Tradition and protocol is clear today: past presidents must avoid the temptation to reenter the political foray. Let the world see the maintenance of presidential dignity.
By Yvonne Sam
Political and Social Commentator
As President Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States of America, took the oath of office in 2009, George Walker Bush, the outgoing president, wished him well and exited the political stage, determined to never publicly criticize his successor.
Regardless of how bellicose folks thought George W was, or how poorly the economy fared under his administration, he nevertheless kept the vow for the entire eight years of Obama’s presidency. Even in the face of being repeatedly attacked by Obama, and having many of his policies reversed, nary a word escaped his lips.
He is quoted as saying: “I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president.” Customarily former presidents do not criticize their successors.
At the outset, it appeared as if Obama, the legatee of Bush’s grace and decency, would follow the example of the 43rd president, remain silent and do the race proud. This was not to be, for soon after President Trump moved to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Obama moved in, quickly, with a viral Facebook post.
Again, in little over 19 months, President Obama made a speech to students at the University of Illinois, at which point he notified the students that it was his full intention to adhere to the tradition of ex-presidents and gracefully withdraw from the political stage, but had changed his mind because, “this is one of those pivotal moments, when every one of us, as citizens of the United States, need to determine just who it is that we are”. Gone was any semblance of presidential dignity.
Instead of rallying the Democrats around a set of principles that did not involve attacking the sitting president, Obama initiated a full frontal assault on his successor. President Trump, Obama warned, is a “threat to our democracy”, who rose to power by “tapping into America’s dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division.”
In fact, he castigated not just Trump but all Republicans. “The politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party,” he declared. Republicans are “subsidizing corporate polluters”, “weakening worker protections”, “shrinking the safety net”, “attacking voting rights” and “cozying up to Russia” — all while campaigning on an “appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled.”
As far as modern memory stretches, it was the most hyper-partisan speech ever delivered by a former president.
In actuality, one can ask what message President Obama is trying to get across. He recently ranted, “When you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started.”
On an ironical note, in 2016, that was the exact message that caused Obama voters to change to Trump. Polls revealed that in 2016, half of Obama’s voters said their incomes were falling behind the cost of living, while another 31 percent said their incomes were merely keeping pace. Still during the election, they repeatedly kept hearing from Democrats how well the economy was doing and that they should be grateful for eight years of Obama.
Well, now their lives are finally improving — and they are grateful to Trump. The American National Election Study found that 13 percent of Trump voters in 2016 backed Obama in 2012. A Washington Post analysis, after the 2016 election, found that, of the nearly 700 counties that twice voted for Obama, one-third went for Trump.
Although not on a finger-pointing expedition, it should be recalled that in his first State of the Union address, on January 27, 2010, before Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Obama did not mention one word about the impact of the recession on Blacks, but instead spoke of the 25 tax cuts that businesses had been given, with more on the way. As Obama left office, polls have shown that black people were more satisfied with Obama, the man, and less with their progress under Obama, the president.
If President Obama felt that to be silent while Donald Trump continues his shenanigans, brouhahas and political bloops was indicative of complicity, the awful truth is he was duped. During the last election did he not preach to the same congregation, warning them about Donald Trump? It is clear that the message did not get across, based on the Democratic loss.
In allowing Obama to, seemingly, break the presidential rule, we all miss a key lesson of his presidency. For example in the Obamacare fight, an insurgent movement gained ground from voters of every stripe. White Republican voters in Arkansas, passionately defended Obamacare to their senator.
Now loosed from the political binds of the presidency, Obama should remain cool, not be fooled and, above all, be guided by the existing presidential rule. By breaking his silence and displaying his known oratorial skills, he may kill the Democrats’ chance of success at the 2020 elections.
Plainly put, or from a politically correct perspective, while Obama’s America and his domestic vision of America is under unyielding attack from President Trump, silence would show the world that the President, though a Negro, would always be a hero.
Incidentally, President Obama is not the only president and White House resident, who has rattled Washington’s unwritten presidential rules.
Former president, Jimmy Carter, referred to the Bush administration as “the worst in history” for its impact around the world. Eisenhower was critical of the domestic policies of John F. Kennedy.
The first President Bush pounded on Bill Clinton for his Haiti policy, and Nixon scolded the said first President Bush for comparing himself to Harry Truman in his 1992 re-election campaign.
Presidents Woodrow Wilson and William Taft felt the brunt of brutal assaults by Theodore Roosevelt, as related in the book, “When Trumpets Call”, authored by Patricia O’ Toole and written after Roosevelt left office.
Obama is now called upon to follow his predecessor’s lead and not on the black frenzy feed.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.