I, Obama: A Robotic Look at the Last Four Years

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama was called “cool” and “aloof.” This experimental piece of fiction uses quotes from news articles and takes them at their word.

By Monica Torres

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In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.” —“Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“[In I, Robot, Will Smith’s character] Del Spooner is literally composed of the very technology he abhors, and his visceral disdain for robotic technology signals a curious self-loathing at the core of his identity. In the end, as with all of Will Smith’s science fiction films, order is restored as a result of his character’s heroic sacrifice. In the specific context of I, Robot, the righteous hero restores order as a Black man.” “Towards a Black Science Fiction Cinema: The Slippery Signifier of Race and the Films of Will Smith” by Stephanie Larrieux

“A lot of people pull back into their own specific identity, their race, their tribe, their religion, and that’s a dangerous thing because it can splinter people.” President Obama to Will Smith

…a surprise appearance at Axelrod’s going-away party in a grand apartment off Dupont Circle on a wintry Saturday night. Clad casually in a black jacket, he spoke warmly, even emotionally, of the aide who had done so much to elect him. Then he made his way quickly around a living room full of Cabinet members, other aides, and off-duty reporters, grasping each proffered hand with a single, relentless, repeated greeting: “Gotta go.”

“Gotta go, gotta go,” said Robot, hands shaking. Robot cannot make it stop. Robot bows, the guillotine falling down, as it waltzes from “Thank You For Your Service” to “Thank You For Your Contribution.” It’s a fast tempo: eyes meet, leech, let go. All the President’s Men, tisk tisk. Y is it so srs? Robot cannot make deals if it is never in the same room.

Its manual is confusing and cosmopolitan. The first of its kind, Robot is

above it all
frosty, to be generous
“clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled)
the most closed, control freak administration

Mixed reviews! But when Robot speaks dream to us, we fall back in love with the way Robot shapes The American Spirit, the arcs of our human condition, the white whales of despair. We track the tears running down, promising to do better, to stand no more ground, to leak no moar, but it’s all a lower-cased no. Robot cannot do more than register upper-cased ‘O’s. After tragedies, Robot stands before podiums and our throats swallow up its tongues, too hungry to hear.

We love Robot’s Amazing Grace, but here’s the reality: When a human representative screams, You Lie!, in its face, in front of everyone, in an unprecedented breach, our blood sings. Fight him! When another buzzes, Hell No You Can’t!, we say Awww Yissss It Can. Smack back! Show us what’s under that spacesuit. But Robot never raises its voice. Nothing gets unzipped. This is no Jesse Jackson model. Annoyed, we

asked Michelle Obama how it was possible for her husband to maintain his equipoise amid so much hatred. “You have no idea how bad it is,” she said. His practiced calm is beyond reckoning.

This half-Kansas, half-Kenyan-(sekrit Muslim?born-Illegal?!) upgrade has gotten so good that we don’t know who is playing whom. Moneyed suits jerk nods out of Robot, but Robot’s hands raise the strings. Religion teaches children the first law of Robotics: Thou shall not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. But, amendment! there are always executive exceptions. Call of Duty flies into homes and the cranial signature leaves a crater right above Robot’s eye, right into that faraway foreign child’s

aspects of modern politics. “I am wired in a different way than this event requires,” he told disappointed aides during his stubbornly lackluster preparation for the second debate

We watch Robot circle its white fence round and round. One day, Robot breaks protocol and escapes(!),

Walking two blocks from the White House…during the government shutdown –the farthest he had journeyed by foot outside the complex in five years.

I’m thinking, Robot apologizes after we returned it to the complex. We sic more insects on Robot, but Robot bugs us back. Manmade insects with human triggers and metal skin. A drone is a machine that is only as honest as the intelligence that guides it. The bugs follow patterns of behavior, their mouths searching for blood. A signature strike does not require absolutes of who is being targeted

even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”

Origins justify children held in cells. The suspicion of the engineers gets embedded into the mainframe, enforced by back-facing cops wary of their front-facing users who do not look like them.

Robot waves its hand. Machines blink around Robot and record. Not me, Robot sighs. Them.

he complains that people imagine him to have a “joystick” that allows him to manipulate precise outcomes.

Robot fists promises, but after setbacks, shootings and shutdowns, this political machinery rings hollow. Even when the product fails to sell, look at its editorial chisel. Robot’s family breaks news on a schedule. The wife’s two armstoo strong for a wifecause scandal. The wife watching our weight does not. The two daughters, their hemmed J.Crew smiles, reach milestones the Robot can repeat to its circuits. Robot choreographs laughs with Joe’s and Susan’s, beers clinking together.

Years ago, Robot invited a Henry to solve r-a-c-e over beer and approvals ratings dipped, ruh roh Robot. We, meaning this ‘we’ and not those ‘we,’ don’t say that word out loud. Robot wields We the People as only a silver tongued shapeshifter of its calibration can. Twice as good means being less than human and Robot transcends all expectations. When you listen to Robotic speeches, listen to the number of universal “we’s” deployed. The number you hear measures the distance between us.

Fast-forward to The Defeat. We tighten the tourniquet, ready for the final days, the next four years(!!!!), but Robot still breathes dream in and out, so outwardly collected. In its Beep Beep Goodbye, Robot acknowledges Threat to Democracy but reassures us with Good of Humanity, even here, even now, because Robot

was careful always to say we. He was noticeably wary of “I.” By speaking so, he wasn’t simply avoiding a singularity he didn’t feel, he was also drawing us in with him. He had the audacity to suggest that, even if you can’t see it stamped on their faces, most people come from Dream City, too.  

And Robocop becomes legend, Robot’s determined silhouette shadowing the wasteland. Marching the path of Kings before it, we demand a sacrifice for our sins. If I had a son, Robot dreams, he’d look like those Neuromancer dreams, split atom by atom, until even we cannot see

What happened to crushing it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?

and we cannot recognize when the personality simulation became the bitter screen of the soul, and we make the mistake of believing it is almost human.


Quotes taken from “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; “The Lonely Guy” by Todd S. Purdum; “A Brief History of President Obama Not Having Any Friends” by Arit John; “The Obama Administration and the Press” by The Committee to Protect Journalists; “Going the Distance” and “Obama Reckons With a Trump Presidency” by David Remnick; “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” by Jo Becker and Scott Shane; The Obama Paradox” by Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein;Speaking in Tongues” by Zadie Smith; Is Barry Whiffing?” by Maureen Dowd