What It Felt Like To Have A President Again

Photo: Alyssa Pointer/Pool via Reuters

I almost forgot what that felt like.

To have a human being, the most powerful human being on the planet, stand before the nation and display their humanity when we so needed to see it.

To be in the middle of a swirling maelstrom of unanswered questions and unthinkable of pain, and have a president assure the people that all was not lost and that disaster was not a foregone conclusion.

Until fairly recently, we’d gotten used to presidents rising to these terrible occasions; men who despite their flaws and failings and political affiliations, were capable of becoming better versions of themselves in order to be a symbolic anchor for all the people in the swirling storms of shared tragedy. 

At the funeral for Rep John Lewis, Former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, reminded us what true leaders are supposed to do.

They are supposed to step into moments of great shaking and steady us, not willingly contribute to the shaking.
They are supposed to approach our collective wounds with a salve of decency, not press the jagged salt of malice into those painful places.
They are supposed to enter in times of national grieving and alleviate the despair, not intentionally compound it
They are supposed to take the glaring spotlight pointed at them and direct it to someone else, to something else; to our better angels and higher callings, to our many commonalities and to the nation we could be if we lean into them.
They are supposed to show us that the world is bigger than one person.

It’s been a few years since we’ve had a leader like that and we are worse off for it. The fractured nation we are all living in, is a product of the spectacular failures of the man alleging to lead it: to attempt anything approaching unity, to aspire to any kind of empathy, to show himself emotionally healthy enough to stop pleading for approval.

There are many reasons the person currently occupying the White House was absent from John Lewis’ funeral—and all of them are national tragedies.

He was not there because he has spent his entire tenure and life, treating men like John Lewis with abject disregard. He would see this as a defeat.
He was not there because he rightly would not be welcome, in the presence of the body of a man whose life was animated for eighty years around the very equality and justice that this non-leader has tried to actively suffocate.
He was not there because he knows the racist rabble who comprise his rapidly-shrinking base would see it as a sign of weakness and failure.

He was not there because he lacks the elemental maturity to put aside his origami-fragile ego in order to make a moment about anyone other than himself.
He was not there because he is a small, empty coward who can’t operate anywhere outside a controlled, cloistered bubble of adoring sycophants or safely behind a phone screen firing off reckless insults that he is never accountable for.
He was not there because he lacks a single noble influence in a position that necessitates it.
And he was not there because despite all his tough guy flexing, when actual strength is required, he simply vanishes. The emperor of bravado has no clothes and so he runs away when true leaders would step forward.

Barack Obama reminded us what it was like to be led well—and he reminds us that we can be led well again if we vote together in November: not by a flawless human being, not by a perfect human being, but by a human, human being.

That would be a comforting, hopeful, beautiful change.