The Obama years

The contested legacy of the former U.S. President
Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the U.S. in 2008 was an “end-of-history moment,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy . “As Obama’s election became imaginable, it seemed possible that our country had indeed, at long last, come to love us,” he says, referring to the black community. Coates, a celebrated writer known for his chronicles of the culture, politics, and lives of the blacks in the U.S., compiles eight essays he wrote for The Atlantic in Eight Years in Power. Each essay deals with a different story, but the book has a common theme — the life of black people in the U.S.The Obama era helped change the social fabric to an extent, Coates says. He observes that his own success as a writer, and of many others, was influenced by the Obama years; the new President’s presence “opened a new field”.However, hope gave way to disappointment by the end of the President’s first term. President Obama’s acceptance in white America depended “not just on being twice as good but on being half as black,” he writes in the 2012 essay “Fear of a Black President”. Losing faith, Coates argues that “white supremacy was so foundational” to the U.S. that “it would not be defeated in my lifetime, my child’s lifetime, or perhaps ever.” Despairingly he concludes: “The American story, which was my story, was not the tale of triumph but a majestic tragedy.”If Coates takes a sociocultural view of America, American journalist and writer Jonathan Chait looks at the merit of the Obama administration in Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail . This, book, in Chait’s words, “makes an argument”. And that argument is that the Obama presidency was “transformative” at home and “corrective” abroad. He writes that the President did well within the limitations of Washington politics on a host of issues, from climate change to healthcare reforms and economic revival. There could be short-term setbacks, such as the election of Donald Trump as President, but the benefits of the Obama years cannot be done away with, he argues. Obama as President left an indelible influence on a young America which is going to take his legacy forward.Coates does not share Chait’s optimism: “The election of Donald Trump confirmed everything I knew of my country and none of what I could accept. I was shocked at my own shock,” he writes.

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