He led in spite of obstructionists

I remember so clearly the day of President Obama’s first inauguration, Jan. 20, 2009. It was cold. Not the crisp cold of a winter morning in Reno, but the bone-chilling cold of the East coast where your hands go numb in just a few blocks of walking.

We arrived at our designated entrance gate shrouded in darkness, watching the dawn creep closer after cramming into the subway with throngs of jubilant people, most of them African American. We stood in line, stamping our feet, as hundreds of thousands joined us or streamed in waves towards the Mall. It was exhilarating and uplifting, a dawn full of hope after the dark years and wars of George W. Bush.

After the inspiring ceremony, as the crowd slowly edged down the path toward the exit, the helicopter carrying Bush and his family back to Texas flew over us. A spontaneous cheer erupted all over the capital grounds as we waved goodbye to our nemesis and envisioned the progress we would make toward our shared goals in the years ahead.

We knew the country was divided and many would never accept a black President, but we could not imagine the depth of the hatred or the near civil war we would endure. Now, as the Obama administration winds down its eight years of governance, half the nation applauds his accomplishments while the other half impatiently anticipates their own day of celebration next month at the inauguration of the unpredictable, unmoored Donald Trump.

Obama’s watch has been free of personal scandal. His family is much admired, his wife and daughters full of life and grace. During the campaign, many articulated the wish that Obama could continue to lead us through these dangerous times with his steady no-drama demeanor. As we await the Trump presidency, we dread the daily scandals, ridiculous tweets, horrifying Cabinet appointments, and the utter nonsense spouted by our President-elect who can’t separate lies from reality.

I can’t reconcile the Rust Belt voters who embraced Trump because their jobs have been lost forever to newer technology and a global competitive environment. I can’t abide the concept of Trump voters demanding their country “back” so the new president and his shameful cabinet can make it “great again.”

Obama will be remembered as a leader who moved us decidedly forward on critically important issues of health care, criminal justice reform and jobs while managing to keep us out of another cruel war.

Obama let the Bush tax cuts expire and raised taxes on the wealthy, yet unemployment went down. Thanks to his courage and tenacity in passing the Affordable Care Act, 20 million more Americans now have health care. And the deficit is shrinking at a faster pace than it did under President Clinton.

Obama made progress on climate change. He enacted new regulations on Wall Street. He saved 1.5 million jobs with the auto bailout. His policies prevented the banks from destroying themselves with greed. Just last week, progressives celebrated another victory for the environment and a marginalized Native American population when the Army declined a vital permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline on Sioux land at Standing Rock.

The sum of what Obama accomplished over the last eight years is so much more than its substantial parts. He exemplified the presidential qualities of integrity, character and leadership. His soaring rhetoric gave us hope when we despaired after yet another senseless mass shooting. He absorbed the hate and gave us back unconditional love. He displayed a sense of humor and deep compassion for others that inspired us to be better citizens ourselves.

Actively resisting Trump’s policies while advocating loudly for those who need us most seems the least we can do to thank Obama for his service.