This morning, as the embarrassing transcript of Trump's AP interview was attempting to be read by those brave enough to risk cerebral hemorrhage, something truly stark in its contrast was taking place on a stage at the University of Chicago.
President Obama sat between a group of young people, talking, listening, engaging. It was a conversation about civic engagement, community organizing, relating to one another. His presence was, as it always has been, calming, soothing. His words were, as they always have been, articulate, thoughtful, measured.
And for almost 90 minutes, people the world over watched, listened, and reminisced. We remembered what it was to have an adult in the position of most powerful leader in the world. We remembered what it was to have a President who paused as he answered questions - truly taking in the query and giving a response that contained information, thought, context. We remembered what it was like to learn from his words - history, governance, world affairs - and to be spurred on to learn more.
More than anything, we remembered what it felt like to be proud of the person representing our country on the world stage.
Contrast that with the Trump interview in which he puts Palin word salad to shame. Hell, Trump makes Palin come off as a poet laureate. Compared to his inability to even fully answer a single question, Sarah Palin was a gifted orator. His interview rambles, meanders, falls in holes, obfuscates, and stymies. His vocabulary is frighteningly limited, his need for self aggrandizement simply frightening.
To use the Gertrude Stein quote, "There is no there, there" when it comes to Trump's capacity for thoughtful discourse, comprehension, or intellect.
It is embarrassing to read through and amounts to nothing more than a series of pats on the ass for himself, and the repeated use of the word "great" in relation to everything he touches, his achievements (which are nil), and his relations with other world leaders (they are laughing) = great great greatgreatgreat.
Coming on the heels of this verbal Chernobyl, President Obama's appearance was like brain balm to those us for whom attempting to comprehend Trump has caused chapped cerebellums.
Watching President Obama, listening to him draw those young people out, I was repeatedly reminded of what a leader should be. A leader must engage with the people in the conversation or there is no conversation. The young people on stage covered many colors, ethnic backgrounds, and yes, even politics - a young man in college, a Republican, sat next to Obama. And when he was engaged by the former President, it was with interest, thought, sincerity. Anyone watching could tell the young man felt safe. And he felt heard.
That person stood out to me because, while I cannot understand anyone being a Republican given what that party stands for (or what they stand against), I find it even more challenging to grasp a young person aligning themselves with that mindset. I completely respected that when Obama engaged him in a one-on-one, he started off by acknowledging a hard truth - that being a young Republican on a college campus has to be more than challenging, especially these days. Colleges are places where minds should be expanding, not stagnating. Places where a student is rubbing up against all kinds of people, cultures, mindsets. A place where their horizons are growing by leaps and bounds. Where stereotypes they may have grown up believing are busted by actually meeting people who do not fit them.
Sure, a place like Liberty University will help reinforce those stereotypes, limit those minds, and keep them locked in step with very small marching orders in terms of thought, but state colleges, liberal arts colleges, etc, offer a young person a chance to test what they think they know against reality. And that typically means they start to throw off the mental chains that have confined them and they become more open, accepting, thirsty to learn more about the world in which they live.
So yes, I imagine being a young Republican is a hard badge to wear. And President Obama acknowledged that, drawing the young man out. And as that young man spoke, the President leaned in, actively listening, and when it was time, he asked more questions. That boy may not agree with Obama's politics, but I guarantee you he felt HEARD.
As the conversations continued, I watched that young man closely. As Obama spoke about our history, our actual shared goals that get blurred by rhetoric, that college student listened and I saw something happening. I watched cognitive dissonance taking hold - you could literally see it in his face. He was struggling against what he was taught to think, what he thinks he thinks, and trying hard to reconcile that with the measured, intelligent, articulate, fact based responses coming out of our 44th President.
When it was over, I kept watching. The former President was shaking the hands and hugging each person that had shared the stage with him. When he got to that young man, the handshake was genuine, they spoke quietly to one another, and that young Republican smiled, not wanting the conversation to stop.
Such is the gift of words. The gift of being in the presence of greatness, of intelligence, of someone who sees you, hears you, lets you know you matter.
The intro of A Tale of Two Cities has been on a loop in my brain the rest of the day: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
Trump personifies the worst - in shallow thought, in ineffectual deed, in a proven incapacity for intelligent discourse.
And President Obama personifies the best - reminding us of our history, how we got here, breaking down our struggles, reminding us that we are all in this High School Musical together, and more than anything else reigniting the embers of hope in what we can be.
If you missed it, here is the full video.