BRIEFLY, OBAMA IS BACK.
AND THE CONTRAST WITH
TRUMP IS BLACK & WHITE
They’re either black. Or they are white.
Not “sort of.” Not “mostly.” Not “maybe,” “almost” or “pretty much.”
And last Thursday was one of those black-and-white days when good and evil were on display, nothing in between.
That’s because Barack Obama was back, if briefly. Not in the White House, of course, which was still home to Donald Trump 1,290 days after Obama had moved out, which was a lot longer than many people thought Trump would last.
Which is just another example of how we've underestimated Donald Trump, beginning with how we thought he'd never get the Republican nomination, be elected President and never be as incompetent, heartless, dangerous and just plain evil as he's turned out to be.
Obama, who had turned out to be a better president than some people expected, although not as great as many hoped, was back in the spotlight July 30, and, as it happened, back in our living room, on the big flat-screen, live from Atlanta, giving the eulogy at the funeral for John Lewis, the congressman and civil rights champion.
Obama looked older – his hair almost completely gray, and his face slightly grimmer. But at 58, he’s basically the same as when he was president for those eight years: lanky, smart, confident, fluent, easy going, bright, and cool, so goddamn cool.
Later, as I was explaining all of this to Mr. O, seeing and hearing Barack Obama is not an easy thing for me these days.
At our house, for example, the Humans I live with have that book by Peter Souza, the former White House photographer, Obama, An Intimate Portrait, which you probably have seen and maybe own. It weighs at least a half a ton, which makes it particularly difficult for a dog to handle, which was not the reason that it took me six months before I could bring myself to look through it.
Mr. O, a well-read and widely traveled opossum who moved into our backyard earlier this year, was surprised to learn that dogs cry. He wondered, in my case, whether that was a good thing, particularly if word got back to the other dogs at the park we go to.
I told him that he was right, but it wasn’t one of those instances I could control, especially with Barack practically jumping right out of the TV at me.
It’s still shocking to think that, just in one day - Jan. 20, 2017 - the country went from Obama to Trump.
How unfair. How absurd. The injustice of it. The impossibility. The stupidity, the blasphemy. How did we ever let that happen, just in one day, go from good to evil?
STILL, THERE WAS Barack Hussein Obama leading us through yet another moment of national grieving, this time for John Robert Lewis, last of the orators at the March on Washington, survivor of the confrontation in 1965 at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Alabama troopers, some on horseback, beat, clubbed and gassed Lewis and other civil rights pioneers, who, in retaliation, changed American history.
DONALD JOHN TRUMP, of course, wasn’t at Ebenezer Baptist Church last week, unlike the living ex-presidents, George Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton and Obama. It’s true that James Earl Carter didn’t make it either, but at 95 and physically frail, Carter had a reason.
Trump's excuse was that he didn't need an excuse, in that as a racist, there was little reason for him to have been included in a funeral that also was celebration of civil rights.
It's also fair to speculate that Trump was perfectly happy to leave to others the role presidents are supposed to shoulder on occasions of national significance, and that the last place he would have wanted to be was in church with Obama.
Side-by-side, the comparisons would be so obvious:
Obama: articulate, nimble, decent, kind, so caring.
Trump: bombastic, stumbling, crude, cruel, so self-absorbed.
Also, from Trump's point of view, why spend time at an event where all the talk was about someone else? What’s the point?
That guy in the coffin - Obama himself said so - was the same John Lewis who had made it possible for a man of color, a man with an un-American name, to be elected president. Twice.
Trump's Twitter followers would have undeerstood, that IT WOULD NOT BE SMART for Donald Trump to stand next to the coffin of Congressman Lewis, who three, almost four years ago, had boycotted Trump’s inauguration. TERRIBLE.
You also had to credit Trump's fantastic instincts as one of the most incredibly successful practitioners of reality TV in the world, if not the entire Miss Universe, NOBODY UNDERSTANDS TV MORE THAN ME, would have sensed the danger he would have faced in that church.
The TV cameras would have hunted him down, and put him and Obama together on the the split-screen, virtually marrying the Black man and the Orange man; everyone would see the differences between the two men, no room for doubt, plain as black and white.
“He got off to an early start with a Tweet that was the talk of the nation and much of the world, not just on that day, for a good number of days after that," I said.
“What was the Tweet about?” Mr. O asked.
“Another attack on the Constitution,” I said. "He was talking about postponing the election. Trump has often been on the attack - against immigrants, NATO, doctors, Democrats, Black women, protesters, Black athletes, Democrats, a few Republicans. But now he was tearing at the very foundations of democracy. Here's the screenshot, with one reader's response."
“Obama electrified the congregation by saying that the best way to honor John Lewis would be to continue his fight for better voting laws,” I said, “and moreover, he said people should follow Lewis' example and do more than talk, they should get into 'good trouble,' one of Lewis' favorite phrases. Here are some excerpts.”
Bull Connor may be gone. But today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans. George Wallace may be gone. But we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.
* * *
You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there, trying to get back to where we already were. Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better.
By making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance. By adding polling places, and expanding early voting, and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are someone who is working in a factory, or you are a single mom who has got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot.
* * *
Like John, we have got to keep getting into that good trouble. He knew that nonviolent protest is patriotic; a way to raise public awareness, put a spotlight on injustice, and make the powers that be uncomfortable.
* * *
We cannot treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy. Like John, we have to give it all we have.
“He did,” I said. “That afternoon, at the White House pandemic “briefing,” reporters asked him several times about it. Here’s some of what he said:”
And I don’t want to see an election — you know, so many years, I’ve been watching elections. And they say the “projected winner” or the “winner of the election” — I don’t want to see that take place in a week after November 3rd or a month or, frankly, with litigation and everything else that can happen, years. Years. Or you never even know who won the election.
You’re sending out hundreds of millions of universal, mail-in ballots — hundreds of millions. Where are they going? Who are they being sent to? It’s common sense; you don’t have to know anything about politics. And the Democrats know this. The Democrats know this, Steve.
So, I want to see — I want an election and a result much, much more than you. I think we’re doing very well. We have the same pho- — fake polls, but we have real polls. We’re doing very well.
I just left Texas. And Biden came out against fracking. Well, that means Texas is going to be one of the most unemployed states in our country. That means Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Mexico are going to be a disaster. Ohio, Pennsylvania — disaster. No fracking.
I want to have the result of the election. I don’t want to be waiting around for weeks and months. And, literally, potentially — if you really did it right — years, because you’ll never know.
“You think?” I said.
“I can see why you say that Obama and Trump are so different,” Mr. O said. “But at least they both care deeply about elections.”
Now, the opossum was having a little fun at my expense.
“This is serious, Mr. O," I said. “Obama was taking about strengthening democracy; Trump is trying to drive democracy to the edge of the cliff, and there’s no guarantee he won't push it all the way over.”
“There's something you have to get over, Phoebe," Mr. O said, "and that's is this Obama thing."
"You're right," Mr. O continued, "that it’s too bad that the country has gone from Obama to Trump, high to low, day to night, well to sick, and all that.
"But that’s done. Now, you’ve got Joe Biden running against Donald Trump. And if you really care about the differences between Trump and Obama, now the choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is absolutely clear."
"It's black and white,” I said.
"Winter and summer," he said.
"Good and evil," I said.
“Actually, it's life and death," Mr. O said.
* * *
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog has been updated to reflect the unlikelihood that Trump would have been among invited guests to the Lewis funeral. An earlier version foolishly speculated that he had passed up the opportunity. The authors wish to thank Terry Schwadron, a friend of the blog, for his insights.