On November 5, 2008, the words “Obama Changes the Color of History” appeared as the headline on the front page of El Mundo. Eight years on and the Obama whose recent flying visit to Spain came and went in under 24 hours has become a sad president at the end of his mandate. The only 21st century leader capable of winning the hearts of half the world may still be descending the steps of Air Force One with the same energy, but a lot has changed. His hair is graying and his face no longer expresses enthusiasm, but instead resignation. He’s retained the same charisma, still referencing his children during press conferences, but his smile has lost its sparkle. David Remnick, author of “The Bridge,” the most complete biography of Obama to date, explains the feeling of enthusiasm surrounding the African-American president: “Who Obama was, where he came from, how he came to understand himself … would be at the center of his rhetoric and appeal. In addition to his political views, what Obama proposed as the core of his candidacy was a self – a complex, cautious, intelligent, shrewd, young African-American man. He was not a great man yet by any means, but he was the promise of greatness.”
In the twilight of his presidency, Obama is a man who has had to give up on many of his dreams. The most painful is perhaps his failure to change the destiny of the black race in America. “When a black man comes to power, he should play by different rules,”* he was told while in a barbershop during his time as a social worker in Chicago. Obama recounts the story himself in his 1995 book, “Dreams from my Father,” his personal journey to trace his African roots, written with the sincerity of a man who didn’t yet aspire to one day take his place in the Oval Office. And yet, eight years in the White House wasn’t enough to put an end to discrimination or racial hatred. The latest outbreak of violence occurred recently in Dallas, where the death of several white police officers further serves to crush the dreams once held by a young Obama, passing through Spain on a backpacking trip across Europe. Violence, therefore, has tainted the first official visit of a North American president to Spain in 15 years.
America’s first black president and Spain have traveled parallel paths to arrive at this age of dying dreams. In 2008, Obama first arrived at the White House; in 2008, the party ended and Spain began its rather abrupt and unexpected decline. In eight years, Obama and Spain have done all they can to escape a hollow, hopeless destiny. And yet, in the final stretch of his presidency, Obama looks on in horror at Trump’s rapidly growing popularity and probably considers it a failure that the bad-tempered Republican candidate may very well become president. Spain, on the other hand, hasn’t had much better luck. The economic crisis has left the country riddled with unemployment, inequality, and the disaster of the millions of people caught in the crossfire.
And so this whistle-stop visit takes on a sort of metaphorical value. Like Obama, Spain is a sad, disillusioned, government-less country plunged into the worst institutional crisis since the Franco regime, and with little hope in its political elite. The rushed, even furtive shot of three political leaders gathered at Torrejón military air base is perhaps the best example of the Spanish institutional disorder that Obama has to take back to Washington.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
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