Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Election euphoria

Having stayed up most of the night to watch the U.S. election returns, I am feeling rather dazed today -- but in a good way. I feel equal parts jubilation and amazement, my head aches, and my throat hurts from constantly being on the verge of tears. Anything seems to set me off: Obama's acceptance speech, McCain's concession speech, the simple and hopeful words of an elderly African woman who was speaking on Radio 4 this morning.

For weeks now, I have felt an anxiety something like a constant lowgrade fever and stomach ache combined. Having suffered indignant disbelief in 2000, and bitter disappointment in 2004, I have hardly dared hope too much for a more positive outcome in 2008. The Bush Years have tested my patriotism, and made me very uncomfortable, at times, to be an American abroad. Despite knowing the isolationist, non-passport holding tendencies of many Americans, I have still railed at the seemingly oblivious lack of regard for the opinions of the rest of the world. Every time President Bush has boasted of bringing democracy to another benighted corner of the globe, it has set my teeth on edge.

There is a certain kind of American that I have trouble understanding. Why is a totally self-made black man -- surely the epitome of the American Dream -- criticized for being elitist? How can a rich white man, who has benefited from nepotism and cronyism his entire life, be considered "just folks" and the true representative of Joe Six-Pack? And why, speaking of beer, does wanting to share a brew with the man count as a solid qualification for the most important job in the world? Shouldn't demonstrated intelligence, eloquence, coolness under pressure, and a law degree count for a bit more?

No matter how comfortable I feel in England, I know that Americans will always be family . . . precisely because they can make me so crazy.

They can also make me so proud.

Most people think that Barack Obama, at age 47, is a young man to be President. Yet he was born into an America which wouldn't even pass the Civil Rights Act until he was three years old. He was already 14, a young teenager, when a court order demanded that the Houston Independent School District comply with desegregation.

A few years ago I was teaching in an inner-city Houston school, and I was amazed to discover that most of my black students seemed to think -- de facto -- that all white teachers were racist. Our city was flooded by Hurricane Katrina refugees that year, and the consensus opinion was outrage, but hardly surprise. Indeed, the neglect of the U.S. Government just seemed to confirm what many of these young Americans had suspected all along. They knew so little, really; but somehow they had already learned cynicism.

I have no idea what preconceived notions and deep-held beliefs have been overturned by the reality that America can -- and has -- elected a mixed-race man with an exotic name to be President. Truly, I am dazed by hope for what this could mean for all of us.

39 comments:

Bitty said...

As always, your response is so eloquent. The best I can muster is

woo-hoo!

squeeeee!!!!

EEEEEEE!!!

Florida went blue!!!!!!

Whoopee!!!!!

Etc.

It's almost too much to believe. I was so depressed in 2004, and so dismayed that so many of my fellows thought that four more years of Captain Mission Accomplished was a good idea. When I returned to the classroom following that election, and we discussed the consequences of it (remember that gay marriage was THE wedge issue that year and all my students were relieved that the gay menace had been beaten back again), I burst into tears.

Tomorrow I'll have a hard time tamping down my elation as I face my deep red students.

And EEEEEEEE!!!! Whoopee!!!!

Did I mention that Florida went blue?

(Ok -- funniest word verification I've seen in a while: muddist.)

Elizabeth said...

This was indeed a great day for America.
It shows that after these awful Bush years maybe we can do the right thing.
Did you know that in Arabic "baraka" means blessings?
I was crying and crying all evening - a real mess.
JOY JOY - haven't felt so thrilled about politic since I really can't think when.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

I think today America is in a state of euphoria. Everyone seems to be really excited and they have hope again. Not to be trite, but it was such a historical day and I'm proud.

I've always been painfully patriotic. Not that I haven't disagreed with our leaders and not that I haven't been embarrased of some our country's decisions, but I still think this is the greatest country on earth. Think me an arrogant American, if you will, but I love this place!

Most of my extended family were McCain supporters and not happy about yesterday, but I'm full of hope. Let's hope he won't prove us wrong.

Geez, I've used the word "hope" an awful lot in this comment! Must be subconscious.

Nimble said...

I’m so relieved that voting problems were not widespread and none of the hackers-will-steal-the-election conspiracies came to pass. And that the electoral and popular vote results were decisive early on. I suppose I will keep a little bit of a watch on my enthusiasm for the next few weeks. In case any of these things pop up late. But what a relief that it’s been a clear convincing win.

I cried while listening to McCain's concession speech. Some of it was relief at Obama's win but the rest was that McCain's words and sincerity moved me. As one of my coworkers said, 'There's the McCain I wanted to vote for in 2000.' Where's he been?

Brave Sir Robin said...

