It’s beginning to sink in. Obama won. The long, shameful Bush years will soon be over forever. After eight years of being angry, tired, and perpetually having to explain why the U.S. Government had done the things it had done and why the American people would not rise up to drive their regime from power like so many others had done under truly dire conditions, I know I will hold my head a little higher next time I am abroad.*
The lessons of the last eight years have been painful ones, but some have also been helpful. With news stories that placed “Bush Administration” and “war crimes” and “torture” in the same headlines running seemingly every day, I saw a lot of American expats (myself included) become more humble. I heard less talk about how [insert nationality] was uniquely, perhaps even genetically prone to fits of aggression, easily swayed to violent nationalism, and inclined to play fast and loose with the human rights of Others in times of crisis –with the unspoken implication that Americans were simply not like that at all, heavens no! Yes, there was a lot less of that kind of talk, thanks to the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the Bagram Collection Point, the mercenary-perpetrated crimes in Iraq, the enforced disappearances, and the vulgar, blatant militarism and nationalism on display at every White House press conference and every talking heads show on television.
The process that began on November 4th initiated the closest thing we will have had to a transition –a real transition transition– in a very long time, arguably since the end of the American Civil War, though the more recent transitions in Latin America and Eastern Europe are better, if still far from wholly applicable, comparisons for what faces us. Like all transitional governments, the Obama Administration will be faced with questions of prior regime legacy, if and when and how to deal with human rights violators from the previous regime, rule of law restoration, and (they must not forget) distributive justice.
I’m only now beginning to feel a tingle of excitement. I am sure the Obama Administration will fall far short of the lofty expectations harbored by the Americans who voted it into office and the hundreds of millions around the world that look to it as the best hope for a more just American foreign policy. Yet, cynical as I have become, I cannot help but think, in terms of governance, it can only get better from here, if only slowly, unevenly, and imperfectly.
After all, progress is always uneven and imperfect (see the outcome of Proposition 8 in California), and it is often maddeningly, tragically slow. For too many, it comes too late. Yet, progress is real and achievable.
I will always remember what my mother first said to me when she called me after Obama’s victory was certain: “This could not have happened when I was your age.”
I hope I live to see many days like November 4th, 2008 in the United States of America, and get to tell my own future children and grandchildren the very same thing many times over.
Now, we get to work.
…*Metaphorically, of course. If I do find myself in Afghanistan in a few months, I will literally keep my head as low as possible, for obvious reasons.