Opinion: The Obama legacy: “When they go low…”

Nicholas Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

His eight years are almost up. Tomorrow, President Barack Obama steps down, and Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

In 7th grade, I recall sitting in world history class as the high school secretary announced that Arizona Sen. John McCain had won my high school mock presidential election. I was confused; Obama was so likable, and McCain was a grouchy old man.

It turns out my family was Democratic in a Republican town. I previously hadn’t even thought about it. All I knew was that the adults around me were good people, and my friends were just my friends.

Then, suddenly, my classmates had political affiliations.

I spent the next six years hearing grumbles every time the name “Obama” was uttered, repeated jokes about his country of origin, the morality of his mixed race and his middle name, Hussein, being emphasized and spoken like a slur.

Instead of joining in on the mockery, I only admired him more.

The attitudes and words I experienced in high school were often an echo of the stories conservative media told about Obama. So while I knew that he wouldn’t know (or care) whether people from my town wanted to see his birth certificate, he was hearing then-businessman Donald Trump demand to see it.

And he obliged. In April 2011, Obama released his birth certificate to the public. He also responded with humor to the situation; in May of that year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the president played a clip from the movie “The Lion King” depicting the birth of Simba. After the clip, he said, “I want to make clear to the Fox News table that was a joke. That was not my real birth video. That was a children’s cartoon.”

Obama’s remark after playing the clip was more than just a joke to poke at a conservative-leaning news organization; it was an example of how he handled the tenuous relationship that developed with conservatives both in the media and in Washington.

As the election has come to pass and political tension is seemingly at an all-time high, Obama once again has elected to take the high road.

As Republicans take control of the executive branch, Obama’s most notable accomplishment, the passing of the Affordable Care Act, is under threat of repeal. And instead of insisting that they leave it alone, during his farewell address last week he said, “(if) anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.”

And this attitude is a common trend of Obama’s politics; he stuck to his guns when needed, but he could adapt.

As he steps out of the Oval Office for the final time tomorrow with an above average approval rating of 60 percent, his legacy as president is still taking shape. It is hard to know whether history will be kind to a president who fell short of his goals — not necessarily because of incompetence, but due to an extremely high bar and even more extreme partisanship.

But whether history is kind to Obama or not, he will always stand out to me as the standard-bearer for what respect and understanding looks like.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].