The morning of last November 8, 2016, I was the same as many of you. I felt there was no real way that Donald Trump was going to be elected president. By around midnight that night, I wasn’t angry at Trump voters — I felt that they were confused and desperate. I wasn’t mad about the electoral college — the rules are the rules. But I was disappointed in myself. I’d forgotten the lesson I learned eight years ago.
In mid-2008, I was not alone in my skepticism about Barack Obama’s chances of becoming the next president. I was living in New York, around people who would have no problem voting with a young black Chicagoan with the middle name Hussein, but I knew better than to expect much of the rest of the country to do the same. When I was proved wrong, I decided I’d learned a lesson: I had no idea how people would vote. To pretend I could understand was crazy.
What was not crazy at all was the presidency of the notoriously cool Obama, as we see in Michael D’Antonio’s new book A Consequential President: The Legacy of Barack Obama. Each chapter is devoted to a distinct issue, like the recession, financial reform, foreign policy, or health care. Peppered with charts and graphs that show things like education spending or U.S. favorability among European nations. D’Antonio’s book is especially practical with its concise narrative accounts of how the Affordable Health Care Act was passed, or the decision making that went into the auto bailout.
It might be a bit soon to claim to understand what will be the legacy of a president who is still in office. But D’Antonio’s sober account of the eight years Obama spent in the White House is a useful, immediate look back at Obama’s two terms. We’ll have to decide what lessons to take from it as we prepare for what the presidency is about to become.