I discovered Barack Obama in the pages of a Sunday supplement, while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. A year later, he was running for president. His rival for the Democratic nomination was Hillary Clinton, and at first it seemed unlikely that this little-known senator could outrun a former First Lady. But Obama’s message renewed long-buried hopes, and in the early days of social media he ran a people-powered campaign, based on word of mouth and thousands of small donations.
The West was battered by its war on terror and financial collapse, making Obama’s Republican opponent, World War II hero John McCain, the wrong man for the times. While standing in a school playground in Brighton on the morning of Obama’s victory in November 2008, I noticed smiles and cheerful talk from other parents about America’s first black president.
My own enthusiasm for Obama cost me an American friend, who gloated that Labour would lose our next election (and of course, they did.) Obama’s response to the recession was to invest, in contrast to the austerity measures pursued here by David Cameron after 2010. But in the corporate world, business continued as usual.
The mirage of a post-racial society dissolved amid tea-party politics and police shootings. Protest movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter sprang up, while Obama cracked down on whistleblowers, increased surveillance and drone attacks abroad. He expanded public healthcare, and in his second term, put the case for gun control to a mostly hostile Congress.
Today, his controversial successor will be inaugurated after one of the most divisive contests in modern history. I shall miss Barack Obama’s intelligence and charm, and I wonder if he’ll return to writing books as thoughtful and candid as Dreams From My Father. For this generation, the Obama era was our Camelot. He could never have satisfied all our expectations, but we still have the hope he inspired. From now on, it falls upon us to turn the changes we dreamed of into reality.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes, 1951