Today I caught the 10:12 train from 22nd Street. It's the first time I've had the energy to take the train to work since returning from Southeast Asia almost two weeks ago, which is a relief, but significant is that it was such a late train. Why the dilly-dally? Of course, I watched the inauguration.
Wow! I am still wrapping my head around the fact that we elected an intelligent, articulate President of the United States. In this nation known for its lack of interest in national and foreign affairs, of its low standards of education, of its rampant antiintellectualism, it took a remarkable alignment of the fates to give us someone who can express ideas as effectively, directly, and coherently as Barack Hussein Obama. As Obama gave the oath of office, thrown only momentarily by the Justice Roberts' blunder, subsequently corrected, I was thinking ahead with anticipation to the speech which would follow. A feel-good, inspire-the-troops, don't rock any boats performance would be the usual thing. Leave policy and politics for tomorrow. But no -- Barack didn't deliver the canonical stream of vacuity. He came out and set the tone for what promises to be the sort of Presidency nobody of my generation or later has ever seen.
That he wasn't going to pull punches was hinted at a few minutes earlier. The oath was administered to Barack Hussein Obama. The message was clear: this age of racist fear-mongering was over as of 12:05 EST. As of now, a man or woman can embrace with confidence their heritage, whether it's black or Muslim or anything else. And his speech supported this. He referred to America as a nation not just of Christians, who so many view as the only rightful citizens, but also of Muslims and Hindus and even non-believers. Non-believers? I'd earlier said to Cara I thought it was remarkable a black man had been elected president. More remarkable would be a woman, more remarkable than that a gay man, more remarkable than that an atheist. Even the Obamas brought the symbols of the Christian Nation to the inauguration, from the mandatory morning church attendance, to Michelle's clutched bible, to the invocation's call to Jesus Christ by several of his names. Perhaps the Obamas embrace of Christianity is sincere and not just expedient. Perhaps I'm too cynical. But the words, and the sincerity they carried, were hard to ignore. It's hard to not hope for a bit more acceptance and open-mindedness, if nothing else from the youngest of our society, to replace the xenophobia of the older generations as the older generations die off.
Further, he was unambiguous about the need for our nation to reduce its use of resources. Less consumption. This is a radical change in the past where consumption has been associated with economic strength. By definition, less consumption means less GDP, the primary measure of well-being. People could be dying in the streets and if real per-capita GDP was on the upswing, George "W" Bush would be declaring victory from the White House. Is it possible, are we finally willing to acknowledge there's more to life, to our earth, than the dollar-equivalent-value of how much we destroy? I dare not hope for too much: consumerism is so heavily entrenched, from our lifetimes of exposure to daily marketing, from a fanatical adherence to the religion of self-absorption and property rights, that change can only come slowly. Is slow change enough? Well, I'll take any change versus the last eight, sixteen, twenty-eight years. Not since Carter has a President called for us to reduce our rate of resource consumption.
The power in this nation, in the end, is with the people. Rally the public, and your cause will prevail. No amount of money and influence can overrule the people's will: rather it's the power of the money and influence to sway that will, or more commonly to distract it and fragment it with trivial issues or fears. Yet if anyone can hold the public's attention, it's Obama. The man is inspiring to any except the most hardened cynic. I hope he has the strength and determination and integrity to follow through. If he does, we're getting so much more than we deserve.