The older you get, or the more you learn (the two aren’t always related), the more cynical you become. Children are born into a magical world of endless possibility, fantastic creatures, and plenty of time to play. Teenagers begin to see through some of the fables as they acquire responsibilities toward what we aptly call the “real world.” Adults find their lives consumed by work—career, housework, child care, budget, and so on—and far too often watch their dreams and the dreams of others founder or die, or suffer endless delay. People lie to one another, and with the weight of age comes an increasing caution in the face of caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware.”
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between “there’s a sucker born every minute,” and “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
A little over seven years ago, I shared in the U.S. national fervor to make the perpetrators of the 9-11 attack pay, even if it meant donning Army fatigues again at my age. I felt the surge of patriotism as much as anyone. And then the bullshit started: WMDs; Axis of Evil; “Waterboarding isn’t torture”; “A few rogue individuals”; “Torturing terrorists isn’t wrong.” Toss in a bit of “Let’s invest everyone’s retirement savings in the stock market” and “We need less government—except in Homeland Security.” Cap that with an increasingly Democratic congress that pretty much refused to do anything to reverse the direction, and my patriotism was just about beaten to death.
When Barack Obama came on the scene, I started to feel some cautious optimism. He talked a good game. He held his temper in the face of outrageous accusations. He remained focused on the task at hand. He spoke eloquently of hope. Could this be a politician to believe in?
Today, listening to his inaugural speech, I am most encouraged not by the moving rhetoric (though it was certainly moving), but by three basic ideas:
- The United States of America is founded on a dream of equality and freedom for every human.
- We cannot sacrifice our ideals to preserve our comfort and safety. To compromise our ideals is to lose our very identity.
- Leadership must be transparent. Leaders in a democracy must answer to the people, and the people must take responsibility for leaders’ actions.
The past sixteen years have been rough on the American public’s faith in its government. We’ve gone from a lying philanderer and his wooden sidekick on the one hand to a mule-headed cowboy and his not-so-secret master on the other.
But today we did the previously unimaginable: We inaugurated a Black man as president. More importantly, however, we chose a message of hope over one of cynicism, a message of national and global unity over one of safety-at-any-cost. It was that message of hope that got Barack Obama elected, and I’m beginning to think that just maybe the American public wants it enough to make it happen.
Call me a sucker. But I’m feeling a little faith again. And it feels good.