Barack Obama Reminds Us That We Are a Nation

There is a tone that Barack Obama has whenever he's talking about something where you know he's thinking, "This is so damn obvious that I can't believe I have to say it out loud." It's a mixture of incredulity that people (generally Republicans and Fox "news" viewers) could be so fuckin' stupid and disappointment that he has to say something that's been said a million times before. But it's also got an air of optimism behind it, that maybe it needs to be said over and over and this is just the burden we all bear. Yeah, that's it. That's the tone, and, goddamn, I've missed it.

Former President Obama's eulogy at the funeral of Rep. John Lewis, one of the titans of the civil rights movement, was blissfully political. It was refreshingly confrontational. And it was in the spirit of Lewis's entire life, as Obama well-knew. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if Lewis had asked Obama to bring the fire to his funeral, especially since it was held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King had been pastor until his murder in 1968. What a better place and what a better time for Obama the fighter to finally, fully re-emerge. We missed you, man, and, holy shit, we need you.

The moment that had the tone was when he tied the current political and social reality to the past we try to believe we're better than. "Bull Connor may be gone," Obama said. "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." 

If there is one thing that Obama must recognize now is how easy it is to take away the promise of progress, to move backwards on the very things that you believe must move forward. Obama has had to watch for the last three-and-a-half years as Donald Trump and the GOP savages dismantled everything that had been accomplished over the Obama's two terms: deal, agreements, policies, the fucking pandemic response team. What remains - the Affordable Care Act - has powerfully changed millions of lives for the better, and it is the white whale that conservative pricks want to harpoon for no reason other than it gives people hope that government can be a genuine force for good. That must be undermined because if Americans believe that, then they are going to want their government to do more than protect the assets and property of the very wealthy.

On the same day that Trump frighteningly suggested that the presidential election be delayed because of deranged lies about nonexistent mass voter fraud, Obama was passionately advocating for making elections more free and more fair. "We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting — by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision," and here his voice rose in genuinely righteous indignation, "even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don’t get sick." Right there was where that tone was at its clearest. It was as if he was rhetorically asking, "Isn't it clear that you have to be evil to do this shit? This is about keeping people healthy and alive and engaged in our democracy. If you don't want that, you don't believe in this country." 

And, of course, the evil motherfuckers don't.

Obama was just getting warmed up, as he attacked the conservative effort to undermine minority voters: "Once the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, some state legislatures unleashed a flood of laws designed specifically to make voting harder, especially, by the way, state legislatures where there is a lot of minority turnout and population growth. That’s not necessarily a mystery or an accident. It was an attack on what John fought for. It was an attack on our democratic freedoms. And we should treat it as such." If you treat something as an attack, then you get in the trenches and you fucking fight, with your body, with your soul, with your voice, and with your vote.

And then Obama laid out the plan of attack, taking it right to the Republicans who are scared for their electoral lives if people could vote as easily as they should be able to. If the GOP really believed that rights are "God-given" or some such magical hoodoo, then they would be doing everything they could to allow everyone to avail themselves of those rights. But, like voter fraud, conservatives don't believe it. It's just something they say to justify their hatred. So they attack, and here's how you fuck up their attack, according to Obama: By making sure everyone is automatically registered to vote, giving freed inmates their right to vote, making Election Day a holiday, enfranchising Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, and ending partisan gerrymandering. "And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster — another Jim Crow relic — in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do," Obama said, going after the very thing that had been weaponized against him by that rat bastard Mitch McConnell and his band of brutish racists. 

He ended this section of the eulogy by placing the responsibility on all of us. He said, "As long as young people are protesting in the streets, hoping real change takes hold, I’m hopeful but we cannot casually abandon them at the ballot box. Not when few elections have been as urgent, on so many levels, as this one. 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."

We're a goddamn nation, not 350 million islands selfishly at war with each other all the time in order to accumulate the most shit. We're citizens of a nation, and we're supposed to give a damn about that fact. While Trump and Republicans have done everything in their power to divide us, to set us against each other, to make every minor difference into a vast gulf and to make vast gulfs into uncrossable oceans, President Obama, evoking the legacy of a man who bled on American soil for his human, not divine, rights, asserted that it's time to act like a goddamn nation and actually give a damn. And isn't that just blindingly obvious? Did we forget about hope and change so quickly?

We may never live up to even those basic expectations, but we can at least make the effort, if for no other reason than to expel this poison that is weakening our system on the way to a painful death. We have responsibilities to each other. Too many Americans have forgotten that.