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10-YEAR REFLECTIONS: Looking back for hope

Ten years after Obama’s first inauguration, the government is shut down, and Mark Basquill muses over hot tea.

“I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do,” Alvin Lee reverberated through the coffee shop on a chilly January morning.

The man in front of me grumbled to the young barista about the government shutdown (still closed at press). “Crazy Democrats need to build that wall. If Obama wasn’t smiling and playing golf for eight years we wouldn’t be in this crisis.”

“Everywhere there’s freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies. Tell me, where is sanity?”

“Good question, Alvin,” I absently remarked. “That band’s called ‘Ten Years After.’”

“Who gives a shit?” he said curtly, paused reluctantly, and added almost apologetically, “I’m a serious man. I don’t have time to sing and dance. I don’t play.”

Ten years after Obama’s first inauguration, the government is shut down, and I’m waiting for tea at a coffee shop behind a serious man that doesn’t play. We have gone down the rabbit hole and things keep getting curiouser and curiouser.

As crazy as it sounds, I’m pretty sure our longest government shutdown on record is Obama’s fault. If 53 percent of “We the People” (a record 69 million) hadn’t voted for Obama in 2008, Hillary or McCain might have kept the GOP and the country on this side of sanity. Obama’s 2009 inauguration and its record setting 1.8 million crowd, braving a windchill of 15 degrees, set the stage for eight years of backlash racism, fearmongering, conspiracy theories and the eventual election of ol’ 45 (a “birther” himself).

I miss President Obama for multiple reasons. I align with his health care, environmental, and civil rights policies (not so much on foreign policy). Perhaps, even more than his sanity, I miss his grace under pressure, his wide-ranging interests, his dancing and his smile. I miss his playful side.

I waited for my tea and reminisced about President Obama and our audacity to elect him. I reflected on the inspiring, optimistic voices of Aretha Franklin, Beyonce and Obama at his first inauguration. In his eloquent speech, replete with complete sentences, he said, “The question we ask today is not whether government is too big or too small, but whether it works…”

Right now, I’d settle for a government that’s open.

I miss Obama driving and joking with Jerry Seinfield. I miss him playing basketball with former NBA player Clark Kellogg (and winning). I miss him sharing his NCAA March Madness picks (and consistently losing).

Obama may not have a Hollywood star, but I miss his dancing and singing. Like newly elected New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez, Obama dances. During a visit to South Africa, he danced the “Madiba,” the dance of fellow Nobel Peace laureate Nelson Mandela. He made a pitiful but unselfconscious effort at stepping to “Thriller.” He also slow danced with Michelle.

In fact, I miss the Obamas sharing space and public displays of affection, including fist bumps. I’m not sure about Barack’s singing voice, but he recently recorded a poignant rendition of George Washington’s farewell letter with the cast of “Hamilton.”

Mostly, I miss a smile that’s relaxed and genuine. Obama looks like a happy guy—like a person who hasn’t forgotten how to play. Any person too serious to sing and dance is too dangerous to hold power. How can a person that doesn’t play be president of the United States? It must be hard to lead a nation whose mission is “pursuit of happiness,” while being mostly miserable. (Lincoln wasn’t a smiler, but he looked more pensive than grim, angry and miserable.)

That’s what worries me about ol ‘45 the most: He seems to have no interests other than the pursuit of personal power. He doesn’t sing. He doesn’t dance. He doesn’t fill out NCAA brackets—no fun hobbies. No fun sports. He golfs more than Obama, but he doesn’t look like he enjoys it. Seems like he goes to the country club to cut deals, not play. He doesn’t smile much, and when he does, it’s closer to a sneer, smirk, or  self-satisfied Grinchy grin. It’s not a warm, relaxed acknowledgement of life’s beauty. He’s a serious man that doesn’t play—a serious man who looks mostly miserable.
I picked up my tea and listened to Alvin’s last plaintive line fade out, “I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you.”

I tipped my cup to the young barista and did a little Joe Cocker Woodstock hippie dance step. She flashed a warm, genuine smile.

Ten years after, I am very thankful there was a space and time when America changed the world and had the audacity to hope.

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