Yesterday I was having lunch when an African-American gentleman entered the restaurant where I was eating wearing an ostentatious jacket with a big image of Barack Obama on the back, complete with the Presidential seal.
I smiled at the tackiness of the jacket. It was an ostentatious article of clothing to be sure, in the sense that it was loud as fuck and kitschy as hell. But I felt other emotions as well. I felt the same weird, fuzzy sense of identification when I see someone with a Phish or Insane Clown Posse tee-shirt, or the name of a podcast I adore, that sense of “I’m a fan, too.”
That seems ridiculous, in hindsight. Obama wasn’t a cult band or a podcast listened to by a tiny section of the American public: he was the goddamned President of the United States for eight years. So it feels weird to think of him in any sense as a cult figure, but the unexpected surge of emotions generated by his image alone suggests that the Cult of Obama remains strong not just for me but for a whole group of Americans for whom Obama is still President, and the orange bloviator in the White House just a ridiculous pretender.
But it goes beyond that. Seeing Obama’s smiling visage on the man’s jacket brought back a lot of the overwhelming emotions. I suddenly felt an echo of the incredible sense of pride and joy I experienced the night of his election in 2008, when it really did seem possible that we as a culture and a country were making progress and beginning to undo some of the almost inconceivable damage wrought by generation upon generation of racism, sexism and homophobia.
I loved how Obama always seems to have a vaguely embarrassed expression in this bootleg merchandise, as if to betray that he understands that the job of president is to do the very serious, very adult job of leading a country, not modeling for bootleg novelty garments. This is in sharp contrast with Trump, who looks embarrassed and out of place in a Presidential context, and seems like he would much rather be fulfilling his existential and professional destiny modeling for bootleg novelty garments.
That strange sense of solidarity I felt with the man in the Obama jacket is only heightened by my visceral revulsion I feel towards the man who currently holds Obama’s old job. Seeing the man in the Obama attire reminded me how comforting, even soothing it was to see Obama’s face on television during his presidency. I felt like the country was in good hands. It was comforting to an almost narcotizing degree.
Having Obama in office was like being on a powerful Benzo like Ativan for eight years. It relaxed me. Trump, in sharp contrast, is more like being on cheap, bad cocaine that only makes you feel frenzied and anxious and filled with dread and paranoia about anything and everything.
I find Obama kitsch comforting because I connect so strongly with the man and his message and because Obama and his presidency mean so much to me. Of course, it does not hurt that I'm from Chicago, and met Obama at an airport when he was a Senator and was absolutely blown away by his charisma and presence.
But I also find Obama kitsch weirdly poignant and even a little sad in addition to reassuring because of all that Obama wasn’t able to accomplish and because of the goddamn tragedy that followed him into office. Even silly, tacky reminders of Obama make me at least a little bit happy (or at least reflexively engender a smile) because literally everything his successor does fills me with incandescent rage. When I say everything, I mean everything. Trump could sign an order saying that puppies are cute and my response would be an apoplectic, “Fuck you, monster! You’ve never admired a puppy in your life you fucking hypocrite.”
What I’m saying, dear reader, is that if I could have, I would voted for Obama three times, and if that doesn’t make me a “woke” white Liberal, then I don’t know what does.
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