by Danny McCarthy
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
The most striking moment of the inauguration for me wasn’t the sight of "Make America Great Again" red caps dotting the crowd like bloodspots, or Donald Trump with a hand on the Bible and a leer on his mouth, or even the gusts of wind that blew wide Trump’s coat and hair as the Executive One helicopter lifted from the ground, carrying the Obamas.
It was after CNN had gone through a split screen: Obama and Trump on one side, Hillary Clinton on another. Then the split screen disappeared and it was a close pan of Clinton.
As the camera zoomed in, Hillary gulped and set her shoulders back. It was a small moment—vulnerable, intimate. It showed something that she was criticized for never showing before—humanity. It was an extension of her voice cracking at her concession speech. That showed her soul, and this showed her strength.
“This is painful,” she said, “and will be for a long time.” And it was. And it is.
I remember watching her leave the stage after her concession speech, and feeling like I was watching our president slip away. She was wearing purple—the meeting of blue and red, but also the regalia of emperors. She looked small, but powerful. But she looked old, in a way that she hadn’t in the campaign.
So when I saw her in her white suit on Inauguration Day, holding hands with Bill, I didn’t see our president. I saw a woman who had been Secretary of State, a New York senator, and a champion of women’s rights and children. I saw someone who was deeply flawed but, at her core, cared about public service so much she was willing to be crucified alive for it. I saw a glimpse into a different four years.
But that’s not where we are. As I prepare to enter the next four years, I have to remember the last eight.
We became adults during those eight years. I went from an eight-grader during Obama’s campaign to a senior in college as the Obamas left the White House for the last time. And during our formative years, we had the privilege and gift of seeing two upstanding, graceful, intelligent people in the highest position in our country.
Since Obama came into office, I saw “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” overturned. Our country legalized same-sex marriage. Obama became the first sitting president to publicly endorse LGBTQ rights. And for that alone, for giving me something that generations of queer people before me never had, I will be forever grateful.
To have our president validate me in a way that no one else had done before, in the apex of my formative years, forever shaped me for the better. He had the highest seat in the land, and he reached down to us—queer, women, immigrants—and took us to him. He brought us into his fold, and made our fight his fight. I don’t know if I can quantify the relief and security that presidential validation brought. It was something that my uncle, and my great-uncle, and thousands of queer people before me never had. Something they never got to witness. That gratitude clings in my throat because I am so undeserving, so stupidly positioned to reap the benefits that others fought their entire lives for.
We were stupid lucky to have Barack Obama. We were stupid lucky to have Michelle Obama.
Each generation is better than the last, and our generation benefitted so much—more than we know right now—by having those two people at the helm of our country.
Regardless of personal politics, of parties, of economics—the Obamas were a class act. They treated everyone with respect. They treated each other with respect. They populated their White House with diversity. They made an attempt to give everyone a seat at the table.
And so watching Hillary, who suffered so much humiliation in the name of public service, go to the inauguration of the man who demeaned her and vilified her made me ache for Obama even more. Because even if you didn’t agree with her politics, you could agree that if the situation were reversed, Trump would not have been so gracious in his loss. He would’ve scorched the earth with his vitriol.
We’re in a different place than we were in 2008. Despite Trumpian beliefs, we are stronger economically, our unemployment is lower, and we have made more strides towards equality. We’re stronger and we’re resilient.
In his farewell address, President Obama ended on much the same note as when he began.
“I am asking you to believe,” he said, voice reverberating in the amphitheater. “Not in my ability to bring about change—but in yours.”
And I hope that’s codified into the vernacular of the peaceful resisters, who will not slip gently into the Trump administration. I hope it becomes engraved in stone, not for a tomb, but for a monument—for us to look upon to remember why we fight for our rights. Critics bemoaned that Obama would be succeeded by the very man who began his political career with a birther conspiracy.
But Obama didn’t pass his legacy onto Trump; he passed it on to us.