11.5.08 How Far We’ve Come/The Darkness Has Lifted

I cried on election night.  The tears of joy took me by utter surprise when the networks declared Barack Obama to be president-elect of the United States of America.  It was as if I had been suddenly unburdened of an enormous weight.  And, indeed I had.

How Far We’ve Come

Before Brown vs. Board of Education and LBJ, racism was de jure.  In the decades since, the de facto variety that has persisted, robbing our fellow citizens (and residents) of self-worth, opportunities for advancement, and the power to do a thing about it.  Even six months ago, a primary candidate campaigned explicitly on the idea that working class whites would never accept a black candidate.

And then Barack Obama won the presidency.

This dream is in my blood.  My parents became civil rights activists in the mid-1950s, in response to the brutal injustice they observed in Alabama, during my father’s military service.  They brought me up in the nation’s first purposely integrating community: the Ludlow neighborhood of Shaker Heights, Ohio.  The public schools I went to were 50/50 black-white from kindergarten through high school.

As a white man, I am blessed only rarely to suffer bigotry of any kind, but my upbringing taught me to care passionately about those without this good fortune and to seek justice with them and for them.

Last night was a triumphal moment in the ongoing struggle. 

The Darkness Has Lifted

For eight long years (if not since liberalism self-destructed in 1968), the American people have suffered under a tyranny of evil and incompetence.  The damage wrought will take decades to repair, from civil liberties and economic justice, to the environment and international relations.

But, the scoundrels were sent packing last night.

It feels like a weight removed, a burst of sunlight from behind dark clouds.  It just feels so damn good to rediscover hope and pride, not to mention the chance to savor some well deserved schadenfreude over the fate of the bad guys.

+++++

There were voices today repudiating any celebration, on the grounds that there is more work to do and that Obama isn’t perfect.  They’re right, of course.

But for this moment — for these few days — I would rather bask in joy.  I think we’ve earned that.

©2008 Keith Berner

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8 Comments on “11.5.08 How Far We’ve Come/The Darkness Has Lifted”

  1. Seth Berner Says:

    I was one of those who questioned Keith. (I disclose that I am Keith’s brother. I don’t see how this matters, but disclosure is always preferable.) I agree that the defeat of McCain is cause for rejoicing, but I do not in any way see the election of Obama as a “lifting of the darkness.” It is not quibbling to point out that Obama has not offered any firm commitment to ending poverty, violence or discrimination. He has been influenced by AIPAC, creating the concern that his Middle East policies will continue to favor Israel right or wrong; he has vowed to increase our military presence in Afghanistan, and has not taken off the table incursions into Iran and Pakistan. He supported the billions of dollars to the bankers who destroyed lives and our economy for their own profit. He will put insurance companies over health care. And the list goes on. With relentless pressure from the left Obama may prove better than his words. But his election has not lifted any darkness; it has done no more than offer hope that he might be willing to consider lifting some darkness. And I am made quite nervous by well-intentioned people who even temporarily are willing to see what is not there.

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  2. Ken P Says:

    No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.

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  3. Seth Berner Says:

    Let me put this another way. We are all sailing on the Good Ship Titanic. Several people were just vying for its captaincy. We avoided the one who is insistent that there are no icebergs and was determined to continue full speed ahead into the territory where most of the rest of the world believes the bergs to be. What we got is one who thinks that some bergs might be there but believes he can squeeze the ship between them without having to change direction, which might cause some casualties when the sides scrape but may keep the ship afloat; and if it turns out that the ship will not slip through he will take to each threatening berg with a pick axe and hammer. While it is comforting to know that certain death has been avoided a likely or even possible calamity is not to me a lifting of the darkness.

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  4. Lisa Welsh Kovack Says:

    I must respectfully but firmly and fundamentally disagree with Seth Berner (Keith’s brother or not). Most of politics and a surprising amount of the success of policy is based on perception. Perception matters. No matter what challenges lie ahead for America and the world (and I am not denying there are many), we all woke up to a better world on November 5th (if we slept at all on Tuesday night). I live in London and as I rode the train into the city yesterday almost every single passenger was reading the paper, plastered with photos of Obama–and almost everyone reading it was smiling, or had a smile in their eyes. And this can be a dark and dreary city, though I love it, where people smile infrequently, and even more rarely at Americans. Yet the world is smiling. Sure, beaming smiles–warm as they may be–aren’t enough to melt icebergs in the path of the Titanic, but as Barack said in his victory speech, “This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change.” If that chance isn’t lifting the darkness, I don’t know what is.

