Editor’s note: This is the 43rd entry in the writer’s project to read one book about each of the U.S. Presidents in the year prior to Election Day 2016. Follow Marcus’ progress at the Twitter account and the .
It’s a very strange feeling writing about the 44th president of the United States the day after the nation has elected the 45th president — especially after an election as contentious as 2016’s has been.
Trump’s shocking electoral college win, and Hillary’s pyrrhic victory in the Electoral College, didn’t affect my experience with David Remnick’s book on Obama, The Bridge.
That’s because I finished it the morning of Election Day — completing my project to read a book on every president in one year, just under the wire.
As with George W. Bush, it’s hard to really get a sense of Obama’s presidency, or what his legacy will be. Thankfully, The Bridge, doesn’t try. It was written in 2010, so the focus is on Obama’s early life, his meteoric rise, and the political context behind it all.
While it’s fascinating stuff, Remnick spends too many pages on the context — away from Obama’s story. This creates a disjointed feel that doesn’t really smooth out until we reach Obama’s U.S. Senate run in 2004.
We get a great background on the history of Chicago and Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. The city and Washington’s legacy shaped Obama during his time there as a community organizer, state legislator and U.S. Senator. (For further reading, check out American Pharaoh and Fire of the Prairie.)
Had completely forgot how Obama mulled running for Mayor of Chicago.
— 44 in 52 (@44in52) November 7, 2016
Then we reach the 2008 presidential campaign. It’s hard to think about his optimism, the chants of “Yes we can!” and the Shepherd Fairey poster that reads “HOPE,” when we sit under the dark cloud of Donald Trump.
Given that Trump apparently wants to ban at least some Muslims from entering the U.S., it’s hard to forget Obama’s long battle against allegations that he was Muslim rather than Christian — as if there was anything wrong with that.
Racial divisions came to a head in Obama’s campaign when we heard the inflammatory rhetoric of his then-pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama fought back with his famous “A more perfect union” speech, a masterclass on the subject of race in America.
Not that Obama was a perfect president. There are plenty of areas where even his strongest supporters are critical — on drone strikes and deportations, for example.
But the time will come, years from now, when we can properly reflect on his eight years in office, and how it compares to the Bush and Trump presidencies that bookended it.
What can’t be denied was the way his campaigns were built on optimism, on looking forward in a progressive way. But Remnick doesn’t shy away from Obama’s embellishments on the campaign trail, or his connections to shady Chicago figures like Tony Rezko.
But in an age of cynicism, in a country that was reeling from two wars and a decimated economy, Obama offered a shining light for disillusioned voters. While Trump arrived in a fog of darkness in 2016 spending his campaign stoking fear and hatred of “the other”, Obama called for unification.
Indeed, reading about Obama’s political rise during the final days of 2016 provided so much cognitive dissonance, I’m still dizzy. Obama was decried by opponents as a “celebrity candidate” at the same time Trump hosted a program called The Celebrity Apprentice.
And, now that the two have met in person for the first time — in a meeting that came off okay yet a bit awkward, the transition is real.
Whatever history says of Obama’s presidency, successes and faults, and however the Trump presidency turns out, it’s still a study in contrasts — two men who couldn’t be further part in terms of temperament and (presumably) ideology.
Given the divisive nature of modern politics, Obama’s legacy is sure to be divisive for some time. But it’s easy to think that many of his most vehement critics will do as Glenn Beck has apparently done, and rethink their hatred.
Time is a flat circle, history repeats itself, the sun will rise, and the Republic will survive.
But the disparate nature of these two presidents, Obama and Trump, and the effect it will have on the world, will linger for years.
With this recap, I’ve now completed the bulk of this project: reading (and sharing my thoughts) on one book about every president of the United States in the year between November 8, 2015 and November 8, 2016.
But as you may have noticed, the name of the project is “44 in 52” and I’ve read only 43 books — all because Grover Cleveland was elected twice, becoming the 22nd and the 24th presidents.
So, Mission Technically But Not Fully Accomplished.
That said, it’s my project so I can change the rules all I want! Even though we’re past election day, I’m giving myself a few more days to wrap up my choice for presidential book number 44 (Whistlestop, by John Dickerson). Call it “44 in 53” if you like.
We’ll post that story, which will include my final thoughts on the project as a whole, next week. And as always, thanks for reading along.
Days to read Washington: 16
Days to read Adams: 11
Days to read Jefferson: 10
Days to read Madison: 13
Days to read Monroe: 6
Days to read J. Q. Adams: 10
Days to read Jackson: 11
Days to read Van Buren: 9
Days to read Harrison: 6
Days to read Tyler: 3
Days to read Polk: 8
Days to read Taylor: 8
Days to read Fillmore: 14
Days to read Pierce: 1
Days to read Buchanan: 1
Days to read Lincoln: 12
Days to read Johnson: 8
Days to read Grant: 27
Days to read Hayes: 1
Days to read Garfield: 3
Days to read Arthur: 17
Days to hear Cleveland: 3
Days to read Harrison: 4
Days to read McKinley: 5
Days to read T. Roosevelt: 15
Days to read Taft: 13
Days to read Wilson: 10
Days to read Harding: 3
Days to read Coolidge: 7
Days to read Hoover: 9
Days to read FDR: 11
Days to read Truman: 14
Days to read Eisenhower: 11
Days to read JFK: 10
Days to read LBJ: 6
Days to read Nixon: 6
Days to read Ford: 4
Days to listen to Carter: 2
Days to listen to Reagan: 8
Days to read GWHB: 8
Days to read Clinton: 9
Days to read GWB: 8
Days to read Obama: 6
Days behind schedule: 8
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