January 13, 2017
I’ve been thinking about what to write this week as Portland has been buried under a record snowstorm. The most accumulation since the winter of 1943, when America was at war with fascists and emperors. (Insert joke about contemporary fascist emperor wannabes here.) I was thinking about a passionate defense of Donald J. Trump’s right to engage in golden showers with other consenting adults, but I kept getting that Frank Zappa song about not eating yellow snow stuck in my head. Maybe after things melt around here. (And the Russian video comes out. Will Billy Bush be in it?)
Watching Obama’s farewell speech this week was such an emotional passing. It’s been a tortured presidency, scandal free and full of class and poise, but marked with so many “You almost did it” moments. You almost closed Guantanamo. You almost created a health care coverage system that all Americans saw as better than the previous mess. You almost ended the war in Afghanistan. You almost created a national dialogue on race that conservative white people felt invited to. You almost shut Trump up for good.
Of course there have been a ton of accomplishments, too long to list here. People seem to forget that eight years ago, we were in the Great Recession, headed straight for another Great Depression. Unemployment was skyrocketing and the stock market was plummeting and the value of my house fell by over 50%. One of my colleagues was set to retire in 2008 and cash in his 401K. He couldn’t. Obama’s risky moves got the economy (and the American car industry) back on track. My home equity is above where it was and the predatory lenders have been banished from the hood. Whew!
But for every drop in the mortgage foreclosure rate there’s been another drone attack, often involving civilian casualties (aka, somebody else’s kids) and peaceniks debate whether bombs in the sky are better than boots on the ground. Obama’s gotten hell from the left for being too friendly with Wall Street and gotten hell from the right being a big government socialist. And then there are Trump’s racist alt-right gang that think he’s a Kenyan Muslim who is married to an orangutang and wants to institute “Sharia Law” across the country. Whatever happened to those nut jobs. Oh…
This week I just find myself flashing back to 2008. I was leading discussions in my Contemporary Theory class at PSU about which Democratic candidate was more in line with core feminist values, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I made the case for Obama because, like radical feminists might, he argued we should talk to our adversaries instead of bombing them; that Clinton was falling for a liberal feminist hang-up by trying to “out-male” the hawkish males in Washington. (On a side-note: doesn’t Mitt Romney seem like a completely competent commander-in-chief compared to the buffoon coming in?)
The fall of 2008 offered so much promise; an end to the Iraq War and a return to proven Democratic economic policies. A moment in history when The White House, built by slaves, could be occupied by highly qualified black man. It was a stunning prospect. A true moment to transform the country and repair some of the cracks in our national mirror. To see ourselves as better people than we were. I needed to mark the moment in some Northwestern fashion.
So on September 11th, I took a solo hike up to the top of Mt. Saint Helens (elevation: 8,366 feet). I was going through my own transition as my marriage was ending and I was thinking some of that hope and change might rub off on me. I had never made the climb and really had no idea how treacherous it was. The day I went up, a climber fell in the boulder field and had to be airlifted out. The following week a climber was standing on the rim at the summit when the volcano rumbled. He fell into the crevice and was killed. All I knew was I had to make it to the top to see what was on the other side.
It’s a four hour hike. The previous week, I thought I’d be a rebel and take the trail less traveled and ran into a black bear. So on 9/11 I went up the right way. An hour in the woods, an hour in the boulders, and two hours up the volcanic ash, two steps forward and one sliding back in the grey powder left over from the great eruption. That climb would become of metaphor for the next eight years. This includes a shrinking supply of fresh water from the melting glaciers on the way up.
I spent some time at the top, admiring the view and looking over my cheap hiking boots at the tortured route to the summit. I asked another hiker to take my picture with my “Oregon for Obama” t-shirt and extreme hat-hair. I made it and so did we. Now whenever I see Mt. Saint Helens on a clear day, including in the winter when it’s covered and snow, I think, “Yeah, I made my way up there and stood on top. The journey made me a better person.”
Congratulations, President Obama. You made it to the top. And we are all better people because you did.