Applying a mother’s wisdom

Even though my mother passed away nearly a decade ago, I still carry significant bits of her aura with me every day. Whatever attractive traits I possess are in large part due to her incredible patience and quiet, consistent role-modeling.

One lesson she taught my siblings and me: always say “Thank you” in a timely and genuine manner. That’s why, with the inauguration of America’s 45th president just days away, it seems far more appropriate to express sincere gratitude to the nation’s outgoing chief executive than it does to comment on his successor.

Barack Obama’s accomplishments in eight years at the nation’s helm would be noteworthy even if he hadn’t been America’s first African-American president, or been obstructed nearly every step of the way by an opposition party that not only made it plain from the day of his inauguration they wanted him to fail, but did everything in its power to bring about that failure, even if it was bad for the nation they piously profess to love above all else.

President Obama‘s leadership rescued the country from the financial crisis of 2008 he inherited when he was elected. He ended an expensive, ill-planned, and ultimately pointless war in Iraq, another problem left to him by his predecessor. He brought about re-regulation of Wall Street, making it somewhat more difficult for predatory, already-wealthy individuals and the financial institutions they control to tilt an already-rigged playing field even more precipitously in their favor. He turned around a U.S. auto industry that had been on life support when he took office. He made it possible for tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans to obtain affordable health care. He presided over the elimination of the individual who masterminded the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He made it possible for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. He ended America’s use of “enhanced interrogation methods” considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions. He improved America’s image abroad. He boosted fuel efficiency standards, increased support for veterans, and helped pass credit card reform. He improved food safety, expanded stem cell research, and provided additional protections against hate crimes. Under his leadership four million more children got health care, paid for by increased taxes on poisonous tobacco products. President Obama increased investment in renewable technologies, expanded wilderness and watershed protection, and helped overthrow a corrupt and brutal Libyan dictator.

But perhaps most significant was his conduct. During eight years of living under a microscope the nation’s outgoing leader and his wife exhibited the kind of personal conduct a more naïve America actually expected of its first families not all that long ago. No other chief executive in the past six decades exemplified dignity and common decency like Barack Obama. His immediate predecessor was swaggering, inarticulate and ineffective, and the chief executive previous to him was a self-indulgent hedonist who lied to the nation about an extramarital affair with a youthful subordinate. President Reagan was publicly charming, but his family was, to be kind, dysfunctional. Richard Nixon was a liar and a criminal; Lyndon Johnson’s crassness was legendary. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush were all decent men, but how effective were they as the nation’s leader? Each tried to win a second term. None succeeded.

Professional haters openly, covertly and ceaselessly questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship, his religious affiliation, and the legitimacy of his election. Interestingly, most of the high- decibel haters that unrelentingly attacked his integrity possess not a shred of it themselves. Even more ironically these individuals seem perfectly willing to overlook countless glaring character flaws in the president’s soon-to-be-successor.

And in return, what did Mr. Obama give his nation, including the dishonest, vindictive disparagers bent on destroying him personally and politically with ruthlessly scurrilous invective? Thoughtfulness. Dignity. Authenticity. Decency. Humility. Respect. Fairness. Humanity. Tolerance. Honor. Grace. Charisma. Compassion. Eloquence. Calmness. Honesty. Gratitude. Strength. Kindness. Dedication. Loyalty.

America owes a massive debt to Barack Obama. He consistently exhibited courage, integrity, intelligence and patience, traits few if any of his shrill, hypocritical attackers seem to value.

Today’s USA is without doubt better because of President Obama. It would be better still if each of us conducted ourselves the way he has for the past eight years.

One other thing my mother tried to instill in her children: if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.

Uh oh.

That means suggesting Mr. Obama’s thin-skinned, narcissistic successor is a snake oil salesman devoid of morals, ethics, impulse control, or a sense of shame would violate that particular tenet.

But Mom was also a stickler for telling the truth, which is why I am one hundred percent certain she would pardon any and all less than complimentary observations appearing here.

Andy Young is grateful for his teaching job at a York County high school, and he always says thank you when it’s appropriate.

Andy Young
January 15, 2017

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