I read Barack Obama’s final tweet as president . . .
. . . and felt a moment’s hopelessness. The Republicans have been busy since January 3 to undo everything that President Obama accomplished in the past eight years, and with Donald Trump now president, the pace will only intensify. We will lose things we haven’t even thought of yet. With the new news that Trump wants to eliminate entirely the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities and to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the combined budgets of which amount to less than 0.02% of the federal budget, we learn exactly how powerful anti-intellectualism will be in Trump’s decision making, in addition to what we already knew about how his narcissism, fascism, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, ableism, and just general assholery contribute to his actions.
My historian friends warn of the dangers of triumphalism, of the idea that history is, for the “good people,” an overall march to victory, despite apparent setbacks along the way. A lot of what I have read since the election aimed at decreasing the despair of progressives boils down to triumphalism: “It will be OK, because we are still marching to our future, ultimate victory.” On this sad day, triumphalist thinking cannot help me. If what Obama accomplished was “one step forward,” then at the end of four years or—please no! —eight years, Trump and his Republican enablers will have taken us at least two steps backward. At least.
But the triumphalist view depends upon the chronos view of time: clockwork time, linear time, measurable time. Such a view would make no sense from the perspective of kairos time: time as a moment, the right moment. If each moment counts, if each moment has its own dignity, its own capacity for right action, then the terrible moments of the next four years, when real people will suffer and die because of leadership and policy decisions, cannot cancel out the valuable moments of the past eight years, because life is more than the summing of parts.
When Barack Obama was president, some people were spared from the terror that an uninsured person feels when an accident or emergency room visit puts their entire future at risk. We will never know the details, but while he was president, someone was not tortured who would have been tortured under another president. Many couples are now and will continue to be happily married and to have the legal protections of marriage to defend their families. And so on.
Going forward, the Trump presidency will ruin lives, but he can’t reach backward in time and make those moments not matter. Thank you for your service, President Obama. O Captain! My Captain! I hope that you surpass even Jimmy Carter to become the greatest ex-president our nation has ever known.