From Grace, We Fell

If only we could have seen the future, eh?

It was ten years ago this Wednesday that Barack Obama won the Iowa Democratic caucus in a shocker. Obama’s victory was considered a sign that his message had the potential to resonate with far more strength than conventional wisdom assumed–and that he indeed had the ability to win not just the Democratic nomination, but the presidency.

Watch the video of Obama’s caucus victory speech again. What happened to the optimism of those days? What happened to the nation that embraced the vision Obama expressed on January 3, 2008 B.C. (Before Covfefe) as the proper vision for the future? How could the country that embraced Obama’s hope and change shift in eight years to embracing Donald Trump’s hate and fear?

Days after Obama’s Iowa victory, Peter S. Canellos, then with the Boston Globe, observed that the Democratic presidential candidate had what it took to rehabilitate America’s damaged international reputation:

Now, restoring America’s esteem in the world is a prime motivation of voters supporting Barack Obama for president.

To most appearances, the Iraq war has faded as a political issue, with all the major presidential candidates in each party agreeing on a strategy – withdrawal for the Democrats, maintaining the gains of the troop “surge” for the Republicans.

But even as candidates discuss healthcare and energy independence and global warming, the war looms behind every position. It is the money that would pay for healthcare, the reason to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and the greatest illustration of the Bush administration’s unilateral approach to foreign policy that some blame for US inaction on global warming.

And ending those unilateral policies is the most visible reason that voters are flocking to Obama’s promise of a new era in politics: Democrats are hungering for Obama as an international symbol of change…

For some Democratic voters interviewed on the streets of New Hampshire, the need to change America’s image in the world is the best reason to support Obama over Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat.

Both candidates have vowed to change President Bush’s policies and take quick action to change the image of the United States, with Clinton promising to take action even before taking office. She has a plan to send famous Americans overseas as good-will ambassadors immediately after November’s election.

But many Democrats believe that the symbolism of having Obama – the son of a “father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas,” as he puts it – as the commander in chief would have a greater impact on America’s image than all of Clinton’s outreach efforts.

Who will rehabilitate our international standing now that it has been damaged anew by the dark menace we elected just over a year ago? Can it be rehabilitated? Obama did all that he could to heal the wounds George W. Bush and Dick Cheney intentionally inflicted. Can anyone heal the damage Trump has inflicted? Can anyone possibly rebuild the effectively destroyed Environmental Protection Agency, strengthen the decimated State Department, or restore balance to a wingnut-contaminated federal judiciary?

Our children and grandchildren will look back and wonder how a country sober enough to elect Barack Obama could, just eight short years later, get drunk on Trump’s cocktails of contempt and stagger into voting booths to put this prevaricator into power. Just as excessive consumption of alcohol will damage the liver, so too will excessive consumption of Trump’s bigoted brandy and scornful Scotch damage our democracy. The only question is: on November 6, 2018, will the electorate go to rehab…and get clean in time for November 3, 2020?

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D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.