Inaugural Thoughts

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Seemed like a thread to post thoughts on the inauguration of our first African-American president might be useful.

I realized over the weekend that I hadn’t expected this to happen in my lifetime.  That surprised me.  It’s not something I’d ever given much direct thought, if any.  But if somebody had asked me, at any point in my life, if I expected to see a black president elected in my lifetime, my immediate answer would have been, “Why not?”  When I saw it actually happen, though, I was surprised.  Even though we’ve known it was coming for months.  Even though it’s looked likely for almost a year, now.  I found that when it happened — when it actually happened — I was surprised.  I guess I didn’t expect it to happen in my lifetime, after all.

That’s the good part.  The bad part is, even after having reality rush up and startle me, I still don’t really expect much to change.

From Memphis, the view is a bit different from what I’ve seen others describe.  It is for me, at least.  While I can see the glimmer of unity that others see in Obama and his style of politics, I can also see something else: a growing division.  That division is between the America that elected Barack Hussein Obama, black man; and the America I live in, that still can’t contemplate the possibility of doing so; can’t even imagine a time when it would contemplate the possibility; doesn’t want such a day to ever come.

Does Obama’s election represent greater unity?  Something post-partisan . . . ish?  Or does it only mask — primarily for my fellow liberals and progressives — growing divisions at a much deeper level?  From here in a red state, a Southern state, a city deeply divided by race, I know which it feels like.  I know which feels short-term (though hopefully two-term) and fine, and which feels like a much longer, coarser, deep-set thread of history.

Obama’s election is progress.  A wonderful milestone.  A glass of cool water in what, after the last 8 years, is a very dry and thirsty America.  But unless something changes in the next 8 years — unless this remarkable man can somehow unravel that deep, coarse thread of American history and begin to work its strands into the larger American fabric, even a tiny bit — I will continue to fear for the long-term course our country is on, for nothing will have truly changed.  All our problems will remain.

How about you?  Anything surprised you?  Any thoughts, feelings, expectations, etc., you want to share?

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20 Responses to “Inaugural Thoughts”

  1. michaellasley Says:

    Unity vs. Masking: I think it shows that unity is possible and that there are more people who are attracted to that idea than to devisiveness. (I realize that’s not really answering your questions…..sorry.) Although, it’s probably good to not be too optimistic.

    Surprised by: the number of students who seemed to care about the inauguration; the momentum that carried from election day until today (holy COW that’s a long time to maintain that kind of hope / optimism / etc.); the number of people who were offended by the last phrase in Lowry’s prayer.

  2. urbino Says:

    The “when white will embrace what is right” line?

    God, people are stupid.

  3. Terry A. Says:

    I was struck by how Obama chose to talk about hard choices and difficult changes in his speech, rather than going solely with the theme of race unification and whatnot. I was expecting a real tear-jerker — because he’s pretty good at that — but the speech struck me as very reserved (in that regard) and very focused on the jobs ahead.

    Also, I have a crush on the First Lady.

  4. michaellasley Says:

    Yes, that line. Yes, they are.

  5. urbino Says:

    Yeah, the speech really felt more like a State of the Union than an inaugural. Disappointing from a rhetorical standpoint, and very task-oriented. I guess that was the point.

  6. Terry A. Says:

    Also: I have a crush on the First Lady.

  7. urbino Says:

    You’re starting to get creepy.

  8. Terry A. Says:

    Really? So mailing her that box of poo might’ve been over the top?

  9. urbino Says:

    Not to mention counterproductive.

  10. alsturgeon Says:

    I liked the inclusion of the words “humility and restraint” in the national defense section of the speech. (Maybe Terry could benefit from the restraint concept for First Lady relations.)

  11. urbino Says:

    I liked the inclusion of curiosity in the list of national virtues. (Though Terry should probably ignore that one, First Lady-wise.)

  12. unicorntx Says:

    I liked “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” I would have liked to see a closeup of Cheney’s face after that line. Maybe Bush’s too, but I’m not sure he would have understood the point.

  13. DeJon05 Says:

    My thoughts…

    I was heartened and moved by two distinct parts of the speech.

    First:

    Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

    They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

    I agree with Obama’s detractors who like to give faint praise about his “rhetoric,” but to sum up the President as having a knack for mere rhetoric is a striking way to miss the power of it all.

    He is not merely blabbering on in pretty prose. He is creating a paradigm for decision-making. A process guided by historical insight, prudence, respect for humanity, compassion, and as my dear colleague said above, humility and restraint.