There is a certain kind of American that I have trouble understanding. Why is a totally self-made black man -- surely the epitome of the American Dream -- criticized for being elitist? How can a rich white man, who has benefited from nepotism and cronyism his entire life, be considered "just folks" and the true representative of Joe Six-Pack? And why, speaking of beer, does wanting to share a brew with the man count as a solid qualification for the most important job in the world?

That is it, exactly!!! Why indeed? Because so many Americans are Intellectually lazy, share a feeling of entitlement. A self made black man is a threat to both of those realities.

I am finally proud to be an American.

Kate said...

Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.
***
So proud. So hopeful. So ENERGIZED!

Anne said...

My entire adult life, George W. Bush has been the president. You can imagine what a sea change this feels like to me.

Four years ago, I celebrated Obama's election to the US Senate and privately hoped that someday I would be able to vote for him for president. I can hardly believe my luck that today I can refer to him as "President-elect Obama."

Alyson (New England Living) said...

I don't totally understand why people are just now proud to be an American. That stumps me. Even if our country makes mistakes, it is a country to be proud of. We have so many freedoms and we can easily rise above our beginnings, unlike so many other countries. Obama is proof of that.

This has always been a great country, despite our mistakes. I think I hit some sort of cosmic lottery by being born here. I have always been proud and not because I'm ignorant, but because I was taught to recognize a blessing when I see it.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Alyson,

Yes, we did hit the lottery by being born here. Absolutely.

But I'm not proud of racism, I'm not proud of genocide, I'm not proud of the type of politicians we keep electing in the face of obvious corruption.

I think it is possible to love one's country while realizing it's short comings.

Would I rather be from anywhere else? No.

Was our country established on genocide (Native Americans) and Slavery? Yes. I'm not proud of that.

Did we save the world during WWII? Yes. I am proud of that.

My point is, there has been precious little to be proud of during my adult life. I have never lived abroad, so I may be out of line here, but I get the feeling that most of the world views us as the spoiled toddlers who won't share their toys.

My comments certainly weren't meant to offend, but I'm not proud of much of the last 28 years.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

No, I totally get you, Sir Robin. I guess when I hear that people aren't proud of it, I'm assuming that means they're not grateful, and maybe that's my bad. I think we're actually on the same page.

When I lived abroad, that's when I really and truly appreciated this country. I just didn't realize what we had.

I love that we elected a black man despite the racism that still exists here. Amazing!

Anne said...

I was listening to All Things Considered on my way home, and they were talking about how Obama's going to have streets, schools, and so on named after him. For obvious reasons, of course, but don't most presidents have things named after them eventually? And then I realized that it had never occurred to me that a contemporary president might have things named after him or her years later. Name a school after Bush? Ha. But now we have someone after whom people are going to want to name all sorts of things. That seems like kind of an appropriate metaphor for the two presidents.

Bitty said...

Anne,

Well, there are a lot of Bush Streets already (snark!). Unfortunately the George W. Bush Sewer Plant re-naming was voted down. http://news.theage.com.au/world/plan-for-bush-sewage-plant-rejected-20081106-5iw3.html

But good point about the enthusiasm for naming/renaming things after a President-elect, never mind a sitting President!

And I think there will be a lot of little boys named Barack over the next few years, if that hasn't already begun.

Sabrae said...

I figured that if McCain won we were moving to canada! lol Maybe Europe sounds better?

Jan said...

Brilliant news!
This is important world news and everyone I speak with is thrilled.
And I'm also delighted his girls are having a new dog!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Well said, as usual, Bee. It is interesting to be an American living overseas during these times, isn't it?

And Jan, I have to agree with you. I thought it was so cute when Obama told his girls they deserved their new puppy :-)

Debski Beat said...

I'm not American, I'm British but I sat up until 5am to watch coverage of the U.S election, as did my 25 year old son and 23 year old daughter in their own respective homes, so, that might give you an idea of how the outside world took interest. I stayed awake because I have always found American politics dynamic but hardly ever as dynamic as this.

I have never viewed Americans as spoilt children throwing out toys and I do not believe I have ever met anyone that has, rather more as a continent of very hard working individuals that due to its very size would always have great diversity and of course inner turmoil, nowhere is Utopia. I believe I saw this election night America take the lead in showing the rest of the world that all men (women) are created equal.

The lows are always equal to the highs, so expectations cannot be met in this case it would be impossible, how does one balance euphoria. I am proud of all my American friends for leading the way on this and proud of America for showing that the pen is mightier than the sword and that hopefully through this man who in so many ways represents America in its modern sense the world can become a happier more balanced place.

Sorry if I've whittered on but I remember as a child my father bringing me to the TV when a man landed on the moon, I've seen the Berlin wall come down and with it the fall of communism , Ill put this in that same historic bag.

