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Obama’s UK Visit and the End of his Leadership

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The sun is sliding down the white Aquia Creek sandstone of the iconic presidential building, which has served as Obama’s office for the last seven and a half years.

Soon the light will dim on Obama’s time as Leader of the Free World. Then we will be forced to ask that rather loaded and foreboding question: ‘what’s next for America?’

In his recent dinner speech for White House correspondents, Obama told us who he thinks will take the mantle, having already confided in America that he trusted their good judgement in not choosing Donald Trump to fill his shoes.

“Next year this time someone else will be standing here,” Obama said, “and it’s anyone’s guess who she will be.”

Indeed it’s no secret that Obama harbours a fair amount of disdain for the famous orange-faced entrepreneur, who he mockingly calls ‘The Donald’. In doing so Obama has joined the ranks of the anti-Trump intelligentsia, including all kinds of influential figures from comedian Louis CK to ‘the father of modern linguistics’ Noam Chomsky. Together these individuals have been challenging Trump’s nonchalant denial of climate change, vacuous business dealings (he’s famous for being one of the world’s least generous billionaires), smug self-aggrandisement and absent-minded, obscene rhetoric. We can only hope that they get through to the American public. That way we won’t have to face huge immigrant-stopping walls and wild man-hunts against investigative journalists – to name but a few of the new presidential actions likely to carry Trump’s seal of approval.

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Like we said, there’s a certain amount of unease that stirs when you ask the question: ‘what’s next for America?’ The answer is important, you know? And of course it implicates all of us, although, for now, we’ll just have to wait… Obama isn’t giving up the office yet.

On the contrary, the president has been performing his duties with as much presence, compassion and vigour as ever. In the last few months he’s flown with his entourage to Cuba and, more recently, Europe, where he made a number of optimistic speeches to much applause. We could bore you senseless talking about the various details of these different European visits, but in this blog we want to focus specifically on Obama’s trip to the UK.

It began, as it always does, with President Obama cutting a smooth figure as he hopped off his helicopter onto the verdant lawns of Windsor Castle. Walking alongside the beautiful First Lady, Michelle Obama, he approached the Queen and Prince Philip and no doubt exchanged a few pleasantries before being whisked off to tend to their public duties. Obama was later seen in the garden of No.10 Downing Street, chatting to David Cameron over a smoking barbecue grill and serving burgers to American and British military personnel and their families. Then we watched him rolling away between the sun-baked terraces of prime London real estate, concealed behind the blackened windows of ‘The Beast’, an aptly named black armoured limo, which resembles a stretched tank/bat-mobile.

Despite the seemingly defensive transport, Obama made various candid public appearances, including a speech at Lindley Hall in London, where he fielded questions from a number of young people, eager to gain insight into America’s foreign policy, amongst numerous other hot topics. All the while these open-air appearances were interspersed with a number of ‘closed-door meetings’, when the proceedings surely took a much more solemn turn and waiting discussions came to the fore, such as how to get troops out of the waning conflict in Afghanistan and how to bolster the forces in Libya, without committing too many ground troops.

 

‘It’s possible…’

Ultimately it seemed to be a very productive visit with both light-hearted and serious moments. It would be hard for us to pick our favourite, but if you twisted our arm we’d have to say it was when Obama became the first US President to speak in Westminster Hall. Not just because of the gravity of the occasion, but because of the lightness with which the president handled it. Now it seems as though he’s emerged from his service, in one of the most trying posts there is, as an indefatigable optimist. Wrapped in smooth resilience Obama was able to stand, in front of our former PMs and a host of MPs, and hold the torch of both democratic nations aloft with hope for the future.

“It’s possible for hearts to change and old hatreds to pass…” Obama said, closing his speech in Westminster, “It’s possible for the sons and daughters of former colonies to sit here as members of this great parliament and for the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British army to stand before you as president of the United States.”

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One thing we will miss, when Obama takes off the star-spangled lapel badge, is the joy of having a president who is also a great orator. That’s not to say that we’ve decided his successor will be duller by default, it’s just that Obama had this unique calm and prophetic ease with words that we think will be nigh impossible to follow. In fact, in a podcast with comedian Marc Maron, Obama, who was raised in Hawaii, said that he had his own private ‘Hawaii in the mind’, which he retreated to whenever the shadows of his work encircled him. Perhaps that was it – we were just getting this tropical rainfall of gentle caring and easy one-liners, plonking into the stagnant pool left behind by that half-wit, George Bush.

To give you an example of what we mean we’d have to refer you to Obama’s speeches for the White House correspondents’ dinner. Basically these were just little stand-up routines he did, culminating in the eighth and final speech he gave a few days ago, which we thought was his best one to date. This time no one, neither Democrats nor Republicans, was safe. In fact Obama even rallied against himself with a string of self-deprecating jabs at his own age and decreasing relevance. At one point he pointed out that little Prince George didn’t even change out of his dressing gown for their meeting and called it ‘a slap in the face’. Of course, amongst the modest, more playful jibes, he also found time to take a few deft shots at his favourite target, Donald Trump, who wasn’t present.

“They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be president,” Obama joked, “But in fairness he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan.”

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Finally, we wanted to show you this spoof retirement video Obama played during his final speech. You just have to watch it to see why we thought it was worth sharing. We also couldn’t conclude without mentioning that fateful moment when Obama performed his dramatic mic-drop. We’d all watched in amazement as he suddenly loosened up and stepped out from behind the podium. “Obama out,” he said, before kissing two fingers and letting the mic drop to the ground. Then, with a wave of renewed swagger, he turned to leave and was followed by the clamour of a standing ovation.

It’s safe to say that Obama is enjoying the slow sunset of his second term as the President of the United States.

 

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