The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Day Unlike Any In My Life

Cannot tell you how proud I am of America today. The thing to remember is that Obama the man, or the candidate, is different from Obama the symbol...and it is the symbol that people are reacting to. Those who are political look at him as a symbol of THEIR political orientation "triumphing" after eight years of exile. Many patriots look at him with pride that America has elected a member of a formerly oppressed ethnic minority--akin to Israel electing a Palestinian. In other words, America IS the country we thought it was. Americans ARE the people we think we are. Hoped we were. And that means that is anyone can solve the problems ahead, we can. There are whites who, as whites, have felt a burden of racism past, and feel they can shuck that now. And blacks who have confused statistical problems with personal problems, used the very real weight of racism for an excuse for their own lack of achievement. As I've said, I literally cannot count the number of times I've heard black men and women saying: "If Obama can be President, I have to step up my game. Throw off my excuses."

All but the craziest folks on the Right at least offer him their hopes for a successful administration. THAT is America. We have as much right as any to believe we are special...and more than most. God, I love this country. Remember, those who roll their eyes at all of the fainting and palpitating about Historicity and so forth...human beings are primarily emotional, not intellectual. Obama is not the wind, he is the grass bending. He is a symbol of what WE are, not some godlike giant. What you are seeing is the hope that has been locked under an avalanche of pain for four hundred years. If people didn't go a little nutso, I'd be shocked and appalled.

He's arguably the most balanced President I've seen in my lifetime (that doesn't mean he'll be a great, or even a good, President. Only time will tell). As such, don't expect him to rock the boat terribly, throw the baby out with the bath-water, turn America into a socialist paradise. Bullshit. Those on the far Left will be unhappy with him. Those on the far Right will scratch their heads, and some of them will have the honesty to admit that the man is actually trying to do right by ALL Americans...(if I'm right).

My son will watch a man of his skin color place his hand on Lincoln's bible (not a Koran, damn you assholes) and pledge to protect this country with his life and honor. I did not get to see that. I carried the weight, all my life, of believing that my country loved me...deep down inside. But was afraid of me, and afraid of what it had done, and that I might one day seek vengeance. Fear is a killer. Our new President doesn't carry the damage of slavery, but is a visual symbol to those who do. How $#%ing perfect is THAT? We will snipe at him, and if you are a patriot, you will hold his feet to the fire to be the best he can be, and knit this country back together after the ghastly ab-reaction that was our response to 9/11.

Personally? I think Bin Laden and his ilk are in serious, serious trouble. As a neural net, what they WANTED was for us to attack a target with overwhelming military force, polarizing the world. What will destroy him is surgical strikes combined with a community of like-minded nation-states who want to do business, and know terrorism is bad for that. Enlightened self-interest, folks. Carrot AND stick. Always.

Oh, there is a part of me that, decades ago, died. There was no place to anchor my heart in the issue of race. No strength. No balance. No one to lean on and no where to go. So I put my faith in my sense of existence as a human being...or as a living creature...or as a thing that exists in the world...and ultimately part of me went all the way through the looking glass. There are some out there who will understand exactly what I mean by this. Others will wonder, or think I'm a little nuts. That's all right. "I" can live with that. Heh heh.

But today, I can reach back to the boy I was, and ask him who he would have been if he hadn't had to expend so terribly much energy burning through the illusions. If I hadn't felt so alone in almost every room I ever stood in. I have no idea. That boy is still alive within me, however. He knows. And he says "it's all right, Daddy. It's just life. You've done the best you can, and I love you."

We do the best we can, all of us. America just proved once again that the dream of freedom belongs to all of us. That the basic nature of man is to evolve and heal. That the word that comes closest to describing our essence is Love.

We're going to be all right. We always were...but for some of us, belief has been terribly difficult, and lonely.

Not today.


Mike R said...

May Obama the symbol inspire the better angels of our nature to soar ever higher, and may President Obama govern well and just.

Josh Jasper said...

Happy new President, everybody.

