Lee’s Twitter thread highlights the differences between Obama and Trump
It can almost be hard to remember, after the last year of seemingly perpetual indignities and offenses emanating from Pennsylvania Avenue, but we once had a president who was respectful of everyone. The Obama administration was led by a man whose personality and policies showcased the kind of compassion and empathy we expect from our leaders but that has been in short supply these days.
Former Obama staffer Gary Lee shared a story of a brief exchange with his president that highlights those exact qualities. It will make you feel good, until the contrast makes you feel bad.
Gary Lee was a White House liason under Obama, and he had never tweeted before Saturday…
1. I’ve never tweeted before but today felt like a good day to start.
— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
But, as he describes in his second post on the platform, something President Trump recently did had inspired him to share a story.
2. President Trump made a lot of upsetting remarks this week including this one. “Where are you from?” is a question that many Asian Americans dread. https://t.co/D7ue8db1Vb pic.twitter.com/rwgrx7OQrb— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
That exchange has been circulating online, just a day or two after the President referred to Haiti – and other countries of predominately non-white citizens – as a “shithole.” It is just the latest example of Trump revealing his ignorance and “telling it like it is,” aka, being the obvious bigot he’s always been.
Gary dives into his story, starting with the circumstances that led him to a farewell encounter with President Obama, who knew he was leaving to move to Korea.
3. This struck a chord with me not only bc I’m Korean-American, but also bc I worked at the White House, for President Obama. I left the WH in 2011 for a Fulbright scholarship in Korea. President Obama knew I was leaving to learn more about the culture and language of my parents.— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
President Obama didn’t merely say goodbye, he did something meaningful that Gary has never, and will never, forget.
Lee goes on to explain his path to the White House.
6. In early 2007, my senior year of college, I mailed my resume and a cover letter in a manila envelope to the Obama for America headquarters in Chicago. Two weeks before graduation, I received a phone call that a correspondence volunteer had found my letter in a mail pile.— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
7. She gave my letter to her boss, who then called and asked if I wanted to move to Chicago to work on the campaign. That's how I got hired on the campaign. That's how I ended up at the White House. That's how I got to work for President Barack Obama.— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
And describes he conversation he had with fellow Obama staffer Kal Penn, who emphasized how remarkable that moment with President Obama had been.
8. After my departure photo with POTUS, I left the Oval Office in a daze and ran into @kalpenn in the West Wing lobby. I recounted the interaction with the president and he started tearing up. "Why are you crying?" I asked.— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
9. He replied, "think about what you just said. How incredible that is. On your last day of work at the White House, after your years of service, the first African-American president greeted you in your parents' native language." I started crying too.— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
Lee uses his last few tweets to explain exactly why the moment was so meaningful for the son of hardworking immigrants from Korea.
10. My parents could never have fathomed such an idea. My mom came to the US when she was 18, my father when he was 26. They worked multiple full-time and part-time jobs, opened a small business, and at one point, had only $20 in their checking account.— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
11. They made incalculable sacrifices so their sons could have the opportunities they never had. They sacrificed so we could achieve whatever we wanted to. They could have never imagined that their eldest son would work in the White House.— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
The Lee’s family journey, from $20 dollars in the bank to a son working in the White House, is the very manifestation of the American Dream. A fact of which Lee is well aware.
12. In what other country is that even possible? In what other country are you allowed to dream, and despite all odds, pursue and achieve your dreams? In what country could a chubby, 90s Hip Hop and R&B-loving Asian kid from NM end up working for @BarackObama?— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
13. What a beautiful, incredible nation of immigrants we are. 🇺🇸— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
He closes the series of tweets, authored just two days before we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with one of the reverend’s most inspiring and meaningful quotes.
14. Happy Korean-American Day and MLK weekend. As Dr. King said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -end-— Gary Lee (@whoisgarylee) January 13, 2018
The fact that this story is circulating on the weekend before MLK Jr. Day and just after President Trump’s latest revealing comments about countries and people who aren’t white puts a fine point on the contrast between the America we want and the America we are becoming under our current commander in chief.
Gary Lee’s story is one of countless examples of President Obama’s respect for the ideals on which America was founded, and the very people from diverse backgrounds that have made, and continue to make, this country what it is. People like the Korean-American Gary and his parents, who made their way in this country under difficult circumstances and are models of what it means to be American.
President Trump’s comments and conduct reflect attitudes that don’t belong in anyone’s head, let alone the leader of our country. Gary Lee’s tweets are a bittersweet reminder of how far we have fallen.