FEB. 4, 2017

We Never Knew How Much We’d Miss Obama


Almost two weeks in and I can’t believe how much I miss Hawaii’s Chicago-style President, who is all deep-dish compared to the thin-crust, New York-style Trump.

Trump may know pizza but Barack Obama knew how to be president. Trump acts like a tough guy proud of his wad of money. Big wad? Well, we don’t have any tax returns.

Nevertheless, he’s now in-charge, officially. The transition I called the “Trump Creep,” aptly describing the process and the man, has ended and now we’re officially in a brand new show.

For some, these days since November 8 have been like the Twilight Zone. But just wait. As Trump has shown, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Every day, it’s something new. From minor points like “my crowd is bigger than your crowd;” to conflating bad voter registration rolls with illegal voting (there is a difference and nothing adds up to voting fraud); from ordering the building of a wall to paranoid extreme vetting; from NATO bad to behind NATO 100 percent; to heralding torture; to passing the buck to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Trump is learning the hard way that as president, everything you say and tweet becomes news.

So it’s odd that his chief strategist Steve Bannon, one-time leader of the alt-right hate mongers, is hell bent on calling the media “the opposition party” and demand they shut up and just listen.

Shut up? He should be advising Trump to do the same. If I were advising the president, I’d tell him to cool it. Act presidential. Revere the position. Act bigger than his small minded instincts. Stop acting like it’s just him and Billy Bush in the back of the bus ogling women and talking about p-grabbing. Act the part. The guy’s president of the Whites House.

Oh, I said Whites House, because there sure aren’t many minorities in the cabinet. Two Asians, an African American and zero Latinos. Trump called it the richest and smartest cabinet. With Rick Perry as potential Energy Secretary, I doubt it. But it’s also one of the whitest in a long time.

And this is from a GOP which before the campaign had a blueprint on making the GOP reflect the nation. It was going so well. And then Trump, the birther-in-chief, took over and won. And the GOP ripped up the blueprint and didn’t mind if it set back the GOP another generation in race relations. They just wanted that win.

And now, after years of seeing people truly act and respect the presidency, it’s just strange to see Trump in that role acting small, not big. The man who has never held public office likes his politics raw, blunt and tweeted.

Taking on the presidency should be humbling. But it only seems to have grown Trump’s already monumental ego to a size that could bust the Capitol.

Ironically, the term “creep” was also an acronym that harkens back to Nixon and Watergate. Maybe it’s no mere coincidence as Trump is already the least liked president in two decades to enter office, the least ethical (anyone else settle a $25 million fraud suit?), and least transparent (seen any tax returns? Blind trusts?).

Trump is on the brink as the most potentially Nixonian president we’ve ever had. And now he’s Trump 45 a real pistol, aimed right at immigrants, Muslims and all of us who qualify as “other.”

And all of us do.

We knew this was all coming but somehow I thought we’d see some kind of pivot from Trump away from the campaign troll to more like the leader of the free world. I certainly was looking for signs of unity in Trump’s “America First” inaugural address. That would have been a moment to let all people of color know we count in his eyes.

Instead, we get lip service about how when we open our hearts to patriotism, “there is no room for prejudice.” At least that’s what Trump said. And then when he invoked God, and I knew we were in trouble. God is your go-to when you have no idea how to govern. Answers? Plans? “Buy American. America First.”

Trump has a lot of empty words for a guy who wants to make America great again. You’ll recall how bad the country was in 2008, when bankers and money men created the mortgage crisis and brought the nation’s economy to its knees.

We’ve recovered since then and Obama is responsible for that recovery. Just as he is for providing health insurance to more than 20 million Americans who had nothing. But now that corporate money rules our politics, a business person has been sent to lead and undo Obama’s progress.

I’d consider one sign of progress to be a little thing like the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. It was one of Obama’s pet projects that was reflected in his philosophy, speech and rhetoric. Asian Americans and LGBTQ were part of Obama’s vision of inclusion. It’s fair to say Obama watched over us when it came to discrimination and race. He always made sure we weren’t forgotten.

“And by the way,” the president said in his last press conference as he talked about racial divisions and stereotypes, “it’s no longer a black and white issue alone. You got Hispanic folks and you got Asian folks… We’ve got this stew that’s bubbling up from people everywhere, and we’re going to have to make sure that we in our own lives and our own families and work places do a better job of treating everybody with basic respect and understanding that not everybody starts off in the same situation.”

Somehow I don’t see Trump singing the same tune. So as Obama 44 comes to an end, we remember fondly the closest thing to an Asian American president we've ever had—Barack Obama, the bi-racial African American with the Indonesian half-sister, who was born in the nation’s most Asian state.

He wasn’t perfect, but he seemed to balance all of our interests for the greater good. That simple trick in the name of democracy we may not see again for a long, long time. In the meantime, the White House web site has removed all the vestiges of the Obama years, including pages that celebrate Asian American-Pacific Islanders.

The whitewashing has begun.


EMIL GUILLERMO is an award-winning journalist and commentator who writes from Northern California. He recently won the 2015 Dr. Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice from the Asian American Journalists Association.California.

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