Marty S said...

In interesting counterpoint to other opinions expressed on this blog my wife made the following comment while we were watching the inauguration. "This moment is really exciting for people of our generation, who experienced the fifties and sixties. Younger people really can't appreciate it."

Ronn said...

Steve, I agree with you about having no where to anchor my feelings about race. It's been a long time since I've even allowed myself to focus on the subject. Where I grew up there were all kinds of people thrown together because of thier economic status. I saw and experienced some things that made me very ashamed to be black, and leary of anyone white. I don't care who you are, you carry that stuff with you in the back of your brain. Even if you never allow it to influence your actions, it colors your decisions and perceptions.

I still have to deal with how I feel about it, but it's good to know that if change can occur on a national level, it's probably possible for me to work it out in my own head...

For me one aspect that feels the best is having a president who understands the power and responsibility of technology. A man who offers video blogs to the nation as a way to maintain the 'image' of home town leadership. A man who understands the world's adiction to oil isn't going to solve our problems. Brilliant.

Although I don't think of him as 'superHNIC' this is the first time in my adult life that I feel we have someone in office who is aware of Americans as human beings, black, white or otherwise.

All of the traveling that I've done overseas demonstrated one thing to me. This country is often viewed as a trouble maker. Trying to police the world while ignoring our own problems. One of my greatest hopes is that Obama will truly work on cleaning out our house before he tries to go to the neighbors and tell them how to live.

At the very least the next 4 years are going to be some of the most unique of my life. I'm really looking forward to it.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

And what I heard in the speech was a lot more intelligent than I expect from anyone else's political speeches.

There was quite a bit about thinking as part of doing things well. The more usual approach is like Rick Warren's speech, where courage and compassion and such are praised, but thinking never gets mentioned.

There was the bit about "our better history". I'm still working on it personally, but I find the theories plausible that part of being sane is identifying most strongly with when you did well rather than hammering on yourself for mistakes.

And there was a lot about hard work, but very little about self-sacrifice. Obama connected effort and risk to worthwhile accomplishment rather than romanticizing self-destruction for ill-defined abstractions. Self-sacrifice was presented as for emergencies rather than as a generalized ideal.

Anonymous said...

Here's the text of Obama's speech.

I could quibble with a few minor points (we are not very likely to power our nation with "soil"), but, basically, this is fine stuff.

--Erich Schwarz

Christian H. said...

Welcome to the FUTURE! Now we just need a national HS dress code.

Anonymous said...

I wish my parents had been alive to see this happen.

I may be a bit young to appreciate it as much as people who were in junior high when I was born ('68), but I have to admit to being passing useless for a few days after the election. My heart lurched when I watched the inaguration, and it did again when I read this post.

People had rooted themselves in Starbucks to watch Obama's inauguration speech. When I paused to watch on my way in to work, a man next to me looked over, smiled, and looked back at the screen. I'm not sure if he would have smiled at me before.

It's going to be very interesting to see how attitudes morph over the coming year or so.

I like this. I like not being so damn scared: I felt safer with Bill and I feel safer with Barrak. I like being uncertain of the future while looking forward to it at the same time. I don't envy the President's (squee! I got to say it!) job for the next few years, but I'm happy on mulitple levels that he's there: as a symbol, as a Black man, as a Democrat, as a father who may still owe his daughters a puppy, and as a bit of a wildcard.

I may be a whipper-snapper compared to some commenting here, but I don't think that diminishes my appreciation of today: I think it's just different.

sovereign797 said...

I agree with most of your post today. I too am greatly pleased and excited about our new President. I wanted to comment on your thoughts about Bin Laden being in trouble. I hope you are right, but I fear not. My reasoning has to do with the fact that Bin Laden sits on the same side of an invisible argument as do the transnational corporations which are destroying the fabric of our nation, and every nation, for their own profit. This may seem like a stretch, but see if you can follow my logic.

