Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
January 20, 2017 (posted January 25, 2017)
January 20th is unique ... unique in that it has been inauguration day in the U.S. since
1937. Thus it is on this day the people have two presidents, one before noon and the
incoming one after. This letter then is addressed to two presidents starting with
President Barack H. Obama who ends his term of office.
Mr. President Obama: First, let me wish you a happy and productive retirement. Yet
when you flew off to the balmy breezes of Palm Springs, you left your followers and
party contemplating the Stygian darkness of an alt-right future.
It also has to be said your time in office did not manifest significant changes of any
kind. Sir, you commanded the ship of state with such a light hand that no one was
really aware of where it was going, the crew fought among themselves to set a
course, and it never really reached port.
The Democratic party is in disarray having failed to win either the House or the
Senate. Worse still, the Republicans now dominate state governments with 33
governors and 32 legislatures in our 50 states, leaving open the possibility of
redistricting to improve further their electoral chances. To call it a disaster is no
exaggeration and your legacy, such as it is, is almost certain to be undone.
Except of course the wars ... because wars develop a momentum of their own. You,
of all people, know that well. U.S. troops are back in Iraq in the form of Special
Forces, the latter deployed in a surprising 138 countries or more than two-thirds of
this world. Troops are also in Afghanistan although substantially less than the
numbers after your surge -- a surge that did not defeat the Taliban.
It is indeed an irony that a Nobel Peace Prize recipient is the first president in our
history to have kept this country at war for the full eight years of his two terms in
office. He also initiated five more wars causing destruction, desolation and millions of
refugees. It was therefore quite astonishing at your final news conference to hear
from you, in the context of sanctions against Russia, that "big countries don't go
around and bully small countries."
The unintended consequences of refugees have been a strain in European unity as
countries like Greece bear the brunt of the influx, and some claim have led also to the
Brexit win in the U.K. referendum.
Your economic claims of restoring the economy are more than a trifle overblown for
the bureaucratic infrastructure responded as it would have done. Little initiative was
shown to rein in the banks. In May 2012, J. P. Morgan reported losses of more than
$2 billion due to speculative bets. How long before another real disaster ravages the
Thanks to I-feel-your-pain Bill Clinton and his doctored Cost of Living Adjustment
(COLA), the actual purchasing power of Social Security Pensions is down 22 percent
since 2000 (Harper's, January 2017, p.15). He, of course, has felt our pain into a
personal fortune, as has Hillary. Their charitable foundation was closed this week.
Nothing was done to restore an accurate COLA. Needless to say, one measure of a
civilized society is how it treats its most vulnerable. The much touted economic gains
of the past eight years have disproportionately favored the rich worsening income
inequality. An Oxfam report released this week, (Oxfam, January 16, 2017), a day
prior to the opening of the Davos World Economic Forum, makes the shocking claim
that eight world billionaires, including six Americans, now own greater wealth than the
bottom 50 percent of the world's population. What a sad end to the presidency of a
so-called progressive president.
Mr. President Trump: "But I, being poor, have only my dreams: I have spread my
dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." This quote
from W. B. Yeats represents all too well the charge to you from your supporters and
now also the rest of the populace.
One is reminded of a few more of Yeats' enchanting words serving unintended notice
to populists reaching for the flag and patriotism, " ... nor dazzled by the embroidery,
nor lost in the confusion of its night dark folds." Lest the pomp and exclusion begin to
seep its insidious effects one might add ...
Let me at the same time congratulate you on a concise speech making exactly the
points you made during the campaign and promising phenomenal change. However,
one unfortunate aspect of being president is that it is very different from running a
business or being a senior officer in the military. In both you give an order and it is
carried out. As Harry Truman consoled himself when General Eisenhower defeated
his party's candidate to win the presidency. Ike, he said as he laughed, is used to
giving orders and seeing them carried out immediately. He will come to Washington,
give an order, and (he laughed some more) ... nothing will happen.
While I cannot agree with you on climate change and a host of other issues, we are
on the same side can when you say, "trillions spent on wars while infrastructure rots
...". Good luck then with shutting down the wars and the work on infrastructure -- both
of which I have been calling for now for more years than I can remember. It is a
well-nigh impossible task.
You want to spend a trillion on infrastructure -- hardly enough for the 'beautiful' roads
bridges and airports you talk about frequently. According to the American Society of
Civil Engineers, $3.62 trillion will be the likely bill to restore infrastructure. What the
country really needs in addition is something akin to Eisenhower's start on the
Interstate Highway system. In the 21st century, the U.S. is far behind other large
industrial economies in high-speed rail. A coast to coast line and three north-south
branches down the central spine from Chicago and along the east and west coasts
would transform the country economically. The cost: about $1.5 trillion. It adds up to
a jaw-dropping $5.12 trillion entailing a national joint public/private effort. Jawboning
Congress on something as colossal would require the support of the people, a
prospect looking less and less likely.
A half-million women marched in Washington on Saturday, a half-million plus in Los
Angeles according to the LAPD, another 250,000 in Chicago, 200,000 in New York,
100,000 in Boston, Atlanta, Denver, and numerous cities across the country. Will
Hispanics, African-Americans and Muslim-Americans be next? At the Washington
rally, Linda Sarsour, an award-winning Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American-Muslim
addressed the crowd -- much larger by photos and estimates than at the inauguration
-- putting this administration on notice for its attitude towards Muslims, black people,
Mexicans, the undocumented, and the disabled.
And across the world women marched: vast numbers in cities across the U.K. and
Canada, Paris, Tokyo, Oslo, Berlin, Barcelona, even Tiblisi, to name just a few.
Estimates of the numbers worldwide are around 5 million. Yes, there have been
marches before notably during the Vietnam war, but not in immediate response to a
president's inauguration. Worth remembering, the women have families.
Not too many cards to play for an isolated president. Soon, the people's elected
representatives will begin to anticipate the next election and keep their distance. In
such a scenario, the U.S. president (a weak office in comparison with a parliamentary
system) can do little that is permanent.
The last isolated president was Richard M. Nixon.