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Dahleen Glanton: Obama, what took you so long?
September 12, 2018
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Listening to former President Barack Obama make a midterm elections pitch for Democrats was like drinking a tall glass of ice water in the middle of the desert.

That’s where many of us have been since Donald Trump took Obama’s place in the White House — stuck in a desert of despair, anger and disbelief. My only question to Obama is: What took you so long to rally the troops?

For many Americans, Obama’s return to the public arena was a reminder of that long-lost world of sanity in which we used to live. But more than that, it was a wake-up call for what many of us seem to have forgotten — that we alone hold the power to change whatever we don’t like about America.

We are the majority in that 60-40 per cent mix of Trump supporters versus everyone else. If we accept the challenge, we can rescue our country from this sinkhole where we now dwell. Those who would rather stay there will have to come along kicking and screaming, or be left behind to wallow in their own filth.

There were so many uplifting points in Obama’s televised talk to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that it’s hard to pick out the best.

He reminded us, for instance, that 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. Just what it is that we stand for.”

In November we will have a chance to reverse our nation’s journey down this selfish, autocratic, supremacist path. There can be no middle ground. Either we must stand with Trump or stand up against him. Individually, we must figure out how far we can risk going before we forget our way back home.

Obama reminded us that America’s story is one of incomplete progress. It is great when leaders give us a nudge, but progress always has been won by regular people like us. “It was won because rather than be bystanders to history, ordinary people fought and marched and mobilised and built, and yes, voted to make history,” the former president said.

In the aftermath of those victories, he said, we come closer to our nation’s founding ideals — that everyone is created equal and everyone has certain inalienable rights. That every child be afforded opportunities. That every man and woman who wants to work be able to find a job. That we care for the sick, and that we conserve the planet’s natural resources for future generations.

Those are among the important things that we will be fighting for in the November midterm elections. We cannot afford to stand by while the status quo pushes back, as it always does when our nation is on the road to progress, Obama said.

“Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change,” he said. “More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege.”

And in the first of only two times he would mention Trump by name, he reminded us of how that social discourse in America did not start with this president. “He is a symptom, not the cause,” Obama said. “He’s just capitalising on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years, a fear and anger that’s rooted in our past but it’s also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

Why is this so important? Why can’t we afford to focus merely on the distractions that Trump presents to us on a daily basis? It is because Trump does not operate in a vacuum. For a tyrant to succeed, he needs a Congress that props him up.

Trump does not pass legislation that gives tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. He does not get a vote to take away our health care. He does not decide whether a man so dismissive of women’s rights that he views contraceptives as “abortion-inducing drugs” should serve on the Supreme Court.

Those decisions are left to the people we elect to represent us in Congress. And soon, we have a chance to clean house. We can get rid of anyone who says yes to Trump’s every whim. We can add people who are eager to hold a political demagogue accountable. We can elect people we can depend on to uphold our democracy and block any attempts to turn it into a dictatorship.

This, Obama insists, is not just a matter of Democrats versus Republicans or liberals versus conservatives. At various times in our history, he said, the politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment has taken hold of each party. But today, we must be honest. The evil rests within the Republican Party.

Of course, there are many honorable Republicans and other conservatives who despise many of the things that have been going on. They, too, must take a stand. How do we do it?

“If you don’t like what’s going on right now ... do not complain, don’t hashtag, don’t get anxious, don’t retreat, don’t binge on whatever it is you’re binging on,” Obama said. “Don’t lose yourself in ironic detachment, don’t put your head in the sand, don’t boo.

“Vote. Vote.”

Tribune News Service

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