What I wouldn’t give for some soaring rhetoric right now.
Gallup reports we’ve reached a new low. They asked if we’re “extremely proud” to be Americans. For the first time, the number dipped below a majority. Among Democrats, it’s 32 percent.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t help but daydream during Saturday’s rally to “Keep Families Together” that Barack Obama would roll up in a trail of black Escalades. I wanted him to part the masses and stride up to the stage. I could imagine the Los Angeles crowd going wild. But, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t imagine what he’d say.
Maybe Obama was on my mind because I read he was in town earlier in the week, for a Democratic fundraiser. He made headlines by telling the audience: “Enough moping.”
“If what you are doing requires no sacrifice at all,” he told them, “then you can do more.”
I wouldn’t mind Obama lecturing us into shape, would I?
That’s what he tells fundraisers. What would Obama tell a sea of people looking back at him, wishing for a way to make this the America we remembered, when he was president.
Obama always knew what to say. When a sniper shot and killed police in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter protest, do you remember Obama showing up in Dallas for a memorial service? He was faced with what seemed like unprecedented division. Yet, he opened the memorial by welcoming suffering. “Scripture tells us that in our sufferings, there is glory, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
He acknowledged it was a harsh reality. “Sometimes the truths of these words are hard to see,” he said. “Right now, those words test us because the people of Dallas, people across the country are suffering.”
Or there was that time we were heart broken after a racist shot up the Emanuel A.M.E. church in South Carolina and Obama went there, and he sang from the podium — “Amazing Grace.” The Atlantic marveled at the power of the few seconds of silence the president imposed just before he broke into song.
Meanwhile, five journalists were shot last week while working at their desks at the Annapolis Capital Gazette. Annapolis isn't far from Washington, but President Trump still hasn't gone. The Baltimore Sun reports that Trump was asked to fly flags at half mast; he initially said no.
Maybe that’s why I stood in that hot California sun and so longed for Obama to return. As July arrives, the specter of President Trump firing the special prosecutor is as scary as ever. The Supreme Court just ruled in his favor on the Muslim ban. And the former host of The Apprentice is right now interviewing potential nominees for the Supreme Court, bragging that he might very well pick a woman, because even The Donald is aware of how terrible he is to women.
My mom had watched national protest after national protest on MSNBC from her home in Florida, and she really wanted to get to a big L.A. protest during her visit to the West Coast grandkids. The odds of Trump doing something terrible were in her favor, and as “luck” would have it, there was a protest on Saturday.
I went because I needed to add my body to the inevitable evaluation of crowd size insisting Families Belong Together. A sign at the downtown rally read, “What If They Took YOUR Child?” I’m a dad to two children with Mexican heritage. It’s my daughters' faces I imagine whenever I hear the haunting recordings of screaming children torn from their parents.
I took out my phone and snapped a picture of the woman holding the sign so I would remember it, lost in a wallpaper of other outraged people. The signs were like angry word bubbles.
Prominent politicians whose names you’ve heard took the stage to speak to add their own words to the melange. For Los Angelenos, there was Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose refrain was “We’re strong!” Rumor is Garcetti might run for president in 2020. “It is time to do your job,” the mayor said to Trump. “Do your job and reunite families.... If you don’t, we’re going to find somebody who does.”
Then there was Sen. Kamala Harris, who might also be a 2020 contender. “We are better than this,” she said to cheers. I thought maybe it would be an Obama moment. “When we have women fleeing domestic violence and gang crime and we do not give them a safe place to go, we know we are better than this.” The crowd nodded in agreement. “A society will be judged by how it treats its children and the least among us. We know we are better than this.”
I perused the headlines from the rally later, and it was Auntie Maxine Waters who got attention for her fearlessness, speaking to us despite death threats. “We’re not afraid of you. You should be ashamed,” she began her speech, only just getting started. To Donald Trump, she said, “You will not intimidate us. We are coming right at you.” To those making death threats, she said, “If you shoot me, you better shoot straight. There is nothing like a wounded animal.”
The crowd was more behind Waters than anyone else who'd spoken. She had them, even if the mic couldn't deliver her voice to the back. They clapped anyway, fists in the air. It wasn’t Obama. But it was fire, and fire will substitute in a pinch.
Actually, maybe that’s what I’m worried about.