Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama and America's coming of age.

Today, it has been all celebration, and rightfully so. Barack Obama today became the first person of African American heritage to be elected President of the USA. The significance of this shouldn't be lost on anyone following this exciting news. In over 200 years of the USA existing as a nation, and 389 years since the first Africans were brought to America as slaves to work on British colonies, this is the first time any person of colour has been bestowed the rare honour of being the country's leader and indeed occupy the seat of one of the most powerful people in the world.

Not only were the odds heavily stacked against him, he was also fighting to be elected in a time of strife for the USA, with two wars and a looming recession that the whole world has felt and reacted to, not too positively. But Obama, being the brilliant leader he is, ran a campaign that was so sophisticated and so inclusive that all the traditional Republicans and their think tanks were reduced to sideshows with no substance at all. The Obama campaign outthought, outmotivated, outspent, and completely outplayed the republican campaign and made them look like amateurs in a world of phenomenal professionals.

The romance of all this is indeed beautiful, and the whole world has waxed eloquent about the significance of this historic moment, emotional for a lot of people, and amazing for the ideals upon which America has always said it stands upon. Indian media has been very sharp, as representatives of the world's largest democracy, to present this spectacle in its colour, although largely positioning their reporters in liberal bastions where the story was juiciest, particularly after it became obvious that Obama was going to win and win big.

If there is one thing that is totally missing from all media so far, it is the mention that America the adolescent of 200 years of age has finally shown symptoms of becoming an adult, officially getting past puberty and coming of legal adult age. For all its greatness, America has always been a sum of its various interesting parts, and never a grown up as a whole. Now, finally, with this emphatic expression, thanks to youngsters and people who chose to stay awake, America has shown that it is not genetically flawed and is capable of adulthood and adult behaviour.

The greatest progress in America in any sphere has taken place in Blue states - those that traditionally vote Democrat. In fact, Blue states overwhelmingly overshadow the productivity of Red states, who sometimes seem to produce nothing but voting blocks and religious zealots who clearly should have no place in the twenty first century. Sarah Palin, scarily is from one such state, and this right wing nutcase who wants to legalize aerial hunting and thinks Putin is going to attack America over Alaskan airspace, did come perilously close to having her chance to be President!

At the time when India was getting its independence from the British empire, won with a non violent movement that still baffles humanity, segregation was legal in the USA! It was perfectly normal to expect a black person to be hanged without trial if charged with a crime, and the likelihood of a black person ever getting the same treatment as a white person was almost nil. To this day, there is a significantly larger percentage of black people in America's jails in comparison to their percentage of the nation's population, and there are still many, many places you can visit in the United States of America where if you are not white, you will be looked upon like a parasite fully worthy of nothing but suspicion.

Racism is as American as apple pie, and it exists in its ugliest forms in American people's minds. This is not to define the whole country by the actions of a few, but it is worth remembering as we celebrate and join in America's greatest political step forward. There are American parents today who are busy warning their children that their country is doomed to be taken over by Muslim terrorists because Obama became president. Earlier today, when John McCain was delivering his concession speech and congratulated Obama, his supporters were booing! Booing! That's how retarded some of these people can be. There are Americans who are scared to their bones by Obama being president, and for reasons that are uniquely American - usually prejudiced, baseless, and conditioned by an upbringing of ignorance and intolerance. That is not about to change anytime soon.

The balance may have shifted for now in favour of a more progressive America, but that doesn't provide the grounds for us to assume that America has done anything more than somehow endure its coming of age. To be fair, America has had in place for a while the framework for greatness, the structure to provide the opportunity for anyone to step up and take up enormously ambitious dreams. It provides for great checks and balances that carefully prevent the hijacking of a democratic system, and yet, it watched helplessly as Bush and co. systematically ran into the ground America's surplus economy, waged a war based on lies and treachery, gave no bid contracts worth billions of dollars to companies in which their politicians had vested interests, and ruined the country's reputation to the point where Eritrea and Solomon Islands might well be the most celebrated members of the Coalition of the Willing that the supermoron from Texas put together.

It is possible today to lead a life in America where you can do well financially without much of an education, you can buy enough insulation to never have to deal with a human being too much unlike yourself, and live a life of complete ignorance of the rest of the world. There are many pockets in the USA where people have chosen to do exactly these things and their vote could still decide which country gets bombed next. Driven by belief above knowledge, they have an icon in Sarah Palin who believes that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at some point, and these are the people that constitute 48% of the popular vote that Barack Obama did not win! (Imagining T-rex on Noah's ark still makes me smile in abject resignation!)

There was more negativity and cheapness from the republican campaign against Obama than there was any substance and dignity. Sarah Palin's attempts at linking Obama to a well known fear psychosis of terror, knowing fully well that this domestic terrorist is a university professor, should give us enough insight on the kind of people she knew she was addressing. These are the people who continue to pull the USA down to the stone age, and her "folksy appeal" is hardly directed towards any good folks who believe in hard work, abundance, and wonderfully universal concepts of brotherhood. Indeed, the biggest believers in Palin politics are more likely to be fear mongers and religious creationists who want to reject all scientific education, who do not mind being ruled by trepidation and suspicion of those "big city liberals"!

The fact that Republicans lost this election doesn't mean that America has gone beyond extremely conservative, narrow minded, fear driven, ignorant and prejudiced thought processes. America is by no means setting a great example for the rest of the democratic world to follow. Countries like India should smile and congratulate America for its bold step forward, like a special needs child of enormous physical power that has just uttered its first word.

The lesson for India from Barack Obama's success should not be the romantic, unsophisticated views that our Padma Shri winning journalists like Barkha Dutt seem to be so enamoured with inflicting upon us with Disney like sweetness. (The funny sideshow - the immature joy on Mira Nair's face last night as she spoke to Barkha Dutt to demonstrate exactly the limit of her understanding of American politics - nothing surprising coming from a filmmaker who makes a living out of trashing India for the viewing pleasure of white people.) The lesson for us is to trust our fundamentals and put more faith into our democratic processes. We never condoned racism, we never legalized segregation, and we threw enough clout around to kick South Africa out of the cricketing fraternity for practising apartheid, and we led the Non Alligned Movement. We are not an ideologically compromised nation to need to look up to "America" for any kind of direction.

We as a nation still occupy moral high ground, and we're only sixty one years old. Still, we should see the intelligence of Barack Obama in having to fight through mentalities that are centuries behind our people's. His positivity should be an inspiration to us. His unwavering energy and calmness should encourage some of us to get engaged in our democratic processes. We should exercise our rights more, and grow up with awareness and courage, in much the way Swami Vivekananda has long since told us. It wouldn't take much to note that America still wants to be one nation "Under God", but India's founding fathers got way beyond human constructs and concepts of belief, while putting "Truth" as our highest ideal. Satyameva Jayate!

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