I've always watched politics from a distance, convinced for a very long time that "it does not belong to man even to direct his own steps." Even in that distance though, the historian in me has watched the patterns develop with interest and horror, and the humanist in me has simmered in silent outrage at the amount of injustice in the world. Now, the possibility of God stepping in and not only saving us from ourselves but making us perfect seems far less likely to me, like a fairy tale of the Golden Age. I can thank George Bush for this, and George Orwell for that reconsideration. George B. scared the shit out of me and George O. taught me how to parse the propaganda. I don't think I've ever been as frightened by my own government as I was by the Bush years, and now that he and his cronies have brought us to the brink of collapse and disgrace as a nation by sewing hatred and fear and repression while raping and pillaging their own economic system, I'm deeply relieved to see someone with some vision and human decency at the helm. I'm glad I helped put him there. I'm glad I'm not on the sidelines anymore.
As a consequence, I feel like this is one of those days that everything should have ground to a halt for at least a couple of hours to observe the momentous shifting paradigm, at least in this country. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel like I can breathe again, like it might be possible to read the news and not be embarrassed and horrified and full of rage at the things my tax dollars are doing and at the perfidy of the people whose salaries they're helping to pay. However badly this incoming government fucks up, it won't be anywhere near the disaster for human rights, civil rights, science, the environment, and its own citizens that the outgoing one was. I'm not a nationalist, but I know that I live in one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world, and as a citizen, I'd like to not be ashamed and appalled by what it does on the world stage. You know, "with great power comes great responsibility" and all that. As one of my other friends said on her own blog, Obama's government can't possibly live up to the hype it's generated, but it will still be a far cry better than what we've had, simply by trying to. What a relief to have an intelligent, articulate, compassionate humanist in charge!
And what a pleasure to see somebody who's not white in the job! What a triumph for people of color everywhere in this country. I can't imagine what it must be like to have put up with the kind of shit they've put up with for the entire history of this country to finally see a reflection of themselves in the highest office, leading without rancor. Somewhere, Martin Luther King, Jr., is smiling. I hope this is the first step in learning to play nice with each other in the sandbox, because let's be real: this isn't anything but a beginning. It's not the end of racism just because a black man has been voted into the White House. But I think it's a hopeful indicator of a change in attitude. One of my students sent me (and a bunch of her friends) a text message today that said, "Do you know why there's a chill outside? Because people said it would be a cold day in hell before a black man became president. Bundle up, bitches." The note of glee and triumph was unmistakable. And how can I blame her for gloating? It is, after all, about damn time.
It's about damn time that people in this country started to live up to the first lines of our Constitution, which, even though it was written in an era where people had slaves, offers a paradigm for equality that we should continue to strive for. Because if not us, when it's written into the philosophy of our government, then who? And why not us? Why not now? Or as the new President said in his speech today, "because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and
segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more
united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday
pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world
grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that
America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace." (And isn't his rhetoric beautiful? Was that him or his speechwriter?)
It's about damn time we all start to realize that race, culture, gender, faith, language, or any of the other ways we seem different from one another really don't matter, that those differences are superficial at best, that it's fear that estranges us from one another, not anything real. Fear of the other, fear of something different, and an inability to accept another viewpoint not our own and let it co-exist.
Of all the things Obama said in his speech, this lightens my heart the most:
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between
our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we
can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and
the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.
Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for
expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are
watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where
my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and
every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity,
and that we are ready to lead once more.
And the reason it does is that I know that no one can save us from ourselves but ourselves. So somebody has to get in front and show us how. I think Obama can. I think, if our best instincts are roused by a great leader, that we can save ourselves. Yes we can.