Transnational corporations want nationalism, not one-world government. By maintaining nationalism, they can skirt national laws and maximize their profits by shifting the burdens to the people in differing countries. This can happen because nationalism keeps the people and governments of varying nations from establishing uniform laws and enforcement which can reign in these TNCs and regulate properly for the benefit of the global population. Bin Laden wants nationalism because nationalism prevents governments from cooperating to eradicate terrorism. Moreover, nationalism is akin to factionalism of religion, which is another foundation of Bin Laden's philosophy. Put another way, maintaining a philosophy of 'difference' is at the core of Bin Laden's philosophy. In his view, Muslims are better than everyone else, and everyone else should die or be subjugated. TNCs have a vested interest in protecting a similar division among nations.

If you read Jihad v. McWorld b y Benjamin Barber, you can see how terrorists like Bin Laden rely upon TNCs to supply them. I think that similary, TNCs benefit from terrorists. While it is true that terrorism can cause hiccups in business in the short term, the longer term effect of terrorism is to increase the demand for TNCs who can cross borders in ways that governments cannot. Thus, the TNCs benefit from continual division amongst nations by stepping in to roles under the guise of businesses that governments cannot do because of a misplaced belief in national sovereignty. So when Iraq kicks out the US military, private security forces will remain at work. TNCs supply arms, food, housing and medical supplies to both sides in a war. They sell their products to America and Bin Laden - they don't care who buys their products. And, the more stuff that is destroyed, the more stuff people need to buy to replace it. Don't you wonder why auto manufacturers haven't built a car that can last for 20 years? They don't want it to last because they want you to go buy another one in five years - or less.

Take a look at a company like Monsanto. This food company pretends that it is helping people when in fact it is killing them, poisoning them and enslaving them. They have genetically modified food seeds so that they will only have one harvest from their seeds and those crops will not produce any seeds. They they give these GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to starving third world countries under the guise of helping to feed their starting people. Seems nice of them, but the fact is that when that first crop is eaten, no more crops can be grown because there are no seeds produced, and from there on out they must buy their seeds from Monsanto ever after. The stockholders of Monsanto like the profitability of their investment and they don't want to see their investment sink. Thus, it is in the investors interest to maintain the nation-state fiasco and economically dominate and subjugate these third world countries through TNCs like Monsanto. Can Obama stop Monsanto? He might be able to regulate Monsanto in the US, but as I said, they will simply move to another country at that point and continue their operations unabated, just like Bin Laden left Afghanistan for Pakistan and continued his work from there. The nation-state construct is the haven for both globalized TNCs and terrorists.

It is a familiar argument that police benefit from crime. Firefighters benefit from fires. Politicians benefit from chaos and crisis. Transnational corporations benefit from nation-states, and so do terrorists.

Can Obama eliminate the nation-state? I don't think he could even if he wanted to, and I'm not sure he would even want to. Yes, he talks about the end of the special interests, but how much can he really do that when he only controls one country among hundreds? If the US becomes more regulated and the TNCs are not able to function well here, they will simply move their operations elsewhere. This is the pattern of globalization in a world of nation-states.

The only way that any leader could really reign in the TNCs and stop the special interests is by subordinating his nation-state to a global, one-world government, effectively surrendering national sovereignty to a higher authority. The EU is an attempt this, but a poor one. The backlash from their poor attempt at a union would certainly not encourage Americans to join a global government or surrender their sovereignty.

Obama could encourage us to take the step to a one-world government, but like the creation of the US Constitution, such will be an act of the people themselves, not of an executive leader deciding it for us. If you recall our nation's founding, we didn't simply stop having states when we created a nation. We created a nation to coexist with the existing states and to be above them, coordinating and controlling them, making uniform laws throughout them all. This is the only logical way to create a one-world government as well. It must be an act of the people of the entire world as a result of a shift in global consciousness. Obama could encourage it and facilitate, but he can not achieve it on his own. It will take an act of the people of the entire world to make that happen.

Marty S said...

