We find ourselves a few months away, thankfully, from the U.S. presidential election to appoint the new world leader. Until Nov. 8, we will still be able to enjoy Barack Obama’s public presence. Conclusions have already started to be drawn about his term, and what's certain is they will keep being drawn for years to come, with varying assessments.
Almost every intervention by the American president lately is a reminder—with a healthy dose of melancholy as farewell is not far off—that Obama recommended and supported a different quality of leadership, one that set the bar very high. Even for us, as remote observers of his term, his absence will leave a big gap; not only one that is difficult to fill, but also a rather dangerous one.
The reason for these thoughts is his recent commencement address at Rutgers University. He addressed young people to empower them and also make them accountable, without a trace of didacticism or flattery. He encouraged the graduates not to be nostalgic for a supposedly golden era in the United States, highlighting that "the good old days weren't all that good," referring to racial discrimination, poverty and women's place in society. He said, "Your generation has everything it takes to lead this country toward a brighter future. I’m confident that you can make the right choices—away from fear and division and paralysis, and toward cooperation and innovation and hope … You’re smarter and better educated than my generation. You’ve been more exposed to the world,” he said, a world that he noted "is more interconnected than ever before." He tore down the walls that some are trying to raise, without even once mentioning Donald Trump's name. "[Building walls] won't boost our economy, and it won’t enhance our security either. Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country, that is not just a betrayal of our values, that's not just a betrayal of who we are,”* he said.
An important trait of the American's president’s personality is that he does not disconnect from reality; he reflects change, instead of blindly fighting it; he understands diversity, instead of condemning it. When he is in disagreement, he does not demonize the opposing view. He develops arguments. He defends the dynamics of the situation, battles stereotypes. Let us put aside any obvious self-sarcasm or charisma and concentrate on the ability, as well as the adequacy of knowledge and emotion required to be capable of communicating on the same level with a great yet peculiar writer, such as Marilynne Robinson, which resulted in a fascinating discussion in the fall of 2015.
We "come back" to Obama more and more. Time will tell whether he did politics correctly or not, inside or outside his own country. But, for a great number of citizens outside America, he is a model leader in real, not mythological terms. Fifteen days ago, a new Eurobarometer survey brought an impressive percentage to the surface: more than half of young Europeans feel marginalized in their country, due to the financial crisis. The sample consisted of 10,294 young people (16-30 years old), from 28 member states. It's the same population as that of the graduates of the University of Rutgers, whom Obama addressed. They all are young, gifted people at a determining point in their lives. They all are "more exposed" to a world that is "more interconnected than ever before." Political interventions do not only aim at creating new jobs, but also at shaping workers with different perceptions and worldviews. Just as long as the political leadership is part of that changing world and does not resist change.
*Editor’s note: The balance of Obama’s remark here was as follows: “… it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism.”