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  5. Seth Berner Says:

    I am fair game, my relationship to Keith gives me no privilege or immunity. Ms. Kovack asks if chance is not lifting the darkness then what is? Obviously what is is accomplishment. I have no doubt that the rest of the world woke up smiling – it is no small thing to have a bellicose madman in charge of the most powerful army and still one of the most powerful economies on the planet, and Obama is not mad. But, again, Obama for all his rhetoric has promised or even hinted at little fundamental change. He is going to increase troop levels in Afghanistan – ask those people if their darkness has lifted. He has been as belligerent toward Iran as Bush – ask the Iranians if their darkness has lifted. He is as forgiving towards Israel as McCain – ask the Palestinians if their darkness has lifted. He supported the allocation of potentially seven hundred billion dollars to the finance industry that caused the crises, while offering little to assure that future similar abuses will not occur, and offering little to those who have lost their homes, savings and pensions. Ask them if the darkness has lifted. In the United States, until our financial industry was given license to pillagem, lack of health care was the single greatest cause of homelessness – Obama’s health plan will leave hundreds of thousands still at risk of losing their homes to health costs they can not pay. Need I go on? Perception is significant, but perception too often is personal. Unless and until one focuses on those who have been the biggest victims or are likely to become the next (subsequent) biggest victims personal perception is a self-centered point of view I prefer not to mistake for universal. Again, let’s all breathe a sigh of relief, but we can not, must not mistake Obama for a populist. And we can not, must not mistake his election for sufficient achievement. I will consider the darkness lifted when we have actually significant reduced hunger, homelessness, illiteracy, global tension, destruction of the planet and its resources, and other crises that will destroy us all if we don’t stop them.

    Sorry to be such a curmudgeon, but I think that the world requires it.

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  6. Keith Berner Says:

    One of the goals I had for this blog (apart from making me famous and fabulously wealthy) was to engender discussion and, even, disagreement. I’m delighted by my apparent success in this case.

    As to the substance at hand: there is no “right” or “wrong” here. Many people (most?) were enormously happy and relieved by Obama’s election (whether or not they would subscribe to my phrase “the darkness has lifted”) and some (many?) were not.

    What I would wish for curmudgeons, as right as they are about the disastrous circumstances of the world, is that they could feel the joy of hope, the relief in a lessening of fear, the pride in a good thing accomplished, as small a step as it might be.

    And I’ll close with this: joy that does not come at another’s pain or misfortune is a fine emotion, one to be embraced when circumstances allow us the opportunity.

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  7. Leon Morse Says:

    We don’t know what Obama’s record will be. We don’t know how his campaign rhetoric will translate into policy, both domestic and foreign. We don’t know how his electoral margin will be viewed by his advisors when deciding how much leeway they have to enact changes.

    I was in Dakar, Senegal, on Election Day at a meeting of media leaders from many different African countries (I had to call my wife from the plane home to get the final results). I used to live in Indonesia and still have many friends there. So I’ll add this to the discussion: I can tell you that hundreds of millions of everyday Africans (not just Kenyans) and Indonesians idolize and/or find inspiration from our president elect. If that’s not an advantage moving forward, I don’t know what is.

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  8. jerry berner Says:

    Hi Keith,I am trying to respond to your blog. We just got back from Hawaii earlier today. The first chance I had to turn on the TV on election day was to hear McCain’s concession speech What Joy!!!(Of course we had cast our Obama votes long before we left home.) I bought the Sunday NYT on Nov. 9 to read their Week in Review. I was thrilled by Frank Rich and Thomas Friedman’s articles. I think we are all aware of the major problems that still exist throuout our country and the world and that Obasma will not be able to solve them readily. However, I agree with you that his being elected with the support of almost every demographic group belies the underlying fear tat deep lying racism could never allow thgat to happen. It also doesn’t mean that racism is dead, but it ceratinly is significantly diminshed. People were able to see Obama’s qualities and potentials that had nothing to do with the color of his skin. Hallelujah ! I deeply hope that the goals he has outlined will be addressed. Unfortunately, we know that many of the problems are so deep seated that they don’t reasdliy lend themselves to easy solutions. At least I feel that FINALLY we will be going in the right direction. I am thrilled by his election and hold out hopes for better days ahead.

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