Tuesday marked the end of an era, as President Barack Obama bid the American public farewell during his final presidential rally in Chicago. The departing commander in chief has, in my estimation, always had tremendous skill in public speaking. Presenting himself with the same gravitas that we have seen for the better half of a decade, President Obama addressed the continued need for racial unity and economic opportunities for all. It seemed as if every laptop and television screen in the nation was tuned in to the broadcast, with continuous praise on various social media platforms.

In fact, President Obama’s approval rating rests at an impressive 57 percent. While this cumulative evaluation sits agreeably with many, others might raise the question — why? When elected, Obama marketed himself as a man of change. He was seen as an individual separate and distinct from presidential norms. His modest upbringing and accomplishment as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review are merely two examples of how he distinguished himself from the lot.

Yet, public opinion seems to suggest that the prospects for the future now are not much different than they were eight years ago. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll taken in January 2009 states that 26 percent of respondents believed that the country was going in the right direction, whereas 59 percent said that it was on the wrong path. A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, however, similarly shows that 29 percent of respondents felt as if the country were headed in the right direction, while a gaping 65 percent disagreed. It also must be noted that this data was taken in late October, a time in which the majority of politicians and political pundits saw the victory of Donald Trump as incredibly unlikely.

By voting for Clinton, the electorate was, in part, voting for a continuation of Obama. Thus, it is very hard to believe that the majority of Obama-voting Democrats would view Clinton as the “wrong direction.” Moreover, these numbers ultimately illustrate the fact that Obama’s presidency did not do much in the realm of American optimism. Yet, his approval rating persists: 57 percent.

Domestically, Obama focused almost exclusively on the Affordable Care Act — a piece of legislation that he effectively rammed through Congress without any bipartisan approval. The bill, popularly known as Obamacare, was crafted behind closed doors with virtually no transparency. What is worse is that the American public was wholly misguided on a variety of its principles. For instance, on numerous occasions Obama was seen at rallies saying, “First of all, if you’ve got health insurance, you like your doctor, you like your plan — you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan. Nobody is talking about taking that away from you.”

These promises, however, turned out to be specious. The fact of the matter is that the majority of Americans receive health care plans from their place of employment and although the law does prohibit employers from dropping coverage if they have “50 or more full-time equivalent employees,” the law did not prohibit employers with fewer than 50 employees that provided insurance before the ACA was passed to end their coverage. Thus, with the passage of the bill, while many Americans were unscathed, many were forced to seek alternative methods of care. This scenario is particularly complex, though, and does not rest solely on the employers’ shoulders. In other cases, many plans were not grandfathered over into exchanges, thus forcing individuals to seek new plans as well.

Surely, this attempt to mislead the American public would result in a lower number than a 55-percent presidential approval rating. While a “minority” was affected, it does not take a large body of people to affect approval ratings or, at least, spread negative emotions about his legislation. Regardless of the number, his misguiding words were harmful and, due to the effects, have the potential to affect ratings. But no, the number continues to persist.

While there obviously are a variety of factors that contribute to this, I ultimately believe that his popularity stems, at least in part, from his personal domain. At the time of his election, he was the husband to a well-respected Michelle Obama and the father of two charming little girls. I can vividly remember sitting down many years ago in my elementary school classroom to watch the inauguration. It was history. Many young children felt as if they closely grew up with President Obama. As his children matured, we matured with them. By combatting racial stereotypes and discrimination, President Obama served as an inspirational father figure and leader to countless youth across America. He transcended boundaries and made a lasting impact on the lives of those around him.

In the second presidential debate, both candidates were asked, “Regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?” Hillary Clinton ultimately responded with high praise for Trump’s children. She stated, “Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald. I don’t agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that, and I think that is something that as a mother and a grandmother is very important to me.”

As Secretary Clinton notes, Mr. Trump’s children are a reflection of his dedication and values. They have grown to be successful, respected individuals in their fields. Politics aside, this is a noticeable commonality between Trump and Obama. Have the circumstances of their families’ upbringings differed? Absolutely. Now, one might say, “Clinton is merely commenting on his parenting skills, not his character!” The point, though, is that they have both devoted time and effort into becoming attentive and caring fathers for their families. It is incredibly difficult to separate parenting abilities from the man himself. However, at the end of the day, I have a sneaking suspicion that this component of Donald Trump will unfairly receive half the amount of recognition from what was given to Obama.

With the inauguration a few days away, I urge everyone to take this into consideration: While you can fervently dispute someone in the political realm, it is important to recognize the good in someone as well. So, as President-elect Trump stands on the steps of the Capitol Friday morning with his family alongside him, remember the reasoning behind the praise Tuesday and, perhaps, apply it here.

Nicholas Tomaino can be reached at ntomaino@umich.edu.

 

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