For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.” – President Barack H. Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address
Depending on how you look at things –Monday, January 21, 2013 was MLK Day, the inauguration of the second term of President Obama, or the United States of America’s 57th Inaugural Ceremony.
There are a million more ways to classify that day in history.
For you, the national significance of it could have been overlaid with personal celebrations –birthdays and wedding anniversaries–or marked my tragedy – like the anniversary of the loss of a loved one.
Most people had their attention on the National Mall and watched as President Obama delivered an inaugural address rich with rhetorical imagery.
Then there was the international audience, who have their own varied responses to his speech and his second term in general.
I cannot fathom what it feels like for each word I utter to embody whether someone feels included or excluded from the vision cast for my country. But so it was. And such is the task that he faces.
Like it or not, he represents “the people,” even as he is Commander and Chief of the state.
We know that the state is just an apparatus, albeit a powerful one, that “sorts” out ins and outs of the institutions that shape the lives of people.
Now, the problem is, tinkering with the apparatus so that it suits the whims of the millions of individuals who want a million and one different things.
We don’t have to look at the responses to his inaugural address to know that this is not an easy feat.
Did you notice but the varied reactions to other pivotal events this week: the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the US Defense Secretary’s announcement that the Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat? Even cartoon artist don’t agree.
The United States of America laid out in President Obama’s speech is either finally ‘on its way’ or doomed.
In my opinion this gap in perception isn’t so much that people have vastly different values.
Forgive me for being overly optimistic, but I believe that Americans of all stripes more or less hold the same values – fairness, opportunity, hard work, and optimism etc.
Don’t believe it? Live overseas for a while and no matter your political leanings, you’ll quickly realize the American dye has been cast upon you.
It’s not that any “pro-life” person I’ve met doesn’t believe the life of the mother matters, or any “pro-choice” person I’ve ever met believes that a fetus/baby’s life is inconsequential. Rather, it is how those values get “sorted and pipelined” into political positions that varies – drastically.
I really thought about this when I saw a graphic my friend got from Pinterest. I haven’t really gotten into the “pinning” craze, but I really appreciated this concept map.
It tries to help people decide how to face their closet and sort what should stay and what should go. The key point is everyone is starting from the exact same place of motivation: “editing their wardrobe.”
And while, I could ruminate on the economic privilege one has to have to have a closet expansive enough to have these concerns, I won’t.
What I am more fascinated by is the type of “sorting” that goes on in the American political system, where some ideas are embraced and championed, and others are cast aside like the most epically ugly bridesmaid dress of all time—ever see 27 Dresses?
Think of the US state as the closet and people’s ideas as the clothes.
Some of the “sorting” is historical and evolves overtime – like with domestic violence. Other sorting of these perceptions occurs based on background, experiences, which has educational, socio-economic and geographic dimensions as well.
Like I was saying in my earlier post, The Problem with Problems ‘ish’ has to get prioritized and it’s usually the influential who decide what makes it to the top of the list.
The point is that I don’t want us to consider the matter of values so much as an existential question, nor the political hype of derision, but to see it in terms of process.
At the end of the day, democracy is a process, a people’s process.
While, I will never discount what happens in the hallowed halls of the Capital and White House, nor in the corridors of Harvard and Yale, I also cannot ignore how the quest to fulfill the truth that we are all created equal:
…guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. – President Barack H. Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address