With the inauguration of Donald Trump just around the corner, some politicians and thought leaders have begun reflecting on President Obama’s legacy. One particular editorial in The Guardian by Cornel West, a professor at Harvard University and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, caught my eye. The title, “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama,” was pointed and somewhat jarring for a publication that leans left in the way that the Guardian does.
In the editorial, Dr. West rips Obama for not bringing about substantive change in a number of areas and living up to the ideal of hope that had surrounded filled the campaign and the period leading up to his administration. Dr. West ends his editorial with what amounts to a disheartened outlook, saying, “What a sad legacy for our hope and change candidate – even as we warriors go down swinging in the fading names of truth and justice.” In reading the editorial, one cannot help thinking that the words are the words of a man whose hope and trust had been betrayed.
Disappointment and a smoldering anger seem to permeate the charges against the Obama Administration. It is almost as if he expected President Obama to be a savior who would walk on water, leading his people to the promised land, but instead, he got a man who fought to keep his head above water as he did the doggy paddle.
President Obama’s supporters are merely the latest group to experience the letdown that comes when a political leader does not, or cannot, live up to expectations. Before them stands every person who has ever placed high hopes upon a political leader.
Leaders who spend any amount of time leading will inevitably fail. Add high expectations to the mix and the failure will be even more spectacular. Somehow, however, we have forgotten this simple truth. Perhaps we have become to easily deceived by what are empty promises.
Perhaps we have fallen prey to historical amnesia. Perhaps we have read far too little about past presidents and are familiar with only the CliffsNotes version of their triumphs so that we miss the reality of men whose administrations were less than perfect.
Most especially, however, we have begun making idols out of men. Scripture clearly teaches that all men are fallen and suffer from the universal effects of sin. Therefore none of them can ultimately deliver on their promises to make the world a better place. They may succeed in bettering a few specific realms, but beyond that they stand both incapable and incompetent. Only One has delivered entirely on His promises to deliver His people, and He alone can do so.
Do President Obama’s supporters who stood behind him have a right to be disappointed at his legacy? Sure. They hoped for a number of things, some of which were accomplished while others were not. Do they have a right to be surprised that President Obama didn’t bring about their utopian visions? No. If they are, then they were naive about reality.
In four to eight years we will ask the same about those who stand fervently behind Donald Trump and the answers will be the same. Will they have a right to be disappointed at his legacy? Sure. Will they have a right to be surprised? No.