Obama and Clinton represent American progress in face of fear

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Story highlights

  • The sight of the first black president and a woman who might succeed him is cause for celebration, writes Issac Bailey
  • By almost every important measure, America has progressed during the Obama presidency, Bailey says

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Hillary Clinton's appearance with President Obama in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday wasn't just the highest-profile campaign event of the general election so far -- coming just hours after the FBI put a stake through the heart of the hopes of Republicans (and ardent Bernie Sanders fans) who held onto the unrealistic belief that Clinton would be indicted in "Emailgate" -- it was the personification of the fear that is animating Donald Trump supporters more than any other.

Issac Bailey
Clinton and Obama represent a new America, one in which nontraditional leaders (read: people who aren't white men) will continue emerging, taking over positions that they had long been barred from holding, either by law, social norms, or both. That's why Trump supporters aren't wrong to say they no longer recognize the country their grandparents were raised in. They view that change as a personal threat, while many of the rest of us eagerly await opportunities materializing that were denied our parents.
    There's a good chance the nation's first black president will be followed by its first female leader, a reality almost unimaginable a decade ago. There are two ways to digest that news:
    1) Celebrate the country's constant, if at times too slow, move toward a more equitable society, even if it comes via imperfect vessels.
    2) Deny the obvious by deeming the likes of Obama and Clinton natural born threats to the republic who are purposefully trying to destroy the country.
    Too few people have embraced the first view, too many the second. That's why it's so easy for so many to believe in conspiracies and take caricatures of their opponents as gospel truth.
    Neither Obama nor Clinton is perfect. Obama wasn't without fault before he was twice elected -- or even as President -- and Clinton would take her unique brand of imperfection to Washington if she wins in November. (Clinton's use of private email, while neither criminal nor unprecedented, was, frankly, dumb and, as the FBI determined, careless.) But serious shortcomings can be cited in the case of every previous occupant of the White House.
    Those claiming the republic is on the precipice because Clinton wasn't indicted are often the first to deify and express uncritical reverence for presidents who owned slaves, secretly sold arms to our enemies and launched wars on what turned out to be false pretenses. The republic survived each of those things but will crumble because of Clinton's email server and Obama saying that had he a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin?

    Fears and facts

    There are also legitimate fears motivating critics of this emerging America. White men are seeing a decrease in life expectancy as other groups continue to gain longevity compared to previous generations.
    Most of the jobs in the new economy are going to those with college degrees, shutting out many including white men who once were able to land family sustaining jobs without a high school diploma, or even the ability to read and write. There's uncertainty where there once was certainty. And the results of our foreign policy decisions in the Middle East should continue to be scrutinized.
    But the truth is, the first black president would be handing the reins to the first female president of a nation in the midst of the longest job creation streak in its history; one which has experienced faster economic growth than most other industrialized countries; has seen its median household income match the level reached during the 1990s; and has the lowest teen pregnancy, abortion and uninsured rates on record.
    The deficit has been cut by nearly $1 trillion since 2009 while gas prices are low, the real estate market has made a comeback and the stock market has more than doubled. And today's teenagers are more educated and disciplined than previous generations, with the lowest rates of smoking, drinking and drugging on record.
    America's favorability around the globe, and the perception of its place as the most vital nation on Earth, have increased over the past seven years. And one of the reasons the middle class is shrinking is because more Americans are making it into the upper middle class faster than the ranks of the poor are expanding.
    Those are inconvenient facts for those mired in despair and disgust -- much of which is built upon exaggerations, if not outright lies, about the two headliners at the Charlotte Convention Center Tuesday -- that they can't allow themselves to see anything else.

    Moving forward

    This country is moving forward in powerfully important ways, shaped by people whose ancestors were slaves or disenfranchised. There was a time that no matter our political leanings, most of us could at least acknowledge that inescapable progress.
    Unfortunately, that time isn't today. But Clinton and Obama in Charlotte responded to that depressing reality by doing precisely what made their accomplishments possible. They shut out the noise and giddily embraced a bright future in a country whose global approval has improved steadily since Obama took over.
    "America really is great," Obama told the crowd.
    It is, and getting better, no matter if some people refuse to believe it. Even with all the country's faults, it is freer today than at any other time in its history, with that freedom accessible to a greater number of people than ever. The longer those like Obama and Clinton continue shattering glass ceilings and breaking barriers, the harder it will be for cynics to deny that truth.