Posts Tagged Barack Obama

The audacity of hope

I didn’t plan to write about today’s events in the US.  But I remembered that I had written something (pre-blog, via Facebook notes) on Obama’s inauguration, and on this blog in 2012 when he was re-elected. The contrast between what I felt then, and what I feel now, is almost too much to bear, too bitter.    But to revisit my feelings then, is to assert that those values, those principles, those hopes which inspired me are still with me, unchanged, still strong if battered and bruised.  I don’t know what lies ahead – I fear it. But the future isn’t written – it can be written, and we can be part of the writing.  We have to believe that ‘the people have the power to redeem the work of fools‘.

So this is what I wrote on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.  I stand by it, every word.

I can’t recall any moment in my life when the sense of hope and of new possibilities has been so powerful. I know that President Obama will do some things that I will disagree with, and that I will regret some things that he is unable to do, but he is a man of integrity and intelligence, courage and vision, a man whose vision of the world is not bounded by his own state or nation but who understands the developing as well as the developed world’s needs. It’s been a long time coming, but this extraordinary moment is here now, and I know I will be weeping tomorrow as I did on election night, thinking of Dr King, and all of the other martyrs of the Civil Rights movement, thinking of all of those who’ve worked and argued and struggled to make this possible. Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so that Barack Obama could run. Barack Obama ran so that we ALL could fly. Mr Obama, Mr President, I wish you strength, and courage, and the audacity of that hope you’ve inspired.

And in November 2012, when Obama was elected as President for a second term, I wrote this.

That day I listened to the Flobots song celebrating Anne Braden, a white Southern woman who threw in her lot not with the people she’d grown up with, gone to school with, lived next door to, but with ‘the other America’.

 

Anne Braden tells how William L Patterson told her, in the early 60s, “You know, you do have a choice. You don’t have to be a part of the world of the lynchers. You can join the other America.” He said, “There is another America.”

And I’m paraphrasing a little bit, he said, “It’s always been here. Ever since the first slave ship arrived, and before. The people who struggled against slavery, the people who rebeled against slavery. The white people who supported them. The people who all through Reconstruction struggled.” He came on down through history of the people who have struggled against injustice. The other America.

Today it feels as if that is lost.  As if we have all lost.

John Pavlovitz nails it here:

Let the record show that I greatly lamented the day of his inauguration, and that I promised to join together with other good people to loudly resist and oppose every unscrupulous, dangerous, unjust and dishonest act this new Administration engages in. 

History has been littered with horrible people who did terrible things with power, because too many good people remained silent. And since my fear is that we are surely entering one of those periods in our story, I wanted to make sure that I was recorded for posterity:

I do not believe this man’s actions are normal.
I do not believe he is emotionally stable.

I do not believe he cares about the full, beautiful diversity of America.
I do not believe he respects women.
I do not believe he is pro-life other than his own.
I do not believe the sick and the poor and the hurting matter to him in the slightest.

I do not believe he is a man of faith or integrity or nobility.
I do not believe his concern is for anything outside his reflection in the mirror.

I believe he is a danger to our children.
I believe he is a threat to our safety.
I believe he is careless with our people.
I believe he is reckless with his power.
I believe America will be less secure, less diverse, less compassionate, and less decent under his leadership.

So what words can I find today?  I feel, as so many of us feel, disbelief, revulsion and fear.  I hope I am wrong to feel this so strongly.  Hope, such as it is, lies in not only the numbers but the calibre of the people who feel this way, the people who are moved to protest, to assert that we need bridges, not walls, to march, to boycott – and who will go on opposing the version of America that Trump asserts.

bridges-not-walls

We need heroes
Build them
Don’t put your fist up
Fill them
Fight with our hopes and our hearts and our hands
We’re the architects of our last stand

(Flobots, Fight with Tools)

https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/let-america-be-america-again/

https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/change-has-come-to-america-how-i-saw-the-obama-inauguration/

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The Other America

So, the USA has voted to return its first African-American president for a second term.  And now I’ve caught up on sleep and dried my eyes, perhaps I should step back and reflect.

It’s almost impossible, I suspect, for many of us to make sense of the tea party brand of Republicanism which, some commentators believe, was in large part responsible for Romney’s failure.   How can we, from this side of the pond, comprehend the view that the healthcare system  that Obama brought in – which falls so far short of providing what we in the UK have, still, and rely on so completely at so many points in our lives – is the first step on the road to Communism?  How can we understand how so many Americans can, apparently, believe that Obama is a Moslem?  How could the ludicrous statements on rape from various Republican spokesmen (gender specific term used entirely deliberately) have been taken seriously by anyone, for a nanosecond?  And let’s not even start on guns – though I urge you to read a Yankee in Yorkshire’s blog post  on that issue.

