Photo: Rex Features


Barack Obama, we miss you already

Like his Presidency, Barack Obama's farewell speech was full of hope. And we can't lose sight of that, says Zoë Beaty

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By Zoë Beaty on


Tonight, I’ll go to bed feeling lonelier than usual. There’s an undercurrent of sadness in my thoughts; a torrid nausea of regret, slight desperation and shame. My tube journey home will be soundtracked by the blues, it will be slower than usual; I will be pensive as I run over our last moments together. Could I have changed anything? What did I do wrong? What happened to us? Why did it have to end?

I miss Barack Obama. 

It’s less than 24 hours since he said goodbye, but already, it feels like the rawest of break-ups. Of course, we're thousands of miles apart – and I didn't ever have the privilege of calling him my president. But we felt his presence in the UK, and we'll feel his absence, too. His parting gift – a lyrical and emotional and politically pertinent speech – was perfect. Last night, Obama’s words mirrored the Presidency he conducted since being elected in 2008: refined, insightful, reflective, caring, liberating and – importantly – full of hope. Hope that there is good left in the world, despite the future we’re now facing in his absence. And hope that, somehow, sheer force of good can overcome the rising hatred. "Hearts must change," he said, and we listened intently.

He spoke eloquently, with the elegance that we’ve come to know of him, and inspired us for the last time as President. He roused in us the will to continue in the fight for democracy when he told us to be “vigilant, but not afraid”. He urged us not to take democracy for granted, and not to rest. And, as he tearfully addressed Michelle – his “best friend”, who took on a role she “didn’t ask for” and did it with “grace and grit – he reminded the world of how great and powerful love can be. 

He spoke to and protected all people, not just the privileged few, and created unity where others divide

And then, minutes later, he left. And today, I feel slightly bereft. Suddenly what is to come feels even more real. With Obama’s departure, so too went the ability for us to slyly convince ourselves that it’s not really happening and the realisation that hope really will be replaced with hate. 

That there will be no more dad jokes, just bad jokes; no more singing Al Green, or dropping the mic, or bromances or friendships with the Queen. No more memes with Vice President Joe Biden. That the President of the USA will be a misogynistic millionaire who can barely compose a tweet, not a Nobel Peace Prize (and Grammy Award) winner. Not even that perennially chirpy married friend who insists that “life will be better without him” can convince herself this break-up is for the best. 

Because Obama’s presidency was transformative. In eight years he enacted change for millions through healthcare, financial regulation and marriage equality. He commuted the “unjust” prison sentences of more than 1200 drug offenders, signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to criminalise discrimination of gender or sexual orientation. He spoke to and protected all people, not just the privileged few, and created unity where others divide. 

And his legacy will live on. In our willingness to fight back, and stand up from democracy. “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life,” Obama said during his speech last night. “If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. 

“Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energise and inspire.”

And we will. Obama out, as he says. But he’ll always be in our hearts. 


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Photo: Rex Features
Tagged in:
US election 2016
Michelle Obama

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