Damn it felt good to watch on the TV yesterday. Nobody needs any of what follows; we all had our own reactions. But I won't resist stringing some thoughts together. Because so many have focused on the racial implications of yesterday, I'm choosing to follow other lines of thought.
"... it will be the first wartime transition in 40 years." No, no, no ... this notion turned up in much coverage (the example is from the New York Times). The idea is false. Yes, U.S. troops are overseas, decidedly in harm's way. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded yesterday in Baghdad in attacks that killed 7 Iraqis and wounded 22. But at some level, U.S. troops have been in war zones continuously since the last time we unambiguously think of the nation being "at war" in 1975. Yet during none of that time has the nation at home felt truly "at war," it's daily life disrupted for much of anyone except the soldiers' families. We're fooling ourselves when we call our present state "wartime" -- wartime is national mobilization like World War II or national terror and death, like Gaza. This is not "wartime." Saying that it is feeds delusions and clouds judgment.
The novel development would be a transition in "peacetime." Perhaps if the people lead, President Obama will follow ...
He's a "grown-up." Yes, yes, yes. On top of all the identities Obama brings together, this apparent quality is what inspires hope in me. The sociologist Robert Bellah puts it this way:
I might quarrel with that last part. I suspect that Dwight Eisenhower was a grown-up. Holding together a fractious coalition in a real wartime almost certainly required genuine maturity of character. But Eisenhower was a mediocre President, so this is not so remembered.
This inauguration was the Millennial generation's "time." On this topic, Carla Marinucci wrote a pleasant piece in the San Francisco Chronicle that serves well to get this meaning of the day across to older generations:
Cute and probably accurate, but this really is a wonderful generational hand-off occurring before our eyes. I usually think my Boomer generation is not quite the selfish, self-centered boors that my younger friends sometimes accuse us of being. But I do know that just because there are so many of us, in many spheres we've been in the way, blocking the mature ascendancy of those who came later. It's their time now, and that's great.
Jedediah Purdy has offered a long, thoughtful, smart essay on about how Obama has managed to present a vision of community to an ironic, skeptical and individualistic generation. This young author maintains:
This essay is my kind of read the whole thing stuff.
Some inauguration tidbits need an oldster's explanation. Or so I think. What was committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein nattering about when she suggested that the "ballot is more powerful that the bullet"? The conservative pundit Michael Goldfarb was nonplussed, accusing the usually bellicose Senator of advocating pacifism.
The more usual reference for the phrase would be Malcolm X, probably not part of Goldfarb's pantheon of national heroes. Malcolm's 1964 speech titled "The Ballot or the Bullet" is not only a lucid explanation of his Black nationalism -- self-improvement, self-determination and self-reliance -- but also a call for the Voting Rights Act. It's a complex masterpiece, not something I'll try to summarize. Go read the whole thing -- he even predicts the fate of the U.S. in our far flung contemporary wars.
In fact, I don't know that Feinstein was nattering about Obama as a more palatable alternative to Malcolm, though this seems not impossible, given her political orientation. But Phil Bronstein, writing in the Chronicle about viewing the inauguration in San Francisco's Civic Center plaza, reminded me that Feinstein might have had different political violence in mind:
I'm no Feinstein fan, but I think he caught something there. The event in Washington yesterday was, for many of us, a kind of break in the accustomed pattern of the possible that threw us into our deep interior musings, perhaps even forcing some re-evaluation of what we "know" is real and of what can be imagined. This moment belonged not only to the Millennials, but to all of us who choose to participate actively in the collective life of this terrible and beautiful country.