Hey now, brown cow - er, denizens of the Internets!
Election season's finally over here in the USA, and no doubt most of you joined the rest of the globe in breathing a collective sigh of relief. And then proceeded to spend these past two weeks partying like it was 1399, in which case there was no dancing allowed since that'd just be asking to be accused of witchcraft. (Unless you're a remotely "normal" person, per se, in which case you've just spent these past couple of weeks going about your life as usual, looking forward to the retirement of George W. Bush and his cronies from the highest offices in the nation.)
Together, the American people headed out to the polls on November 4th and decidedly renounced the policies of George W. Bush and neo-conservativism that John McCain ran on, and the hate and fear that the dangerously unqualified Sarah Palin espoused. Since then, we've seen McCain give a graceful concession speech - to which his crowd did not react well, sadly - and Sarah Palin go on to be less than a class act, not taking the loss well and trying to convince us that we somehow missed out on something big, when, as would be good for America, her political career is pretty likely over. (All the angry conservatives trying to make her out to be a viable 2012 candidate aside.) President-elect Obama himself gave a powerful, uplifting, and honest speech - continuing his trend of treating the American people like intelligent adults capable of critical thinking, a nice break from the treatment prominent Republicans have given us - talking about what we've been through, and the difficulties we have lying ahead. Though there has been a bit of a sense of a "personality cult of hope" around Obama - which the Republicans harped on throughout the campaign - the man in no way pretends he can just snap his fingers and undo everything the Bush administration did, nor simply swoop into power and fix all the problems we're facing without plenty of difficulty in the face of reality. Obama's speech was no doubt sobering for those pulled into the candidate hype - though their excitement was understandable, he's one of the closest candidates to a strong progressive we've seen running for a long time (Though he's still certainly a moderate overall.), and now soon to be sworn in as our nation's first African American president. An absolutely historic night, and a beacon of hope for both America and the world, with a leader interested in the needs of the average citizen and the rest of the world again at last. And since the election? Obama's even begun doing his own version of FDR's historic fireside chats, in addressing the nation in Youtube videos.
Even after such a great, historic event, there are many in this nation dead set on reminding us how much ugliness still exists under the surface here. This is no nation to regard with blind patriotism, as many conservatives - including Republicans, even their less conservatively inclined ilk, the masqueraders - espouse. I've read more than enough local editorial letters about how we shouldn't just be proud of our nation because of Obama's victory, but that we should be blindly proud of it and implicitly stop criticizing it regardless of who's in power. These past eight years are shameful for many reasons - nothing to take pride in, whether through blind patriotism or stalwart belief in the terrible things we spent the George W. Bush years standing for, and would have continued to under a McCain administration. Sarah Palin herself cast those who would look at America as an "imperfect" place as somehow being "untrue" Americans. If we should stand for anything, it's the ideals this nation has upheld at its best - the importance of individuals' rights and freedoms, human rights themselves, the pursuit of happiness, and efforts to uplift our society, rather than gleefully kicking those lower than us in socioeconomic status as we've done for so long.
America is still a bubbling cauldron of hate of all kinds, even on the most depressingly basic level of hatred based on skin color and ethnicity. Obama's election is historic - one of the most important election results in many, many years - and represents America taking a step forward, actively rejecting the rhetoric of racists. But in reaction to this, America's racists have only grown more raucous - something to condemn, and also something to learn from as an awful relic of one of the worst elements of American history. We've come far, but we're still a young nation, and our stability - like our future - is in no way guaranteed. Racism - though I've heard it claimed otherwise (Mostly by Libertarians, but not to say that all branches of that party's political thought - which trends towards ridiculousness as much as any other - actually believe that.) - is not simply an "opinion" to demand respect for from others. There's a world of difference between opinions and blind hatred - between "I don't like the taste of asparagus" and "Those people are inferior to me because they look different, and didn't descend from the same people I did." And this month, Americans as a whole took a step forward in rejecting that depressing viewpoint by electing our first African American president. The less experienced candidate, sure - but still the candidate with ideas this country has needed to take it someplace better again. Politically, he's not as radically different as this country is in sore need of - a general break from Republicans and Democrats and a move in a direction both more stable and progressive - but he's far better than the alternative, and far better at selling Americans on the right ideas. (Ideas most Americans agree with when presented with the facts and reality - things the right has been viciously combating through the tactics of fear for decades now.) And as such, he overcame one of the lowest, dirtiest campaigns this nation has seen in some time. (And these past two weren't exactly clean by any measure of imagination.)