Once again, sorry about the whittering.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Wow Debski, I wouldn't call that whittering, I'd call that insightful comment.

JAPRA - I saw that about the puppy, I thought that was cute, but I'm more a kitten person.
(I guess that's why I'm such a socialist LOL)

Alyson - I think we are on the same page.


Bee - Sorry to hijack your Salon.

Bee said...

To all my friends:

You had a really interesting debate while I was sleeping!

To Alyson especially -- I understand why it might sound distasteful to suggest that this historic occasion is the "first" time one has felt pride in America. Michelle Obama said something similar, and got completely nailed for it. And while I feel like I understand where she was coming from, and that she was speaking the truth of her heart at that moment, I can also understand why some found her comment appalling -- and yes, unpatriotic.

This is how I see it. Anyone who was born in the U.S. is hugely fortunate. Lucky, lucky, lucky. And if you're a woman, that goes double. The paradox of America, though, is that we set ourselves up to be so much that some of us get bitterly disappointed when we fall short. Especially when the rhetoric is saying one thing, but the actions are saying another.

I do think BSR has a valid point: a lot of people outside of the U.S. DO think we act like spoiled children, not to mention arrogant bullies. The international reputation of the U.S. has really suffered during the last eight years: FOR GOOD REASON.

This morning I heard Maya Angelou speak to Harry Smith -- (you can check out the video on YouTube over at Tart Juice) -- and she said this:
"I believe, in the heart of every American, there is a desire to belong to a GREAT country."

I guess that is part of why I've felt so emotional about Obama's triumph. It has touched on some almost childishly pure part of myself that didn't quite realize how much I loved my country.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Wow - just went and watched Maya.

Crying again.

I wish I knew how to edit that down to just her.

"We All Rise"

Powerful.

Bee said...

BSR, doesn't that just sum it up?

Brave Sir Robin said...

BSR, doesn't that just sum it up?
Better than I ever could. I guess that's why she's been Poet Laureate and I haven't.

:)

JaneyV said...

It's been an amazing few days. I, for one, thank America giving us a world leader worthy of the post You should be proud. It's good thing you've done. I am hopeful that the world grow into greater harmony in the years to come.

PG said...

It is truly wonderful. The world feels like a better place already.

The Grandpa said...

The eight-year nightmare has come to an end. It does feel good to be an American today. And it hasn't for so long. But we can also be grateful -- and proud -- that Americans didn't give up.

Shauna said...

I was in tears when they announced the results. I think I watched more television that night than the previous month before. I refused to believe the result initially even though crowds were rejoicing all over the world. I remember 2000.

When McCain conceeded, I cried. I'm happy that he was able to climb out of the muck and be as gracious as he was.

I cried through Obama's speech too although I only began supporting him when he became the Democratic nominee. I have been called a self-depricating American more than once. I have great appreciation for the US and because I believe in the potential, I took great pride in celebrating the positives and being honest about the negative.

I am so happy to have hope for our future again.

meab said...

Considering Bee a dear friend, I read Bee Drunken as often as possible but have yet to comment. The gravity of this election has motivated me to move beyond my comfort and join the conversation.

I find that I have been crying tears of joy, relief and doubt for two days.

I don’t remember feeling this way ever about my country. I was raised with two blindly, misguided patriotic parents and found myself continually playing the “devil’s advocate” about America from a very young age. As everything in their world was black and white (in soooooo many ways) America was always right and the rest of the world was always “wrong”. People of color were always wrong and Caucasians were always right. It was sickening to see and be exposed to as a child and I always felt that this was the view of most Republicans and most Americans. Unfortunately, this was affirmed over and over with the Bush Administration and the Republican, Americans I have known.

I have been patriotic in the past at times in my life. I was always proud that my father was a Purple Heart recipient that he was in the Battle of the Bulge and landed on the beaches of Normandy for D-Day. However, the America that I lived was a place where people felt entitled, they were prejudice, and they blamed the “others” for all evils. I found that as a young adult my America was a place of inequality and division.

Last year my Mother, my Brother and I went to Arlington Cemetery to visit my father’s grave. It was a difficult place for me to go as I am sure it is for many Americas. To look over the rows and rows of uniform headstones will move even the most jaded of critics of America to some degree of patriotism. However, as we visited the museum to commemorate Women in the Armed Forces I was filled with revoltion and rage as I read the propaganda that the Bush Administration had added to the exhibits regarding the Iraq war. The war was touted to be a retaliation strike for September 11th. I started to cry as I read the exhibit and felt the emptiness that only comes with betrayal. This was not a country of which to be proud. All of the bodies that lay in the newly filled "Section 60” of the cemetery are there in vain. I was sickened that the history books would be filled with these lies and the countless families that buried their children were accepting this as truth. This is the America that I have known.

