No matter what you may think of his policies, or the things he has done as president, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Barack Obama is a wonderful person. There is a certain warmth and charm about the man that rises above politics. Over the past eight years we have all gotten to know the president a little, even those of us who have never met him, thanks to stories about his interactions with regular Americans.
Donald Trump may be a wonderful human being as well. There are certainly stories out there about this or that instance of his generosity (although some have proved to be false). But what we haven’t seen much of, despite his many years in the spotlight, is the kind of connection to ordinary people we have come to enjoy from President Obama.
There are many moments that could be used as examples of the humanity — the downright decency — of Barack Obama. Here are five of the best.
The Obamas welcome a 106-year-old woman to the White House
This past February, in honor of Black History month, the Obamas welcomed African-Americans from all walks of life to the White House. One of those who got to visit was 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin. In December 2014 a petition was started on Whitehouse.gov asking the president to meet with the centenarian.
The petition features McLaurin’s own words, describing her desire to meet America’s first black president.
My name is Virginia McLaurin, I live in Washington DC. I was born in 1909. I’ve never met a President. I didnt think I would live to see a Colored President because I was born in the South and didn’t think it would happen. I am so happy and I would love to meet you and your family if I could.
McLauren got her wish. And she was so excited to meet the president and first lady she began to dance. The Obamas joined her.
President Obama consoles a crying child
It was April 2013. The president was overseeing the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House grounds. Everybody was having a good time. Well, almost everybody.
As the president walked around, greeting children and parents, he noticed 5-year-old Donovan Frazier from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who was sitting on the ground, crying. Obama went to the child, gave him a hug, a pep talk, and an Easter egg.
The president drops in to visit Michelle’s Girl Scout campout on the White House lawn
In June 2015 the Obamas hosted a group of Girl Scouts for a campout on the White House lawn in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. (Many people don’t know it, but the White House grounds are a national park.)
Michelle Obama had used the occasion to invite about 50 Girl Scouts from across the country to the White House to help promote her “Let’s Move Outdoors” initiative to help get children to be more active. The group was treated to a surprise guest: President Obama. He and Michelle joined the girls, singing songs, talking and joking with them before returning to the White House.
The president shakes the hand of a Marine he forgot to salute
OK, let’s start this one by getting one thing out of the way: presidents aren’t required to return military salutes. It’s actually improper for them to do so, as they are civilians. Even former military men like Dwight Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt didn’t salute. Ronald Reagan is believed to be the person who started the practice, in his desire to look the part of commander-in-chief.
So when the president went to board his helicopter, Marine One, and forgot to return the salute of the Marine corporal who was standing at the doorway, the right wing went into one of its frequent “why does the president hate America” rants. Obama, realizing that he hadn’t acknowledged the Marine, went back outside and did something more proper than saluting.
The president takes a walk
It has to drive the Secret Service crazy when a president ventures out into public. But that is exactly what President Obama has chosen to do on a number of occasions, walking from the White House to meetings, or even just to grab a coffee. And during those walks he has often taken the time to interact with the people he has met on the way.
Those are just a few of the many examples of what type of person Barack Obama is. It is a shame that his enemies have relentlessly sought to make him out to be not just someone with whom they disagree, but someone who is evil and un-American.
It would be wonderful if the incoming president would interact with average citizens in the same way. But if it happens it will be a big change from the way Trump has behaved in the past. Trump hates shaking hands. He seems to prefer viewing people from a distance without coming into contact with them.
No matter what we get from President Trump, one thing is certain: for at least the next four years the White House will be occupied by someone who will never be able to compete with the common touch of Barack Obama.