“The Legacy of Obama”, an article by Dr. Leonel Fernández

January 16, 2017

In a few days, on January 20, President Barack Obama will leave the White House and make way for the new administration of president-elect Donald Trump.

Eight years ago, when Obama was first elected in 2008, an atmosphere of joy and optimism pervaded not just the United States but the rest of the world, too. More than 80 percent of poll respondents stated their hopes for change in the United States.

And with good reason. The miracle had happened.
Against all predictions, for the first time in US history, a black man had been elected to lead the richest and most powerful nation on the planet.

The circumstances had determined this outcome. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had turned out to be a genuine nightmare. First came his mistake of having reacted to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 – orchestrated from Afghanistan by Al Qaeda – by sending troops to Iraq, which had had nothing to do with the terrorist
acts wrought on US soil.

Then there was the controversy surrounding high-risk mortgages. This phenomenon, which would end up causing the global financial crisis, in turn morphed into the global Great Recession, deemed one of the deepest and most severe crises in the world economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s and which, despite the diversity of the measures taken in its aftermath, still reverberates nearly a decade after it began.

It was, of course, this
situation of disgrace, lost confidence, and decline in influence and power of the United States at the world level that allowed a young black man who’d been practically unknown before his candidacy to emerge to achieve the most prized political victory on the planet: the presidency of the United States.

That young man was Barack Hussein Obama, whose strange name seemed to associate him, at least phonetically, with the two archenemies of US society in that era: Osama bin Laden and
Saddam Hussein.


Barack Obama tidily beat John McCain in the election of November 2008, winning 365 electoral votes in the face of the Arizona Republican senator’s 173.

It had been just four years prior in 2004 that Barack Obama ran for federal office as senator for the state of Illinois. Since 1996 he had been a state senator in Springfield, the Illinois capital.

By his own account, as revealed in his book The Audacity of Hope,
in 2000 he had committed a political miscalculation that nonetheless led him to mature. He had challenged an incumbent from his own party for a seat in the House of Representatives.

Naturally, the result was defeat. But, after a bitter learning process, he would recover from that blunder; and from there onward his career began a meteoric rise.

A special moment occurred during the presidential campaign in 2004, when the Democrat candidate John Kerry selected Obama as
keynote speaker for the Convention that would endorse Kerry as its official aspirant to the White House.

Obama turned out to be brilliant. The resulting media coverage launched him to political stardom. Suddenly, without having even been elected to federal office, he had become a national figure. His speech had made a mark, both for its style and delivery and for its substance – a message of inclusion and unity for all of American society.

Four years later, he shook
the world. The young Hawaiian born to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, raised in Indonesia and educated at Columbia and Harvard universities, had made the dream of Martin Luther King into a reality.

The Promised Land had been reached. From slavery – recognized by the United States Constitution, which deemed a black man equivalent to three-fifths of a white man – to Jim Crow laws codifying racial segregation, the miracle had happened. Finally, a black man
had reached the White House.

Upon reaching power, this descendant of slaves would face grave challenges. The first of them, naturally, would be the dramatic economic crisis.

He took the challenge on determinedly. At the end of eight years, unemployment had dropped from 10 to 4.7 percent. The economy had stabilized and grown at an appreciable rate for a country the size of the United States.

He made an effort to formally integrate the millions of US citizens
who had long been excluded from the health care and social security systems. He built highways, bridges, and railroads.

Thanks to these achievements, he again won in the 2012 election against Republican candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.


But it didn’t matter that this young and talented statesman of African descent advanced in his plans and projects. From the very start a well-orchestrated plan against him
sought to make him fail during his time in office.

Shortly after his arrival to the Oval Office, from the ranks of the Republican Party arose the so-called Tea Party, of ultra-conservative and racist tendencies, which sought to obstruct the Obama administration on all fronts.

Congress, dominated by the Republicans, appeared to have no other aim than obstructing all projects from the executive branch. Even the body language of their representatives could not hide their
disgust at seeing a black American in the White House.

Only Obama’s patience, calm, emotional control, and intelligence allowed him to carry on, unperturbed, toward the achievement of his goals.

Without having foreseen it, he had become the Jackie Robinson of American politics, who could be affected by no attempt at humiliation, who was possessed of a sense of dignity, pride, and consciousness of the reach of his historic mission.

That is how he behaved at
all times. With dignity. Even in the face of the absurd deaths of his black brothers at the hands of arrogant police officers, which motivated the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As occurs with all public figures, the work of Barack Obama’s government will be subject to the judgment of history. It was not, of course, a perfect work. Nothing human is. But when taken on balance with the passage of time, the positives of his terms will outweigh the negatives.

That is the context in which the historical legacy of Barack Obama must be evaluated. Having inherited an environment of militarized conflict, he created no new theaters of military operation for either his country or the world.

He withdrew US troops from Iraq as promised during his campaign. He faced Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and killed the group’s main leader, Osama bin Laden.

He negotiated an agreement on nuclear enrichment and nuclear development with Iran. He used
multilateral conflict resolution mechanisms and gave signs of preferring diplomacy over armed conflict.

He resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba after a half-century of rupture and isolation. He named a special envoy to the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla forces.

In short, he believed more in a multipolar world, guided by norms of international law, than in a unipolar, hegemonic model imposed by force.

But within a
few days the Obama era will have reached its end. A new phase will begin, a new chapter in history that so far has not been received with the same optimism, faith, joy, and enthusiasm as Barack Obama’s was eight years ago.

The Obama legacy is already history. Now comes the turn of Donald Trump, about whom, from the beginning, doubts are harbored, questions are formulated, and uncertainties are generated.

Perhaps all this is due to the personality contrast between the
man leaving the political scenario and the one preparing to come onto it; on one side, humility and simplicity, on the other, arrogance and vanity.

We hope we are wrong, and it’s all nothing more than an optical illusion.