Reactions to Obama’s victory have in some cases not just verged on the apocalyptic but plunged headfirst into it.    Warren Gibson, who teaches Economics at San Jose and Santa Clara Universities, claims that ‘Obama hates America’, that ‘His first term in office gave us numerous actions that exemplify his quest to bring America down.’  For him Obamacare is an atrocity, and the only silver lining to his re-election is that ‘it will hasten our Götterdämmerung’.  Or take our own Melanie Phillips (please…), who writes that ‘America goes into the darkness’, and that his re-election will bring about World War Three, when his friends in Iran launch their genocidal war on Israel.

A different view comes from an independent commentator, blogging as billericapolitics, who regrets Obama’s victory, but argues that it’s happened largely because the Tea Party extremists, or at least their social conservative platforms, do not and will not have popular support:

The Republicans need to re-brand and delete all social conservative positions from their platform. If the God freaks don’t like it, too bad. Let them stay home, vote Democrat or Republican as they wish. So called conservatives should be concentrating on small government, a strong military, a philosophically principled foreign policy, and a secular judiciary that ignores all religions and judges based on the facts and the rule of law.

There’s another strand of hostility to Obama’s second term, not from someone who wanted a Romney victory, but based on a deep anger with Obama’s foreign policies and the belief that the two-party structure sets the electorate up for a choice between two evils, where Obama is simply the lesser of the two.   I understand where blackgirldangerous is coming from:

This is how the two-party system is set up. It’s a trap and we’re stuck in it. If we don’t vote for Obama, we’ll get Romney, and it will be bad. If we vote for Obama, we’ll get Obama, and it will be bad. Maybe not quite as bad on the surface. Which, I guess, is enough for a lot of people, especially those who don’t look beneath the surface.

Now, there are things that Obama has promised to do and failed to do, and there are things he has done which are indefensible, particularly in foreign policy terms.  Those failures, those wrongs, grieve me.  Where I differ from the above writer is that I see a profound difference nonetheless, a gulf, between the two parties that is not merely rhetorical.

I’m with KatranM, a commenter on Gary Younge’s sceptical article in the Guardian, who says that:

Most of us think that here is an intelligent man with the usual reprehensible but necessary political skillset, a progressive, one who dreams big about getting red and blue states to work together, but he hasn’t accomplished it because (a) it’s hard and (b) the GOP spent his entire term trying to destroy him by vilifying him and obstructing everything he did. But we know that doesn’t get him off the hook, and he disappointed us, too. He didn’t fight hard enough. He compromised — and we get the reasons why EVERYONE must compromise to accomplish anything in this polarized environment — unskillfully, gaining no compromise in return.

He did almost jack squat about the environment during the first term in office. He dropped the ball on immigration. He worried us deeply by launching the age of drone wars.

In other words, he’s our guy, he’s done a lot of good, and we believe he CAN do better, but we are keenly aware of his flaws and imperfections.

Get off your high horse. I would guarantee that 99% of those who voted for Obama don’t think he’s the messiah, or the Great Something Hope, or any of the marketing slogans, although it’s emotionally satisfying to thumb our noses at racism and get a rather decent guy and his family into the White House. But we know that’s an optional extra, not the essential reason we support — but still question — Obama.

I recognise in myself an idealism that can be naive, despite my 55 years on this planet.    I recognise in myself a strong desire to believe in Obama, because he’s the first African-American president, because his very presence in the White House is such a powerful symbol of the triumph of the 60s civil rights movement, against the brutal and murderous racism that for so many is a living memory.  I love the fact that his victory speech celebrates that America is ‘the most diverse nation on Earth’ and I want to believe in the vision he expresses even though I know that it is rhetoric that he will not live up to, and that the idea that ‘You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try’, to work hard, is not and never has been the reality.  But watching the two camps last Tuesday night it was clear that they represented two different Americas.

Anne Braden tells how William L Patterson told her, in the early 60s, “You know, you do have a choice. You don’t have to be a part of the world of the lynchers. You can join the other America.” He said, “There is another America.”

And I’m paraphrasing a little bit, he said, “It’s always been here. Ever since the first slave ship arrived, and before. The people who struggled against slavery, the people who rebeled against slavery. The white people who supported them. The people who all through Reconstruction struggled.” He came on down through history of the people who have struggled against injustice. The other America.

On Tuesday night, the other America prevailed.

 

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