    IMO President Obama does not need to draw out how starkly this contrasts with the previous administration’s “gutty” decision-making paradigm.. I see his perspective is a shot of sanity, and it’s welcomed nature can’t be understated.

    Second

    To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

    To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

    Another shockingly different way of approaching our Middle Eastern problems. These words are drenched in both pragmatism and hope, confidence and humility, respect and surety. Amen and Hallelujah.

    Maybe I give President Obama too much credit, but I think his Inauguration speech was intentionally less flowery. As I listened to it, and later read it, and re-read it, I kept thinking about how pragmatic and focused the speech seemed.

    We all know the President can muster eloquence and laudatory speech with the best. But I think we can all agree he did not do that here. I suggest this was intentional. He acknowledged the history he was making, but that’s not why he ran for our highest office. In four (or more hopefully, eight) years, I suspect he will view his Presidency as a failure if he is still known as “the first black president.”

    I hope at that time he will be known as the president who helped the economy rebound, forged new and stronger foreign alliances, and helped improve the lives of Americans.

    Maybe not, but I’m hopeful.

  14. DeJon05 Says:

    I also felt compelled to share the following Link, as a retort to the nauseating and revolting ignorance displayed by those offended by Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction prayer.

    Their ignorance is shockingly offensive.

  15. urbino Says:

    Interesting thoughts, DeJon. And thanks for the link.

    I liked “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” I would have liked to see a closeup of Cheney’s face after that line. Maybe Bush’s too, but I’m not sure he would have understood the point.

    I saw somewhere that Bill O’Reilly has already pointed out that line and pronounced himself against it. He would like to see some principles sacrificed for safety. I’m not kidding.

  16. urbino Says:

    Okay, after reading it, I have a bone to pick with that link.

    It misses the point, and by doing so, makes itself a weak argument. Lowery’s words were forward-looking, not backward. He wasn’t speaking primarily of the past, but of the present and future. To a very large degree, white still doesn’t know what is right. Lowery is prophesying about a day when that will be remedied.

    Nobody who’s upset over this — or pretending to be — is going to find Britt’s post at all persuasive. Their easy and ready answer will be, “Oh, he was talking about the Civil Rights Movement? Then he should have thanked God that white now does know what is right, not asked God to bring that day.”

    For these people, racism is always in the past. Britt lets them keep it there.

  17. DeJon05 Says:

    Interesting… I appreciate the critique. Let me sit with it for a while.

  18. michaellasley Says:

    Here’s a great photo of the inauguration:

    http://gigapan.org/viewGigapanFullscreen.php?auth=033ef14483ee899496648c2b4b06233c

    You are able to zoom in and move around.

  19. mrspeacock Says:

    Fill me in here. While I wasn’t personally offended by the prayer, why were those who were offended “shockingly ignorant?” There seems to be a whole lotta offense-taking going around. People offended by the prayer. People offended by people who were offended by the prayer. For the record, I take offense to Aretha Franklin’s hat.

    On the morning of the inauguration, one of my co-workers came into my office to chat, probably b/c she knew I was excited about the day. About a year ago, she adopted a little girl from Ethiopia. She had tears in her eyes while telling me how happy she was that her daughter was growing up now instead of 40 years ago. What a great, great day. Weird prayers and botched oaths aside.

  20. DeJon05 Says:

    Mrs P… Here’s why I call those offended by Rev. Lowery’s benediction “shockingly ingorant.”

    I (like the esteemed Prof. Lasley: see above) ran in to a few folks who were offended that Rev. Lowery had the nerve to pray for a day “when white will embrace what is right.”

    Some may not know that Rev Lowery was beaten and arrested, had his belongings seized by the government, and has led a life-long crusade against social injustice.

    In light of these memories, Rev. Lowery had the nerve to employ a classic blues song and ask in a prayerful benediction that the “white will embrace what is right.” Some (mostly conservatives) called this final passage divisive, or racist.

    And I find it pretty shocking that the irony of such a label would miss someone with any since of history.

    Let me get this straight… this man who felt first-hand the dehumanizing effect of segregation, who committed his life to standing against the evils of racial superiority, and sacrificed and lost so much in the way of friends, colleagues and loved ones has no right to call out his oppressors and wish that they would see the wrongness of their actions?

    And even more, those that should be aware (I’m looking at you, Glenn Beck) of the path that Rev. Lowery has traveled have the nerve to say that he is contributing to the problem of divisiveness?!

    If that ignorance (and irony) aren’t shocking, then I don’t know what is.

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