I woke up early this morning, and given that I wasn’t working today, I decided to watch the inauguration on TV. Of course, it’s quite the event. And since I’m watching it on MSNBC, the color commentary doesn’t annoy me all that much.
I find myself surprisingly happy to watch Obama be sworn in. It’s fun to watch the happiness of the crowd, and I have to admit, if I was there, I’d be happy too. And of course, the celebration and ritual is uplifting. It’s meant to be. And the truth of the matter is, there is a part of me that is proud of this country.
You say, “proud?” How is that possible? How is it possible that I am proud of this country? The country that enslaved my ancestors, wiped the Native Americans off the continent with disease (purposely spread, in many cases) and force of arms? The country that props up dictators all over the world, and allows the extraction of precious resources at the expense of people who live near them. The country that sends drones to kill people all over the world, not really to “preserve freedom” but to continue to make enemies that we’ll then be forced to fight. The country that coordinated a police response to lawful, peaceful Occupy protests all over the country. The country that allows a simply staggering (and, frankly, criminal as well as insane) level of economic disparity. This rich country that can’t get it’s act together to give everyone health care, or child care. I could go on, and on, and on. You get the picture. You know all of this.
But if we step back and zoom out, things look different. We are inaugurating the first African-American president – something that I did not believe would happen in my lifetime. We are rapidly approaching a time where gay rights are becoming completely mainstream. Women have chances to do things that could not be imagined even 70 years ago. We have had peaceful, orderly transfers of power for a very long time, longer than most countries. There are still many countries in which this cannot be taken for granted at all.
I am a woman, and a queer one at that. I live a life of freedom and relative to the rest of the world, luxury. And the truth is, there aren’t very many times and places in which that would be the case. In most other times in history, and now, in many countries of the world, I would have been married off to a man I didn’t know or even necessarily like when I was a teenager. I would not have gone to high school, college or graduate school. I would not have been able to travel far, work for myself, love who I wanted, how I wanted. And, I would be dead already, given life expectancy.
Human beings, as smart and wonderful as we are in some respects, are deeply flawed. We allow ourselves to be driven by fear, hatred and delusion. We have organized ourselves in many different ways, some have been extraordinarily bad. Perhaps, in all it’s failing and flaws, in all of it’s bloody, exploitative history as well as present, that this country is doing some things right. We have changed, and we still can change. That, at least, is in our country’s DNA.