Our Hope: The Obama Generation

My children will march with me this weekend because we know what leadership looks like. President Trump practices the opposite of these values.
01/19/2017 02:12 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2018

At the President's closing press conference, he echoed the optimism he expressed during his farewell address in America's future. He argued that our hope lies in the inclusive, empathetic, and altruistic spirit exhibited by our young people. I agree. While the Trump era may involve egregious steps backward in social justice, economic justice, human rights, and democracy itself, America is resilient and our young people will lead us to bend the arc of history back toward justice.

I see this in my own children. I am grateful that my children grew up in the Obama era. They grew up seeing the first African American President show them that everyone has the ability to achieve their dreams and lead. More importantly, they learned the leadership values that he exemplified.

They saw a leader who was inclusive and empathetic. He stood up for all Americans. He spoke out and acted on women's rights, LGBT rights, our racially biased justice system, immigration, disability rights, religious pluralism, and the struggles of rural poverty. He could sit with farm workers, prisoners, refugees, and children and connect in authentic ways. He asked us not to judge each other, but to seek to understand each others' perspectives.

They saw a leader who was polite, graceful, dignified. His manners were impeccable. He disagreed without being disagreeable. He brushed off ugly opposition, and never acted ugly himself. He never called anyone an enemy or bullied. As his wife Michelle said, "When they go low, we go high."

They saw a leader of integrity who held himself to high ethical standards. President Obama had low tolerance for the dishonest and disingenuous side of politics. Sometimes he was evasive or political in his speech, but most often he was authentic and spoke his thoughtful truth. There was never a hint of scandal in his life or in the White House. He never cut corners and he did not allow his staff to do so either. He and his staff were accountable for their actions, owning failures along with his successes.

They saw a leader who had humility and self-awareness. President Obama did not crave the validation or adulation so many politicians need. His style is more introverted and in interviews he was often observant, forthcoming, and self-effacing. He never took himself too seriously, laughing at himself more than he ever laughed at others. He spoke in the language of "we" not "I," and he recognized the team efforts that made his Presidency and his accomplishments possible.

They saw a leader of intellectual curiosity. President Obama is a voracious reader, an acute observer, and a great listener who absorbed peoples' stories. He is a student of history, of democracy, and of the human condition. During his last month, he wrote three academic journal articles on criminal justice reform, climate change, and health care. His analyses were always thoughtful, rigorous, and evidence-based.

They saw a leader of great discipline. President Obama took a long view and kept his eye on his big goals, avoiding the minor and tangential battles many politicians get sucked into. His campaign and his administration were famous for their efficiency and lack of drama. He stuck to his schedule, exercised daily, ate dinner with his family, and worked late into the night (while eating his 7 almonds). He worked hard for what he accomplished.

They saw a leader practice love. We see that love in his family. We saw that love in his relationship with the Vice President and the ceremony honoring him with the Medal of Freedom. We saw that love in his visits to Walter Reed National Medical Center, Charleston, Newtown and other places he visited with those suffering. And we see the love of country that animates his hope that our country can be a more perfect union.

President Obama not only demonstrated values to our young people, he called on them to serve and lead. Through his campaigns, thousands of young people volunteered, organized, and stepped up on issues they believed in - many for the first time. He taught young people not to complain, but to organize, run for office, work for the change they believe in.

Research indicates that young adults are volunteering at record rates. They are more tolerant of different races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations than older generations. And each new generation is more diverse than the last. They assume gender equality. They reject the bullying more common on the playgrounds of my childhood. They have savvy bullshit meters when it comes to analyzing what they hear from politicians, corporations, and the media. And by overwhelming margins, they rejected President Trump at the polls.

My children will march with me this weekend because we know what leadership looks like. President Trump practices the opposite of these values. If my children ever emulated his greed, narcissism, or bullying treatment of others, they would be punished. Fortunately, they know better, they have a lens with which to view President Trump, and they have the leadership example of President Obama and the examples of Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, and Jill Biden who shared and practiced the same values.

I am grateful my children grew up in the Obama era, and will heed his example and call to serve. I am grateful that they and their friends will be speaking out, stepping up, and voting soon. Despite some tough times ahead, our future is in good hands. Hope and change indeed.