Sovereign797: An interesting post with some good points, but maybe a little bit to one extreme. Very few things are all good or all bad. In industry bigness, brings economy of scale and the financial resources to do research and innovate. However, if a company becomes too big and too dominant in its industry it has no incentive to pass on the economies to its customers and no incentive to innovate. It is not clear to me that a monopoly in government, represented by one the one world model, while it clearly has its advantages is in the long run any better than a monopoly in industry. If a problem arises such as global warming different countries might try different approaches, one eventually proving best. In a one world situation only one approach might be adopted and it might not prove best.

sovereign797 said...

Marty S: I understand your concern about monopoly. Usually I am against monopolies of any sort, but a one-world government doesn't necessarily mean there can be no differences in approach. Just look at the USA and the issue of criminal justice. Every state has their own justice system, but there are common requirements and they all must conform to the national standard of minimum protections of rights and procedure, and the federal Supreme Court has the final say. I believe this is the same way we should arrange a one-world government. Each nation-state would have some discretions and the flexibility to try different approaches, as you suggest would be appropriate in some areas, but there must be one final rule to unite them and decide matters which cross the boundaries between them. (For example, in the project to reduce global warming, nation-states should be held to a goal of overall reduction, but how they reach it could be left to their own ingenuity. Only if they fail to reach it by the deadline would the world-government step in and dictate another way which has proven effective.) As it stands now, there is no such authority which is why, I think, we are in so much trouble economically, socially, politically and in terms of our security against threats like terrorists and TNCs.

Marty S said...

Soveign797: There are many problems in this world and everybody has their own solution. We already have the U.N as a loose form of world government and that clearly doesn't satisfy you. The question is how much power to dictate how we live in this country do we want to give to this one world government. The world has a population problem. In China they are working on solving this problem by dictating how many children a couple may have. You also can worship as you wish, but if you do you can't belong to the communist party and that means you are limited with respect to your rights for instance you can't be part of the government or say a school teacher. Do you assume your one world government will automatically be in alignment with our constitution and the rights we cherish, or are you prepared to except a Chinese style government.

Steven Barnes said...

Oh, I think we'll have a One-World government in all but name within our children's lifetimes. There will still be nations, but there will also be various agencies that adjudicate and enforce across national boundaries. What exactly will it look like? I don't know, but I don't think anyone has to plan for it: it will happen just because travel and international finance and communication is so rapid and pervasive. It will have positive and negative aspects--like anything else. I'm not arguing for it, I'm just saying it's coming.

Ben said...

Thank you for this post, Steve.

I don't feel so alone, wondering where I would be if I "hadn't had to expend so terribly much energy burning through the illusions" of my upbringing. 13 years have I been an adult and I can say that, when I awoke this morning, it was a crushing realization to know that I could have done so much more, if I had pursued the balance that I am glimpsing with the 101.

sovereign797 said...

Hey Marty,

Yes, I am a big follower of the UN system, and I am actually participating in the model UN this semester at school. The problem with the UN system is it has no binding authority over its members and it was structured to give too much power to only a handful of nation-states, and as a result is basically useless. Yes, I envision a world government operating similarly to a US-style republic with a US-style constitution. That is the only way it could work. Of course, this is only my opinion, but I've done a lot of research and studying on the issue and feel pretty confident about it. If we consider that the UN has been in existence since about 1945 and has failed to prevent or remedy any of the problems we face today, it is clear that the UN system is not the solution. It is more effective than the League of Nations, but that's not saying much. In the same way that the US found the original Articles of Confederation to be inadequate, we can clearly see that today's UN is also inadequate to the task before it. A Chinese-style world government could not work because it it based on mercantilism (see the book Dangerous Business by Pat Choate, 2008), which means gaining for itself at the expense of other nationstates. A one world government can only work when it works for all. Similarly, governments not founded on democratically elected representative government are destined to fail because only a government that rules by a rule of law established by the consent of the governed is just. All others will evenentually be overthrown. Just my opinion! :)

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