Today is a big day for the country, Vera. It’s the day Mr. Obama leaves the presidency and Mr. Trump assumes it. I had no intention of writing anything to you about this day; however, I unexpectedly had the urge, so here it is.
First, Mr. Obama. I remember well the day he was inaugurated. It was a day I thought I’d never see: the day a man of color assumed the presidency. It made me proud to be an American. I recall seeing people of color in the audience, in the great mall in our nation’s capital. The look on their faces was priceless. My eyes swelled with tears. Tears of joy. The world was becoming a better place.
Mr. Obama is a man who graced our country with class and integrity the past eight years. His eloquence was exceptional. His ideals, admirable. Yet he was a disappointment to me.
Perhaps I expected too much. But what I would have liked to have seen was a greater focus on good jobs and the plight of those who were economic victims of technology and globalization. And less focus on the use of the security apparatus and military force. And a greater willingness to abandon some of the failed policies of the Bush administration. I also would have liked to have seen more fight in him — a greater willingness to take on Wall Street, drug companies and insurance companies. I wish he’d been a better negotiator. If he had been, perhaps we would have gotten a less flawed health care law; perhaps we would not have missed a rare opportunity to address some of the structural issues in our financial system.
Despite the shortcomings, though, I admire and respect this man immensely. He tried. He did his best. He cared deeply. He stood for the right values and principles to the best of his ability. He served his country well.
Turning to Mr. Trump, who today will be sworn in as Mr. Obama’s successor, my thoughts are markedly different. Mr. Trump appears not to have an ounce of class in his body. He’s crude. He’s a bully. He’s impulsive. He’s narcissistic. He’s vindictive. He’s everything I wouldn’t want in a president.
In any case, Mr. Trump will be our president. It’s the choice our country has made and, despite the incredibly risky nature of that decision, it’s one that must be respected.
Of course, I can’t be sure, I can’t know, what kind of president Mr. Trump will be. I suppose he can’t possibly be as bad as some people fear, or as good as some other people hope. Either way, I suspect our country will survive and, in the foreseeable future, thrive, at least economically.
I don’t discount the prospect of Mr. Trump accomplishing some things that are good for the country. Indeed, I’d be surprised if he didn’t. If he does, he’ll deserve credit, despite my serious misgivings about his character, personality and values.
From my perspective, Mr. Trump reveals the worst about us. Yet from the worst perhaps good things can come. That’s my hope.
Before closing, I want to share with you, Vera, a brief word about the country Mr. Obama has led and Mr. Trump will be leading.
There is much good about our country, and much bad as well. I love the values we profess and the freedoms we enjoy, but loath our hypocrisy and the way we treat those freedoms so lightly. If we looked at our country from outside, what we would see is a security and military state in many respects. Cameras everywhere. Daily violations by government of what, not long ago, would have been considered basic constitutional rights. We would see an empire that has an insatiable desire to dominate others.
The size of our military dwarfs that of any other country, and we like to use it. We like to use force to preserve and build upon our economic advantages. We have tendencies to bully.
Yet we also are a country that has advanced the cause of human rights around the globe and at home. The values we profess are sound. The values we live, not always. But always isn’t possible, I suppose. But more often, is.
I suppose the thing that concerns me the most about our country is how ugly it’s becoming. Listen to cable shows or radio talk shows. Listen to some people around us. Read what they write. An ugliness has crept into America. It’s not surprising that we elected a crude, bully to lead us.
Yet we still have freedoms and opportunity that continue to attract people from around the world to live here. You can have a very good life in America. I have a very good life. I consider myself fortunate to have been born here. It’s a privilege — not one earned or deserved; rather, one gifted. I take it for granted, which doesn’t make me proud.
Some people think our empire is in decline. They cite the example of imperial Rome. Some days it seems they surely must be right. Other days, I’m less sure.
It matters not. There is nothing I can do about it. The current of history will take us down river. Eventually, whether it’s tomorrow or centuries away, the U.S. will be eclipsed by some other nation. I worry not about such things. They’re inevitable. Perhaps the demise of empire yearnings and values would be good for us. And for the world.
Today is a day for the transfer of power. This day will be of consequence. That which is to come will affect the lives of people, both here and in other countries. It will affect our country’s destiny.
My hope is that good things are to come. My fear is that we have made a terrible mistake and that we will pay a dear price for it.