Tuesday, May 22, 2018

HBO "The Final Year" ... by gimleteye

The emotion I felt, at the conclusion of the excellent HBO documentary "The Final Year", is in one word: "devastation".

I voted for Obama twice, but I found plenty to criticize in his two terms.

Still, "The Final Year" conveys his essential nature -- competence and caution -- qualities of character that stand in stark contrast to the wild and careening presidency of Donald Trump.

The HBO documentary that premiered last night is told mainly through two principal figures in the Obama administration: chief speechwriter and advisor, Ben Rhodes, and Samantha Powers, ambassador to the United Nations. Both convey the care and thoughtfulness absent from the current White House is ways that are shocking and unprecedented.

But these are one viewer's observations, not of the documentary or its makers.

Rather, "The Final Year" wrestles with the challenge of being an optimist and advocate for inclusiveness in an era lurching toward dark uncertainties, fear-mongering and creeping nationalism.

Samantha Powers puts the global emergencies -- of Syria, of crippled and impoverished African nations -- in the context of 65 million refugees around the world: the biggest crisis since the Second World War. Ben Rhodes emphasizes what he hopes will be the Obama legacy, like health care and the Paris Climate Accord.

To the very end, neither believed that in November 2016 the American voter would put targets on the back of these achievements.

What is devastating is to know, today, that the American voter didn't. Trump lost the popular vote by more than 3 million. He won the electoral college by the improbably thin margin of 80,000 in three states. We also know, today, that the influence of hostile, foreign actors like Russia on social media tipped the scales.

Of all the disparate pieces that add up to devastation, the one that most profoundly affected me is how the documentary conveyed Obama's massive achievement: he gave hope through an outreached hand to the dispossessed, the poor and the bereft.

There may be 65 million refugees on the march around the globe today, but the true number of oppressed is many times greater. Throughout our history, the United States represented hope and compassion. Today we see how fragile that capital is, how easily it is squandered, and how difficult it is to replace -- if it can be done at all -- by our allies.

Trump doesn't feature in the documentary until his appearance at the end, like a thunderclap. Obama, Rhodes, Powers: they are gone. Where we live, it is still thundering. That's what I felt, mostly, as the credits rolled on "The Final Year".

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