On 5 November 2008 I woke up with eyes full of emotional tears. Barack Obama, a charismatic Senator of mixed background, with a beautiful wife and two wonderful young daughters, had inspired millions and had just been elected President of the United States of America.
My relatives still mock the 17 year old me, an Obama-groupie walking around in a “Yes We Can” t-shirt. “What did he actually achieve?” they then ask me. “Guantanamo is still open, the Middle East is more of a mess than it used to be 8 years ago, and racial conflict even escalated in the US.”
Sure, the Obama Presidency has not been a 100% success, and not all of his promises could be fulfilled, but still the American economy is much better off than it used to be in 2008, the Affordable Care Act made history, and most importantly the United States took back its role as trendsetter in the international community: with another President than Obama, I have many doubts if the COP21 agreement on climate change would ever have been signed and fully backed by the United States. Think of how the world would have looked like with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or John McCain as US President for the last eight years. I am pretty sure none of them would have fared any better than President Obama.
Yet, a President is about much more than policies alone. A President is the face of a nation, a source of inspiration to its people. The President of the United States is probably the most visible and the most powerful person on Earth; in a way, the leader of humanity, or at least of humanity in the Western world. And President Obama has been a leader that inspired generations, gave hope to billions, connected people like few others have ever done.
Do yourself a favor, and look back at the famous “Yes We Can” speech in New Hampshire, at the unseen crowds attending his Berlin speech, at his “Don’t Tell Me Words Don’t Matter” speech in Wisconsin. Words do matter, and the words of President Obama have truly inspired a generation to act good for others, to be global citizens and real progressives – proving that all of this is possible while using the newest technologies, being cool and never stop smiling. His 2009 Nobel Peace Prize might have been hasty; still the contribution of Obama as a role model for global progress cannot be underestimated.
Eight years ago the world looked with hope and enthusiasm at the American elections, now a race tainted by sexual harassment, sexism, racism, tax fraud, espionage and email scandals will bring the least disliked of two unpopular candidates to power.
Who will inspire the world for the next 4 years?
We will miss you Barry.
Robert Zielonka (25) is the President of the Graduates of Democracy. He tweets as @ZielonkaRobert