OK so today is November 4 even though this post is dated November 5 and if you find this puzzling, consult the first few sentences of yesterday’s post, which was the post for November 3. This may happen regularly throughout the month, but in the end I will be awake for approximately 30 longish periods and I will post in each one of them until I wake up on December 1, probably around 8pm. I probably will not explain this again, but anyone arriving late to the party is probably not going to notice that I started the month an apparent day behind.
What can I say. Last night I was walking around the chilly streets of San Francisco, where winter moves in on the first of November, supplanting the late, October-only summer that we get every single year–and every single year, people say “it wasn’t this hot last October” but of course it was and they are just annoyed that it is hot now. But so after McCain gave his concession speech I could hear people shouting joyfully in the streets, honking horns and setting off fireworks and so I, a little stunned at the rapidity of the results and the concession and the declaration of the winner, all of which practically coincided with the closing of the polls here on the West Coast, decided to go take a walk to let off a great deal of anticipatory anxiety that hadn’t yet found a way to breathe in the relief of a political nightmare now over.
Some say Obama is not that exciting of a president-elect, and that Democrats and Republicans are so much alike that it no longer matters who takes the White House, but I just want to say a little bit about why it does matter, and very much so: the unholy alliance between the Religious Right and the Neo-Conservative movement, which is now, apparently, in a shambles.
But if the Republicans had taken the White House, that alliance would have taken on yet another incarnation, this time with an actual Dominionist Christian in the White House and, as they say, a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
Now, I think Barack Obama has a lot going for him: he has withstood the pressures of being a black man in America and made it to the top political office in the land without once losing his composure in the face of what, to most black Americans, is an unrelenting onslaught of racist inferences, insinuations, and assumptions, as well as explicit epithets and insults, as it buffets them from a dominantly racist white culture. I will not go into great detail right now in describing how it is in fact embarrassingly obvious that America is still deeply racist and deeply divided along racial lines–or “racialized” lines, given that “race” itself is a white supremacist construct that we cannot seem to give up. I might talk about this at some length later, but for now I will just say that for people of color the racism in our culture is flagrant, excessive, and so deeply rooted within white institutions and discourse that white Americans on the other hand can almost never see it until it is pointed out to them in a way that hits home.
Obama’s grace under this sort of relentless cultural antagonism is nothing short of remarkable, and a testament to his integrity and dignity as a public figure. He won this election mainly on charisma, which is not a superfluous quality in a president. Quite the contrary: it is the sort of personality that makes building alliances and healing rifts in ideology much easier than they are in the hands of someone with less grace, and right now the US is in great need of just that sort of social and cultural reintegration, to the degree that it is possible at all. Unlike the current resident of the White House, Obama conducts himself with impeccable restraint and sensibility in the face of insult. Do we really doubt that this in itself could greatly improve the bearing of the face America turns to the rest of the world? George Bush has made us laughable in the eyes of the rest of the world; the Neo-Conservative agenda has made us into a law-shirking rogue nation. I think that an Obama administration has the potential to repair not only our public image on the world stage, but to back it up with empathy and discernment, rather than relying on reactionary displays of machismo to bluster our way through our relationship with the rest of humanity.
But this is not the source of my biggest sigh of relief this evening. The thing that I am truly thankful for is that the party that has openly courted the forces of conservative Christian theocratic ideology is now out of power. Democrats have taken Congress and the Presidency, leading us back away from what I believe was a dangerous precipice: that American fascism that would rule according to simplistic, distorted, and cruel interpretation of the Christian faith. I have lived within those beliefs, and I can say unreservedly that they rely on cult-like techniques to subdue followers into accepting just about anything that one could construct a Biblical argument to support, and they browbeat people into despising life on Earth as a sinful, evil realm. The casualties from these churches are numerous, and if right-wing Christians are ever allowed back into the most powerful office in the country, anyone who is not a “real” Christian–according to their strict criteria–is at risk of the same harsh, inhumane treatment that they give to all things “worldly”: including anyone who cannot or will not march lockstep with their strict ideology.
We find it so easy to spot the immorality of Islamic fundamentalism, but we seem to have a curious blind spot for the same sort of worldview as it is espoused in Christian fundamentalism. Neither movement would be friendly to those who dare to act and believe in ways that diverge from the approved dogma; either would be happy to see the world destroyed in order to hurry the advent of god’s kingdom as they perceive it.
This is why I and many others feel they have awakened from a long political nightmare. There are other reasons as well, but this has been the most compelling one for me: it is time to stop believing that god is on our side no matter what we decide to do, and to stop believing that war and violence are sanctioned by heaven, so long as we are fighting “evil.”
Evil is not a cosmic force. Humans invented it and perpetrate it on each other endlessly, each faction more often than not believing that theirs is the righteous cause. This is a cultural myth that needs to die, to be demystified and faced as what it is: human fallibility, greed, and aggression. Until we can see it at our own level, we cannot take proper responsibility for it, and the atrocities that we visit on ourselves in the name of Good will continue unabated.
Any step we can take away from this particular abyss is a positive step. Tonight we managed to inch our way back from a flirtation with theocracy that many of us did not realize we were engaging in, for reasons that are unclear to me, but that seem to stem from a denial that anything we are familiar with could be dangerous to us. But vigilance over the destructive forces within us may be more important to securing our freedom than we realize. For now, at least, we have eluded a particularly tenacious one.