So, Obama has given his last press conference of his presidency.
I watched it in a near-hypnotic state, sitting opposite the man who founded Al Jazeera with the phrase ‘The Opinion, and The Other Opinion’. We shared some looks during the hour-long conference, but only I was teary. Obama’s style of speaking has always soothed me, but tonight that calming salve was more like a warning salvo.
In his responses to questions on Chelsea Manning, the Middle East and voting rights there were no surprises. There were however, peppered throughout his answers, coded warnings about the responsibilities of the world’s largest democracy and how ‘the biggest kid on the block’ has a proportionately sized impact in anything it does.
Messages I suspect that were lost on the Trump administration, which looks like it’s shaping up nicely for at least two Defcon 1 situations in its first month plus a round in the ring with planet Earth over Not Climate Change – or Climate Unchange – or whatever the hell the Trump People have decided to call our ‘little’ environmental situation.
There are many things I’ll miss about Obama – and Michelle too; their sincerity, their belief in and hope for humanity, their lack of cynicism and their decency. But tonight, I decided, what I’ll miss most about Obama is his rare quality of being able to express more than one side of an argument. His approach in talking about policy, or fielding questions from the press has often been to walk round a subject out loud, as if ambling around a rose garden and observing the view from one angle then another. Like a mathematician, he’s careful to show his workings out – acknowledging cause and effect – and to communicate why decisions have been taken. I have always felt that one of the most valuable qualities he brought to his leadership was an understanding that there’s more than one opinion worth considering.
The contrast with Trump couldn’t be starker. Trump pronounces on subjects, with the same blinkered vision demonstrated by fundamentalists and fascists. He has shown himself repeatedly incapable of reasoned argument and where Obama weighed, Trump throws out the scales. This kind of idiocy weighs on us all.
We live in times where we need to understand The Other Opinion – not just our own. And yet, shortly to take office is a man who refuses to even engage with points of view other than his own. I fear this will not end well for the free-thinking, intellectual, liberal world.
President Obama – I wish I could clutch at your knees to prevent you leaving. I am going to look at the news through my fingers from now on. From behind the sofa. On a strong day. When it’s still light. Not just because I’ll miss you, but because I truly dread what is coming to live in that big white house.