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Opinion: I’m done thinking about Donald Trump. Today is about giving thanks to President Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama brushes the shoulder of President Obama as they wait for President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump at the White House on Jan. 20 in Washington.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Today, Donald Trump became president of the United States. I didn’t watch. I’ve done nothing but pay attention to that man for the past year.

An estimated 1.8 million people showed up to see Barack Obama take office in 2009, while nearly 38 million Americans watched from home. The inauguration is the ultimate reality television program; you can bet Donald Trump will be tracking his own numbers.

Instead of boosting Trump’s ratings, I spent my time thinking back to how it felt to be a college student in Virginia — a nail-biter swing state — when the U.S. elected its first black president. I looked at pictures from the 2009 inauguration, when I was one of those Americans bundled against the frigid cold on the National Mall. I remembered how hopeful I felt when he was elected, and how calm I felt when he was in office.

President Obama was not perfect, but he was extraordinary.

Our president was a deep thinker; he was funny; he read books; he was tireless; he was empathetic; he passed healthcare; he slow-jammed the news.

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Our president was the first to call himself a feminist, which he did repeatedly. Our president wrote about women’s rights and masculinity in Glamour magazine:

We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs.

We need to keep changing the attitude that permits the routine harassment of women, whether they’re walking down the street or daring to go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that teaches men to feel threatened by the presence and success of women.

We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full-time dads and penalizes working mothers. We need to keep changing the attitude that values being confident, competitive and ambitious in the workplace — unless you’re a woman. Then you’re being too bossy, and suddenly the very qualities you thought were necessary for success end up holding you back.

We need to keep changing a culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color. Michelle has often spoken about this. Even after achieving success in her own right, she still held doubts; she had to worry about whether she looked the right way or was acting the right way — whether she was being too assertive or too “angry.”

As a parent, helping your kids to rise above these constraints is a constant learning process. Michelle and I have raised our daughters to speak up when they see a double standard or feel unfairly judged based on their gender or race — or when they notice that happening to someone else. It’s important for them to see role models out in the world who climb to the highest levels of whatever field they choose. And yes, it’s important that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men.

Our president saw women as people. Our president didn’t conform to the constraints of traditional masculinity. He worked to ensure that women, men and gender-nonconforming people had the freedom to be themselves. He cried while expressing appreciation for Joe Biden, and while listening to Aretha Franklin, and while remembering his grandmother, and after the Newtown massacre. He sang “Amazing Grace” at a funeral for the pastor slain in the Charleston, S.C., shooting. He was often emotive, and rarely harsh. He respected and engaged with the arts. He called out his wife’s accomplishments, and publicly recognized all she’d given to ensure his own. He celebrated female strength.

Earnest expression is too often a trap in progressive circles. True progressives, the cry always goes, focus on Obama’s drone policy, Guantanamo, Syria! True progressives never celebrate! Our president was a person doing an absurdly difficult job made harder by an obstructionist Congress. His failures have been catalogued.

President Obama was not perfect, but he was extraordinary. I lived in six cities and on two continents during his presidency, and everywhere I went I was proud to be American. Thanks, Obama.

Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow her @velvetmelvis on Twitter.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook


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