It is summer, I’m a teacher, nearly unpaid, and have the gift of prep time for fall classes. I’m also being indulgent and reading a bit for enjoyment, currently Becoming, the Michelle Obama memoir.
This is a moving story, not the least reason for that being the aching sense of what we lost in the last presidential election and what we are still missing.
We had a First Lady whose watchword was, “When they go low, we go high.”
I hope we all miss that. What we witness on a daily basis now is the We-can-go-lower approach. I mean, we even have a regime who just informed the parents of children with life-threatening conditions that they have a month to leave our country. I am struggling to think how any US presidency has ever sunk lower than that.
In her autobiography, Obama describes getting to know Barack, a man who had been a community organizer making $12,000 a year, working to improve conditions in poor neighborhoods. She tells of waking up at 2 a.m. to find him reading some policy paper and thinking about income disparity and structural solutions. That sort of focus, she tells the reader, is when she knew Obama was simply a good man. He was a hotshot young law intern for a prestigious Chicago law firm—Michelle was actually his senior mentor, which is how they met—but his heart was still in worrying about how to help create more systemic justice.
She writes about accompanying Barack to an African Methodist Episcopal church where he helps the social committee—primarily mothers and grandmothers—develop a plan to create some betterment for the community. She recounts how he described to the church women how a similarly small group of women in a very poor neighborhood in Chicago organized and successfully forced the city, the state, and corporations to remediate pollution at the Altgeld Gardens section of town.
Now, of course, we have a “leader” devoted to increasing income and wealth disparity. We have someone in charge who just yanked methane pollution emission standards so corporate owners can take a bigger slice of profits because they won’t be burdened with paying for the technology to prevent so much climate chaos causal contamination.
Was Barack Obama perfect? No, of course not. But what a stark difference. He reduced the federal deficit; Trump radically increased it. Obama got the best health care plan possible given stiff Republican opposition; Trump and his Republican Senate have done zero despite fabricated promises. Barack Obama spoke in modulated, well-formed complete sentences; Trump’s public utterances and tweetstorms are a showcase of self-reversing, truth-avoiding, gaslighting, impenetrable, enraged ignorance.
I recommend Becoming, Michelle Obama’s delightfully and movingly written memoir of an American story of rising from working class to a far higher social, income, and political stratum. She and Barack were both given the richness of family love growing up, and both were lower middle class at “best,” far more relatable to far more of us than the pampered spoiled brat who never quite escaped the cruelest years of adolescence we see in power now.
The total stock of what we are missing is too voluminous to entirely adduce. I sincerely hope we grow enough collective wisdom to begin to rectify that in 2020, if not sooner.