Thursday, November 06, 2008

America will be.

America is a young country. Though many Americans tend to treat previous decades as part of the ancient past, the history of the United States is remarkably short. Many of the events and historical processes that have given contemporary American society its shape - events like the New Deal, the Second World War, the Baby Boom, and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s - were a part of the lived experience of Americans who are still alive today. In this sense, many of the critical moments of our history are alive to us in a way that, say, the events of the French Revolution or the Protestant Reformation are not. To speak of the Brown v. Board of Education decision or the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not to speak of 'history' in the abstract, but of elements of our national memory that directly impacted the lives of Americans who remains alive today - in other words, there are still individuals who can speak concretely of a 'before' and an 'after' with reference to each of these events, telling us how these events made a tangible difference in their lives.

In historical terms, the election of Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States represents a national milestone. Less than half a century after the end of legal segregation and within the lifetime of many who took an active part in the struggle to bring about racial equality in this country, the United States has chosen its first African-American president. As Americans, we still have a way to go in coming to terms with the challenging and complex legacy of our nation's racial divisions, but the fact that we have come so far in so short a time is quite remarkable.

Speaking personally, I know that I'll always remember exactly how I felt at the moment I learned that the United States had elected its first African-American president. Even if the victory of Senator Obama was widely expected - and appeared more and more likely as the returns started to pour in Tuesday night - the reality of his win struck me in a way I couldn't anticipate. As Senator McCain acknowledged in his gracious concession speech, Senator Obama's election opens a new chapter in our history. No matter how future generations judge the administration of President Barack Obama, I suspect that historians will always regard this election as particularly significant.

I recognize that some who read these lines will have found themselves disappointed with the outcome of this election. A key barometer of the health of our democracy should be the ability of the winners and the losers to reach a certain kind of common ground after Election Day; this does not mean a blurring of partisan lines or an abandonment of principled positions, but merely a recognition that in spite of our differences we must all work together to make our country a better place. At the end of rancorous and bruising campaign, my hope and prayer for all Americans is that we can briefly put aside partisanship and ideology to acknowledge the historic importance and tremendous symbolic value of Tuesday's election.

As I noted in my post on the morning of the election, I do not believe in political messianism and I do not think that any one politician can solve all the world's problems. My hope is that the next president will work to improve the image of the United States abroad, respond prudently to the economic crisis, and seek to expand opportunities for all Americans. I hope, too, that President-elect Obama will listen to and take seriously the voices of Americans whose political views and party affiliation may differ from his own but who share with him a deep concern for the future of our country. I also hope that young Americans, regardless of race or social class or family background, will take this election as a sign that this is a country where they can fulfill their greatest dreams and aspirations. Most importantly, I hope and pray that all who were elected to office on Tuesday will exercise their civic duties wisely and well. AMDG.


At 11/07/2008 4:28 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Fantastic posting. I love it.
I just wanted to add that -- while I recognize that your scope in the posting was probably intentional -- a perhaps equally monumental fact which dawned upon the announcement of the Nov. 4 result is the world's elation and excitement. The extent of the reaction of citizens of countries across the globe, definitely in Europe but at an even deeper level, one perceives, in the non-Western world (in Africa but not at all limited to there) is astounding. Part, I venture (if I dip into partisanship, I vow to correct myself) is due to media and intellectual framing of the McCain-Obama contest, and even more so due to political tensions since 2001. But even aside from these "distortionary" political factors, the entire globe is very much recognizing a new era. People like Eleanor Roosevelt and the framers of the Univ. Declaration of Human Rts. would be very proud (just to name a few). This election is only one part of a much wider globalization trend (and I speak not merely of the superficial Thomas Friedman commercial globalization), but particularly of the immigration trend in Europe, China's presence in Africa and Lat. Am., and the growing (albeit small) percent of mixed-race marriages and children across the world. Place of origin, more and more, defines very little of one's potential and future position in the world, and physical geographical location increasing says very little about what kind of people ethnically, racially, religiously, is in the forefront in a given place.


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