Thursday, 22 January 2009

Good luck, USA.

I wish you well. Really I do. Hopefully all the hysterics of the inauguration are behind you now and you can just down to it. I remember at the time of the election, though, being a little nervous of the toxic combination of unrealistic expectations and inflated hyperbole, and it looks like things are getting worse.

There was a strange tone to Obama's speech. The rhetoric did soar, at times, or aspired to do so, but too often I thought it sounded like Martin Luther King, Jr. reading the shipping forecast. Which is preferable to George Bush II reading the shipping forecast, so I suppose that's progress. But what speech could done everything that speech was supposed to do?

I liked the more prosaic bits. The bits about the real economy and the hard words about world affairs. There wasn't a 'The only fear...' or an 'Ask not...' moment, but that's a good thing, I think.

And it again we need to make the point that the US does not get to clothe itself in glory here. You do not get credit for getting rid of one of the most idiotic, disastrous men to ever lead a modern democracy. That was constitutional necessity. And what was he doing there in the first place?!? Two terms! That's not an accident. It's not even unfortunate. It's just stupid. And just because the President's father 50 years ago wouldn't have been allowed to eat in a restaurant around the corner from his son's new work does not now mean that you are the World Leaders in Freedom and Opportunity. It just means that you've caught up with the rest of the world. Welcome to the twentieth century, America.

I don't want to rain on the parades, professionally, but without a realistic view of what this actually means the real gains will be lost, and the ongoing problems -- again -- glossed over. African-Americans have a right to celebrate, yes, and others who have been disenfranchised for so long by such a narrow-minded conception of democracy, too, but should these be celebrations or collective sighs of relief? less triumphalist and much more of the about-frickin'-time, this-is-an-adequate-start! school, perhaps? And we should hear nothing from the White Men of Washington about This Day confirming American's long-recognised place as the Greatest Democracy in the Free World; the mouths behind those grey beards should still be busy reciting apologies for ongoing injustice and long-overdue reparations only just begun.

The other worrying thing is how little, it seems, might actually change. God was Everywhere in front of the Capitol Building, which can't be a good sign. There was too much of the old certainties, the old self-belief in divinely-bestowed national privilege. Manifest Destiny for the twenty-first century? I hope not. There were other noises, too, a New Humility, perhaps, which after the Bush Days would be most welcome, yes. Let's just hope there's more of that.

Chomsky has always argued that the world would not have been substantially different had Al Gore won in 2000 (passim; please don't make me find the original quotation), and any detailed investigation of Democratic Presidents' records beyond the broad brushstrokes of nostalgia will suggest that he's right. (Of course Chomsky's right. He's always right.) I hope it's not the case this time, but I don't think it looks good. Let's hope the overtures to Iran are more than just empty gestures, though it might have been good to start with not remaining silent on the Israel-Gaza conflict?

As ever, someone else says this much better than me. Here's a clip of American 'comics', post-inauguration. Go to the Daily Show clip at 1.20-ish. Why IS cheese nice on Italian food, but disgusting on Chinese food?

Here's hoping he doesn't mean it.


  1. I think this post just shows how *low* our expectations are for the American presidency. Yeah, i know, we all have unrealistically HIGH expectations, but...really.
    'A president who can speak'
    'A president with a good-ish voting record on gay rights'
    'A president who thought the war on iraq (not war in general) was wrong.'
    It's sad how excited - euphoric even - I am for these basic things, even in the knowledge that I'll probably be disappointed down the line.

  2. Well, after 8 years of having parmesan thrown all over my Singapore noodles, I'm finding it excitingly delicious to eat a lasagne. Or something like that.