Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

We made it. At noon today we get a new president. That alone is a reason to celebrate. It is astonishing to contemplate the depths of failure we have seen from George W. Bush and his administration. They leave the country in shambles - the economy ruined (with the safeguards against economic ruin weakened), the world more dangerous, for America and everyone else; 2 wars still going, both failures; the constitution undermined - we run gulags! we suspended habeas corpus! warrantless wiretapping! It's horrible. The only relief is that in his second term, he's failed in his domestic policies as well as abroad - imagine, if you will, the state of this nation had Bush managed to privatize Social Security! Here's wishing Bush and Cheney and the rest of that gang of thugs a quick trip to The Hague.

All right. That's out of the way. Next comes fixing it all. Obama comes with very high expectations and hopes - I don't know how many of them he can reach. But he can't make it worse, and I'd say the odds are he will make it better. Health Care reform, rebuilding infrastructure, both the physical infrastructure (roads and bridges etc.) and the social/economic infrastructure, getting the hell out of Iraq while maybe trying to stabilize Afghanistan, finding some more grown up approach to Iran, North Korea, the middle east, maybe even finding some way to stop some of the trouble in Africa - there's an endless list of things he has to fix.

But that too can wait. Right now - I'll end with the simplest, most obvious, but in a lot of ways, the deepest significance of this day. A Black man has been elected president, and will take the office. The son of an immigrant, an African, married to an American white woman: those things should not be taken for granted. That is what America is - that is our National identity: we are not a Nation based on ethnicity, language, religion, culture - we are a Nation based on the fact that we all came from somewhere else, but now we believe we all belong. It is a fact, of course, that we have never lived up to that - we murdered the people who were here first; we kept Africans enslaved for hundreds of years; after we freed the slaves, we systematically oppressed them and excluded them from full membership in the nation for another 100 odd years, and only in the last 50 years have made a fairly sustained effort to change that. Even now, plenty of Americans try to keep some of their fellow Americans out of the Nation. But - for all that - it has changed. And, to our credit, over the long course of history, almost all the change has been for the better - people come here from other places, with their own backgrounds and languages and religions, and - slowly and fitfully, yes - become Americans. And do it without completely letting go of their languages, cultures, religions. We don't all become the same - what we are is made up of all the things we are.

So - today we get a president who represents THAT. All of it - our shameful history with race and out belated efforts to repair it; our fundamental history of being immigrants; our National identity of being mixed. It's good. At the top at least, we are exactly what we should be.

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