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It has been fascinating to watch the American public's evolving relationship with President Barack Obama.

He was elected to office in 2008 on the wings of gifted, hope-filled oratory, the first black American to hold the job, a potent symbol of the change his victory promised. His win not only galvanized a country, but also captured the imagination around the world.

But as quickly as Mr. Obama's political star ascended, it began to fall. It was as if people felt they had elected a fraud; the man couldn't walk on water after all. The rhetorical flourishes of the campaign trail that had conjured comparisons to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. seemed to disappear, only to be replaced by mundane, carefully crafted scripts that could have been drafted by Beltway hacks. The burdens of office appeared to rob Mr. Obama of the extraordinary powers everyone felt he possessed.

Even the liberal press that had so nakedly championed his rise to power turned on him. From a distance, it was shocking to witness a president so quickly and viciously turned on.

It didn't seem to matter that the man inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Or that on his first day, he was confronted with the real possibility of not only seeing U.S. auto makers going under, but the banks, too.

It was an economic disaster. It wasn't the time for indulgent grandiloquence that some demanded. It was a time for rolling up sleeves and getting to work – which is precisely what Mr. Obama did.

How fortunate Americans were, I thought, to have a person of such intelligence and natural stoicism handling an almost unparalleled domestic crisis. And yet, he had to endure a near-daily bombardment of criticism and second-guessing from media and opposition forces, all insisting that his rescue stratagem was ruinous and misguided.

As it turned out, it was the critics who were almost universally in the wrong. The United States is in a better economic position now, on many fronts, than it was before the financial recession struck. Reforms brought to Wall Street have changed the place for the better (although they didn't go far enough in many people's minds). The President used stimulus money to improve education outcomes and to launch green-energy initiatives that have paid dividends. Along the way, obdurate Republican ideologues, motivated largely by spite, did everything in their power to derail Mr. Obama's agenda – country be damned. Amid the turmoil, he pressed forward with his pledge to extend health-care benefits to tens of millions of uninsured Americans.

Mr. Obama was given one of the toughest entrance exams a U.S. president has ever been handed, and passed with flying colours.

But that seemed of little consequence. For most of his two terms, he was widely viewed if not as an utter failure, than as a major disappointment. As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it: "The extraordinary candidate turns out to be the most ordinary of men."

As he nears the end of his time in office, however, the view of Mr. Obama is beginning to change. Maybe it's because the public can now juxtapose him against a buffoon such as Donald Trump and realize what they've had all these years. Historians feel that the country's 44th president will one day be judged quite kindly against his predecessors. Some even see him eventually being mentioned in the same breath as Franklin Roosevelt and even Lincoln himself.

He hasn't been perfect. No president is. Expectations around Mr. Obama were so high when he took office, it was inevitable he would disappoint; every day he faced choices that were destined to enrage someone. In an increasingly fractious and chaotic world, a president's to-do list is more politically fraught than it ever has been. Mr. Obama certainly made some calls that in retrospect he will regret. But every president can say that.

The thing is, throughout one of the most turbulent and frightening epochs in U.S. history, Mr. Obama rose above all the hate aimed at him with an uncommon grace. He handled the job with a serenity that infuriated many, and yet was precisely the temperament needed for the challenges of our time.

During his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people gunned down last June in a church in Charleston, S.C., President Obama ended his address by singing Amazing Grace. As I watched that remarkable scene, I was reminded again how lucky Americans were to ever have this man leading them. One day they will know it, too.