Yesterday, I caught Barack Obama’s inauguration speech here in Serbia, and this morning saw his face across the front page of the local paper with fragments of the speech reprinted. We get visitors of all political stripes here at the Nomad, but I don’t think I’ve ever made a secret of my liberal leanings. Obama was my candidate, and it was wonderful to see him taking on the mantle of president.
I actually began, a year ago, rooting for Hillary Clinton, largely because of her vigorous but failed push for universal health during her husband’s first term. But as the nomination process continued I was gradually swayed to Obama’s camp.
I found a lot of that initial race distasteful—in my eyes there was a lot of obvious sexism going on. Not from Obama’s people, but from the media in general, which focused too much attention on whether or not Hillary choking up during a press conference was “crying.” It seemed to me that Hillary had to work twice as hard to be viewed in the same light as her male counterparts. So I was sympathetic to her, yet as time passed it became clear that she was losing ground because she couldn’t quite pull off the thoughtful, wise stance that Obama had perfected from the beginning. As her campaign deteriorated, she lost patience in public more often, which is something Obama could never be accused of. So my initial shift was based almost entirely on image, because only image wins elections.
Beyond image, I grew into a Obama supporter simply because started listening more to the debates and realized I agreed with most everything he said, and when he won the election I was pleased. Very pleased. Yet as I watched shots of people weeping in the streets of America, and yesterday the joyous multitudes in Washington weeping their pleasure at his nomination, I realized that, as someone living “over here,” I’m really very disconnected from the historical magnitude of the moment.
This disconnect has been part of my life for the last seven years, beginning with 9/11, which occurred a month after my arrival in Europe. The facts were plain: Something unprecedented and terrible had occurred. But emotionally, it felt as far away as the tragedies that scar many parts of the world, just bigger and set in a place that had never known such terror before. Part of my reaction was shock—I couldn’t quite get my head around it—but a lot of it had to do with the geographic distance. Little did I realize then what an effect that event would have on the world that followed.
Now, with Obama’s inauguration, I feel a double distance. There’s the geographic one, but there’s also a generational distance. For my parents’ generation, yesterday was the realization of the events that shaped their childhoods. It sheds a new light their own past, and on the towering social figures of that time, many of whom met violent ends.
Yet I know. It was a major moment in American history that I’ll be able to talk about with my daughter, something that I’m very happy to have lived through.
Whether or not his policies can live up to his rhetoric, America has already done something most of the world thought it wouldn’t pull off for generations to come. And, for today at least, we’ve probably impressed more people than we’ve pissed off. Yes, I’m pleased. I think it’s starting to sink in.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)