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Nov 12 2016
by Daniel Nguyen

Obama's Legacy Through His Favorite Books And Music

By Daniel Nguyen - Nov 12 2016
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With the presidential election now over, the end of President Obama's eight-year tour de force as the nation's first black president looms overhead like an ominous mass of thunderclouds ready to boot America back into the tumultuous transition period from old president to new president. Throughout the course of his eight-year presidency, President Obama took it upon himself to imbue the nation with a diverse sense of solidarity representative of the nation’s history as a land of immigrants.

Back in August, the White House- as it does every year- released President Obama’s summer music and reading lists. The music playlist consisted of two lists of approximately twenty songs each featuring a wide range of diverse artists and genres. The reading list consisted of five books, also ranging far and wide in their representative genre’s and formats, from a surfing memoir to a popular summer psychological thriller. In these choices, Obama simultaneously connects with his nation’s people in the popular past times of daily life- what’s more casual than a hot summer day spent listening to your favorite songs? – and asserts to a divisive political landscape the values of diversity in domestic affairs. Here, presented in a casual list of the President’s favorite songs and books from 2016, are the lessons of Obama’s astonishingly consequential leadership as the most influential person in the world.

The prototypical melting pot, America has stood as the land of freedom for the world’s outcasts and weary refugees since its founding after a Revolutionary War fought against a detached motherland. Even in early colonial times, the settlement of America proceeded from religious pariahs eschewing the strict hierarchical treatises of what they saw as a corrupt institution. These early settlers came to America escaping persecution that now finds itself directed outside to the world of the “others.”


America’s history doesn’t paint a grand picture of cultural acceptance from the very beginning. Although Thomas Jefferson’s oft-debated phrase “all men created equal” laid the foundation for future reconstruction, the initial years of the fledgling nation saw a structurally engaged institution of hypocrisy that’s continued to remain at the core of civil rights issues two and a half centuries later.

Modern civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter have focused attention on issues concerning race and persecution following the Age of Obama, in which the historic election of a black president ushered in a national illusory era of colorblindness. While there’s much more progress to be made, and BLM’s doubts about Obama’s efficacy in reigning in present structures of legal discrimination hold certain truth, there’s no questioning that during his terms the president has reached out in attempts to restructure the prison system and reduce general prejudice.

Among his lists of artists for his daytime music playlist, Dallas/Fort Worth, soul and R&B singer Leon Bridges stands above rock artist Courtney Barnett and below rapper Wale. This diverse array of modern artists once again showcases the president’s belief in a brighter future from the racially charged atmosphere of America, where interests might align across partisan lines and simply coexist in realms similar to music’s universality.

Similarly, in his nighttime playlist Obama lists “Lover Man” by Billie Holiday, “Criminal” by Fiona Apple, and “Acid Rain” by Chance the Rapper, all diverse artists who carry with them wide swaths of the collective American experience, unique and universal at the same time. This shared communal experience is represented throughout his music playlists, but Obama’s beliefs in inclusivity (whether that be civil rights or music) also extends into his action. As a landmark decision in presidential history, Obama worked to help legalize same-sex marriage across the fifty states as of June 26th of last year. Obama’s decision to extend the right of marriage to a group of Americans historically disadvantaged displayed the president’s belief in including as many people as possible in the American experience.

While his music playlists demonstrate a wide range of interests in the musical history imbued in the American experience, Obama’s reading choices for the summer showcase a deep range of empathy for humanity that’s been exemplified by the actions throughout his presidency.

Following a near century of progressives from both major political parties attempting to establish a universal health care system, President Obama finally succeeded with Obamacare, a first step towards the systems that support health for its nation’s citizens in major countries like France and Canada. Although Obama’s legacy in history books a century from now might date him as a natural succession to a series of presidents aiming for the implementation of universal healthcare (among them Nixon and FDR), President Obama’s decision to fight for this system amongst one of the most fiercely divisive political landscapes in recent years demonstrates a vigor for the people that ultimately expresses one of Obama’s most enduring qualities: his compassion for humanity.

Implementing all the veritably historic changes to the American system over the course of eight years has weighed heavily on the president’s well-being. Millions have noted on his changed appearance from the youthful, positively beaming picture of health he was at the start of his terms to his now neglected disposition of living death, a graying husk of his former self.

Although his sunny façade has faded to the years of foreign policy dilemmas and domestic affairs of seemingly incessant violence, through these released playlists the American people can glimpse at a President that’s also a living, breathing human. A father to two daughters and husband to living national treasure and next president of the United States, Michelle Obama. Even with the constant stresses of being the most politically powerful single entity in the world, the summer lists of Obama’s listening and reading past times reminds us that even the most stressed out person in the world can sit back and enjoy the gentle cradling tunes of Prince, or perhaps an engaging sci-fi novel that takes you far away into the realms of your own imagination. 

Lead Image Credit: AP Photo

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Daniel Nguyen - Hofstra University

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