Barack Obama has a very long, difficult first term ahead, facing some of the biggest challenges a president of this nation has in a long time. Many of them are the result of awful, failed politics on the part of the neo-conservatives and their past eight years in power (With even the Democratic congress the past two not doing nearly enough to defy them and check their power.), but many of them are the result of other factors. Obama doesn't have all the answers, nor can he just flick the switch on some hope machine and fix everything wrong with our broken nation, as said before. He can't simply undo the economic crisis, he can't bring the countless dead as a result of our invasions and occupations in the Middle East - American, Afghan, and Iraqi alike - back to life, he can't stop Bush's rather awful Supreme Court additions, and he can't simply go back in time and erase any of what we're facing now. There's no guarantee we'll see everything drastically improve and radically change in the next four years - and we're practically guaranteed that that's what the Republicans will run on in 2012, that Obama failed to deliver on radical change that he never promised (The focus being on a change of direction, away from the neo-conservatives' failed politics and rhetoric, and an honest effort to improve things for the majority of us who suffered under their reign.), in giving the honest speech he did on election night in speaking to America as our new president-elect. But only people who didn't listen to Obama, who believed he'd accomplish things he never promised (Or were already Republicans who simply didn't take the time to understand what he was actually promising), will fall for these tactics. (And if America's any smarter - this is something much harder to measure - if the Republicans end up trying to push Sarah Palin as their candidate in 2012, they should effectively be guaranteeing a second term for Obama.)
The best attitude to adopt now is one of cautious optimism - to keep our expectations realistic and to think rationally in screening the years of angry right-wing partisan spin we'll be seeing on everything Obama does, both important and insignificant. With the almost absurd amount of damage the George W. Bush presidency dealt to both this nation and the world, it's unrealistic to expect Obama to fix things with ease - and there are many who'll continue to fight him along the way. So we can't rationally get angry at someone not being able to fix everything when faced with such daunting odds, who never promised to "wave a magic wand" (As is the popular metaphor these days) and make all our troubles disappear. What we can look forward to is a start in a better direction, which we just have to hope the right-wing doesn't successfully trip up somewhere along the way.
This month, the American people achieved a major milestone in triumphing over the racism still ingrained in much of the populace. And we chose the politics of hope and change over fear and continuing down an inherently destructive path. These achievements cannot be discounted, though the election results weren't all sunshine and rainbows, with gay marriage bans passed in Florida and Arizona, and the recent legalization of same sex marriage overturned in California, a horrible blow to all the couples who just married in these past few weeks. (A narrow overturning on the part of elderly voters, as opposed to African Americans, who Bill O'Reilly has openly attempted to pin the blame on in hopes of pushing for this mythical Republican culture/race war in which they're dying to see minority groups who don't support them turn against each other.)
The violent and disruptive acts of racism in the wake of Obama's election remind us loud and clear that much of this country is still depressingly behind the times in regards to accepting African Americans as being no less as people than anyone else. And over the George W. Bush years, we saw numerous racist flareups, targeting Islamic people (As a result of the September 11th attacks and the resulting invasions, and more of the hateful sentiment we've seen in those treating the Islamic/Judaic cultural conflict in the Middle East as a matter of picking sides. It's also funny how so many of the conservative-minded people who aggressively side with Israel - sometimes including its more violent radicals - seem to be among the same conservatives who hold prejudice against Jewish people here in America.) and Mexicans (Hate was frequently indirectly espoused towards them, as well as fear of their culture, all throughout the immigration debate. Not unlike the frequent use of "Hussein" - Obama's middle name - as a surrogate epithet by hateful McCain supporters throughout the election.) in particular.
This election also reminds us that much of this country - the older generations in particular - have a ways to go in accepting that same sex marriage isn't that different an idea from the marriage of two individuals of the opposite sex - that people in same sex relationships, bisexual or homosexual, are still the same species as the rest of us. A matter of insecure people feeling threatened by those who look differently, who come from different places, and people of a different sexual orientation. But many people - Americans certainly included - are not inclined to open-mindedness. And thus, their hatred remains rooted in fear, rather than uprooted through recognition of and acceptance that despite our differences, we're all still human, with all the frailties and flaws that entails.