06 November 2008

Give W His Due

The utter joy exhibited by such large numbers of Americans with the election of Barak Obama to the office of President was truly inspirational.

Internationally there may have been just as much joy that evening for the possibilities people see in having at least a symbolic representative of themselves in the White House.

"For Obama to overcome what people consider to be synonymous with America -- race -- it's unimaginable,'' said Eric Shepherd, a professor at City University in London. "It's given the world a lot more faith in America. America has become a place that does deliver on its promises. People can achieve anything.''

"Martin Luther King's dream has been realized by Barack Obama.''

Thomas Friedman even called this the end of the Civil War after 147 years.

He goes on to quote Michael Sandel thus, “This is the deepest chord Obama’s campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service — in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.”

We must, however great the current enthusiasm, recognize the critical role W played in these accomplishments, even if he didn't mean to. The W years can be seen as necessary to provoke such a sea change in American politics.

  • We have learned, for example, that turning our collective backs on a city destroyed by a hurricane tears the whole nation apart and exposes institutionalized racism.
  • We have learned that fabricating tales of nation-building in the Middle East sets several nations up for failure, including our own.
  • We have learned that "making torture and domestic spying legal, fooling Americans by cooking up warped evidence for war and scheming how to further enrich their buddies in the oil and gas industry", as Maureed Dowd so aptly puts it, provides evidence of how such an evolved democracy can be corrupted by misuse.
  • We have learned that completely deregulating and letting "wild law" reign over the market causes financial crises possibly beyond our capacity for reparation.
  • We have learned that pitting a conventional army against a network of underground guerrillas in the vast Middle East is like eliminating malaria one mosquito at a time.
  • We have learned that not building a coalition of nations to fight against rebel states destroys legitimacy of the mission and undermines moral authority.
  • We have learned that responding to a terrorist attack on innocent civilians by asking people to go shopping belies deep ignorance and callousness.
  • We have learned that putting all of our proverbial eggs into economic growth irregardless of the web of life that such growth ultimately depends on, only raises within us a greater yearning to reconnect with this web of life even if this means reconsidering the growth imperative.

Perhaps the greatest lesson we have learned through the W years, at least from my perspective, stems from the fact that America's collective lifestyle choices and the policies designed to uphold that lifestyle have offended large numbers of people because they are largely materialistic, selfish and conflictive. America is not always right, and whether you interpret 9-11 as a manifestation of this sentiment or not, insisting that it is has made America much more the aggressor than the victim. The lesson is that America, as any other nation, has its strengths and weaknesses and will only be able to establish its ideals at home to the extent that it supports other nations in doing the same.

Why was it necessary to endure eight years of selfish mediocrity to arrive at this point? Well, why do many people need to suffer a heart attack in order to realize that their lifestyle is killing them? Why do we need to miss someone in order to realize how much we lover him/her?

On an individual scale these questions don't seem so transcendental, but collectively they take on greater significance because learning is more unwieldy, messy and painfully slow. However, W's legacy is that he sped up our collective learning process to hitherto unknown heights. To see an inversely proportional relationship between W's blunders and greater consciousness gained by the American public about the founding ideals, about the necessity to take care of people and not turn our backs on extreme wealth disparities is testimony to the resilience and vision this nation's people have.

This does not happen here in Ecuador. Even if the depths of suffering are greater in general here, it is translated into learning over what seems like generations, not over a presidential term or two. For this reason among others the world looks to America for leadership, and the time has come for that role to be properly fulfilled.

The wave of global goodwill that poured from all corners of the earth with the news that Barak Obama was elected to the American presidency is extremely encouraging. My hope is that this wave will grow as America applies a leadership style characterized by innovation and example that empowers other nations and peoples as partners, far from the bullying practiced during this past administration.


lydia Mills said...

In Berkeley, where no one is ever caught dead waving a flag, we waved the flag in our school last Wednesday as we sang "We Shall Overcome" and changed the words to We have overcome. So many people have talked about feeling proud to be "American" for the first time in many years...some of us ever!
Nice writing...as usual.

Justin said...

Seeing that American democracy can really work to accomplish its original goals has even inspired Ecuadorians to be proud that there is an America. My father in law, an Ecuadorian black man who has never set foot in the USA, wept along with so many others the day Mr. Obama was elected. This gives us a glimpse of the role that the USA has to play in the unfolding of the divine order.