Great Expectations and Harsh Realities
As we approach the end of Barack Obama’s historic tenure as President of the United States of America, and in summing up his campaign, I ask, were the expectations placed upon the first African-American leader of the Free World realistic?
The expectations placed upon the Hawaiian born candidate in the run up to the 2008 election were insurmountably high - mainly because many expected the Democrats presidential candidate and then Senator of Illinois to be the one man who could unify America and usher in a new era of racial prosperity. Despite the euphoria of 2008, the past few years have seen inflammatory racial tension in the U.S. intensify as more and more unarmed black men and women continue to lose their lives at the hands of those sworn serve and protect them.
During Obama’s administration this crisis of national identity came in the form of high-profile cases including the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Mike Brown, whose deaths and their aftermaths all gained international attention. Many implored Obama, with his unique status as the ‘first black President,” to act to stem this tide, which ultimately begs the question, can one man solely be held responsible for the racial climate of a nation? Or is Barack Obama simply the victim of the people’s unrealistic expectations?
The origins of America’s fraught racial history, which continues to besiege the nation to this day, can be traced back to the slave trade. One might even say that the racial issues faced by America are institutionally entrenched, and are as much a part of their culture as their fireworks on 4th July, turkey on Thanksgiving and apple pie, and it may have been unrealistic to expect any one man’s election to adequately address a problem of this scale.
Obama’s presidency has seen many landmarks that he can look back upon with fondness, from passing health care reforms that extended cover to millions of Americans, to playing a lead role in the G20’s efforts tackling the global economic crisis. He also nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court, the court’s first Hispanic judge, as well as introducing a Hate Crime Preventions Act.
When assessing the impact of Obama’s presidency, it is important to remember the limitations that face every American president. US presidents must still rely on the votes of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives in their quest to achieve many of their legislative goals, and it is no secret that Republican legislators have sometimes been unsupportive in helping Obama push through several of his “serious ideas,” with members frequently seeking to block Obama’s agenda.
What is clear is that true political, social and civil progression requires a collaborative effort and that true change for America will require a concerted effort from the wider community, and not just Barack Obama.