able to take care of some things I’ve had to defer for months – even years.
I can stay on an even keel. (And I’m doing my share, going to the gym 3-4 times a week and learning, after decades of anxiety eating, to eat in something resembling moderation again.) And for that, I can thank Obamacare. I can thank Barack Obama for ramming through some sort of healthcare system against incredible odds.
And it’s not perfect, of course – it’s not single-payer, and meds are outrageously, gougingly expensive, and at first it was a huge clusterfuck with a lot of monkey wrenches in the gears. But it’s been slowly, steadily getting better – at least for me for the moment.
For the moment.
But the more we look back, the more we’ll realize just how difficult a battle he had just implementing this first incarnation of the ACA in the first place.
So, of course, that’s what the blue-eyed demon – a “good Catholic” – is trying to destroy.
If he does that, I’m dead a lot sooner than later. And if he destroys Medicare and Medicaid, there go tens of millions of seniors as well. That includes my mother; it’s the only way (with the help of supplemental AARP insurance) she was able to afford all the meds she’s needed to fight her illnesses and still be here. (She’ll be 81 soon, and I keep telling her she’s gonna outlive me.) And when my father went through his two battles with prostate cancer (won the first six years ago, lost the second last May), I was astounded at how much the chemo cost without insurance. No way either of my parents would’ve had a fighting chance if the Demon had his way.
You wonder why I said up top that I’d be on the streets and/or dead. I just gave you your answer.
Of course, the one saving grace is that it could become political suicide over the next two years to mess with the ACA. Especially now that people who voted for the Orange Menace – either out of a deep hatred of Obama or Her Royal Clintonness, or not knowing that the ACA and Obamacare were the same thing – are waking up to the possibility that maybe they’ve been had – that they were conned into voting to screw themselves.
And that mounting fear, frustration and anger could very well turn against the politicians who try to get rid of affordable healthcare. But the world is full of ifs. So maybe the legislators will back off – not out of any sense altruism, but out of a possibility of losing their cushy jobs. One can only hope.
There’s room for improvement, naturally – but the fact is that there’s a framework in place, signed into law by this president, the culmination of decades of trying.
Again, thanks, Obama.
The LGBT and healthcare matters were huge. But on the other side of the coin – pun wasn’t intended – he didn’t do a damn thing to help out the incredible shrinking middle class.
Glossed over amidst the dewy-eyed reminiscences and teary platitudes of the last couple weeks is one thing that can’t be ignored: He bailed out the banking thieves of Wall Street and left us little people sitting there and twisting. And it’s one of the main reasons that the Orange Menace is set to succeed him and fuck shit up in the worst ways possible, and then maybe worse than that. (There’s also the radical right’s hatred of Herself. And then there’s the dirty that the DNC did to Bernie in the name of giving the nomination to HRC, much as her supporters scream at us in Camp Bernie to get over it – come to think of it, in the same manner that the Orange Menace’s supporters have been telling HRC voters since November.)
At first, in the early days of Obama’s administration – and what turned out to be the early days of 2 1/2 years of absolute joblessness for me – I was thinking, “Okay, what’s he gonna do?” I figured he would get around to helping us out pretty soon, especially since parallels were being made in the media between Obama’s first 100 days, in the fashion of FDR. And then I started getting impatient – “Okay, what’s keeping him? Why isn’t doing anything?”
And, of course, he did nothing for us. The white-collar thieves who hold up people with pens and keystrokes instead of guns got all the bailout and we got shit. Well, I guess I should be glad he extended our unemployment from 26 weeks to 99; there’s that. But he – and his first attorney general, Eric Holder – let them off the hook. Not one of the thieves who orchestrated our near-collapse was prosecuted. Not a one.
This wasn’t Obama playing space chess – this was a decision to do nothing. Whom was he beholden to? Inquiring minds want to know.
And if you want to know why the Democrats lost Congress to the Boehners and Cantors and McConnells and Ryans and every nearly tea party yahoo who decided to run – there you go. It’s the economy, stupid! (And I think it should be obvious at this point that I’m well to the left of the aisle – and of the centrists.)
I’m still boggled at something that was said and written during the 2008 campaign – an Obama canvasser going door-to-door in blue-collar western Pennsylvania, and he asked a woman whom she and her husband were voting for, and hubby yelled out from inside, “We’re voting for the n—–!“
Yeah, racism is alive and well, as if we haven’t had enough horrible examples of that the past eight years. But some voters in ’08 looked past their prejudices to vote for the person, and the party, they thought would give them the best chance of turning their economic troubles around.
Which party – and which candidate – do you think these voters went for in November?
There are other things Obama did right in his eight years – getting bin Laden; pulling back on troops in Iraqnam and Afghanistan; trying to push through gun-control legislation, especially post-Newtown. (Fuck you, Wayne LaPierre.) And likewise, there are other things he didn’t do right. Don’t let his commutation of Chelsea Manning obscure the fact that his administration prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other presidency. He tried to maintain a middle road and stay above the fray on the matter of police violence against people of color, and it’s still a huge problem. And while the Nobel Peace Prize-winner cut back on troops overseas, drones and targeted bombing were another thing – how to kill innocent bystanders and influence people.
But his handling of the economy – rather, his lack of handling – that stands out most of all. Maybe we’d have had reasonable gun control had he kept a majority of Congress. Maybe the banking structure would have radically reverted to the regulatory level of FDR’s presidency. Maybe a Democratic-majority Congress would’ve had the leverage to revamp the tax laws so that the gap 1% and the rest of us wouldn’t be Grand Canyon-sized. The spectre of the worst obstructionist Congress in history wouldn’t have existed. And, oh yeah – speaking of the obstructionist Congress, we would’ve had a fully functioning Supreme Court … with the human side in the majority.
Lots of maybes in that paragraph. Lots of things we’ll never know now.
All he had to do was do something – anything! – his first two years and keep a congressional majority to be a successful president. But he lost Congress, and he and his party lost the White House. So now we can all be treated equally as we’re driven off the cliff.
For that, too, thanks, Obama.
And God help us all.