Even with all of these negatives experiences there is a part of me that is always, even at the worst of times, filled with faith about self, country and God. As this day of joy and hope has finally arrived I feel that Obama has the courage, strength, integrity and intellect to lead a nation. I find myself doubting “us”. Do we have what it takes? Will we be able to make the individual sacrifices needed to truly make a difference?

I pray that we do and we live up the promise that each of us has made by casting our vote for Change, for Obama.

Lucy said...

Wow! Who is meab and why isn't she blogging?

Bee, that was great, the comments too. I've found a lot of the writings of displaced Americans very interesting at this time. And I've been struck and moved by the weight of pain a lot of Americans everywhere have clearly been carrying, perhaps not even being fully aware of it until they find it's shifted.

I was also very moved by the number of non-whites I've seen saying God bless America, and how proud they are. It seems incomprehensible that there are people afraid of what's happened, as though keeping people oppressed and angry and embittered was less dangerous than having them included, motivated and proud.

It's only the beginning, of course, and the task is so great and the world so imperfect, but let's enjoy our euphoria, or whatever it is. I'm happy for you and I'm happy for all of us.

(On a completely different note, Tom was researching his perennial wallflower today, and found it described in the book as a 'sub-shrub'. I said I thought that sounded like George W.Bush!)

Bee said...

Everyone: Thanks for all of the interesting, heartfelt feedback.

Meab - I'm SO GLAD that you joined the discussion. You were in my mind all through the election day and night.
Your description of the Iraq War exhibit is a perfect demonstration of why so many of us have been disenchanted (and downright angry)with the Bush Administration.
As you suggest, blind patriotism is almost worse than no patriotism at all. I, for one, am so glad that we have the freedom to be critical of our country.

Your words reminded me of a great editorial I read in The Guardian earlier today. The writer, Michael Tomasky, was addressing the reality that Obama will not in fact be able to "solve all of the world's problems." He does give a list of things that he is "pretty confident" that we can trust Obama to do -- starting with "obeying the US constitution" and ended with not "forcing our intelligence agencies to 'cook' their data to make a false case for an unnecessary war."

Sure, it would be great if he could fix the economy and the health care issue and our energy dependence . . . but I would like to feel that at least he sets the example for the law of the land.

Lucy - You have a great knack for putting thoughts into words. Your observation about Americans carrying around pain (without being totally conscious of the weight of it) is so apt. Thanks, too, for the humorous thought of Bush as a "sub-shrub." Plant humour is always welcome.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I'll join the Meab fan club.

:)

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, you capture so well the emotion of this historic election. Do you really think politics have been making you sick? You are a better patriot than I. Americans suffer from anti-intellectualism and the English can be too elitist. I wish there were a happy medium. The election of Obama and McCain’s gracious concession speech has restored my faith in the future. For the first time in a while I’m truly proud to be American.

Bee said...

Sarah - Did you NOT feel sick with nerves all of that week? I truly did. You make a great point about finding a balance between anti-intellectualism (a stance which is just stupid!) and elitism. I also think it is interesting how you, like so many others, admired McCain's concession speech. I wish that everyone would follow his lead!

Elizabeth said...

Gosh, dear Bee
We have had a lively discussion here.
Just what blogging should do.
I think the sense of a weight being lifted is almost universal.
And Obama hit the right note when he said he would be president of the people who didn't vote for him too.

ps. I just got the new Persephone catalogue....a gazillion more cool books to lust after.
Have a peaceful weekend.

Dick said...

Read Teju Cole's piece on The Cassandra Pages - http://www.cassandrapages.com/

Bee said...

Elizabeth - I wish that the sense of a weight being lifted was universal . . . but I'm already starting to hear lots of stories about the disgruntled ones. Still, I have trust that we are going to get some improvement -- if not an actual miracle!

HUGE THANKS for introducing me to Persephone. I've got a lovely new stack of books for when I (finally) tire of the news.

Dick - Thanks for pointing me toward this piece. Teju's perspective -- and analysis -- give so much intellectual and emotional texture to all of the anodyne words being traded back and forth.

Audrey said...

Wow. This was an awesome post Bee and the comments have been very moving as well. I've been vacillating between euphoria and feeling very emotional in the wake of this election. I've been smiling and crying.

There is still a huge amount of work to be done to repair the damage of the end of the Reagan era (which historians are putting Bush jr. as the last gasp). But it's such a relief to feel like people had had enough of divisive, right wing politics. We are on the right road and as you said, it makes me so proud.

Bee said...

Audrey - I've been devouring the news this week. I would say that I'm still thinking about the election about 85% of the time!

Anil P said...

When hope grows its own legs it walks a long way, a very long way.

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