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1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
Obama's Turn PDF E-mail

Active ImageOur new president warms my heart for a whole lot of reasons, but I’ll only mention a few. First of all, I don’t have to gnash my teeth and hold my breath every time I’m in Europe and people ask me how the U.S. turned from a beacon of hope into a Texas bar brawl. I talked myself hoarse telling europeans that we are a big country with the right instincts and that we weren’t done being a great people who escaped from Europe for a reason. The same reason for which people have been coming to the U.S. from everywhere, not just Europe. Here, you can. I emigrated to this country in 1966, at a time of discord and war, and just before a huge recession, but none of that mattered to me personally, because I found here a freedom I could not have imagined in my sad and gray corner of Europe. I got to Detroit just in time for the 1967 riots, and saw downtown in flames while Jose Feliciano’s hit, “C’mmon baby, light my fire!” played on the car radio. The riots were actually fun for a few days of multiracial looting, until the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne showed up and there was a curfew. Even then, I didn’t for a second feel any regret for leaving the barbed-wire enclosed commie utopia of Romania for the wild tumult of the New World. I was only dimly aware that in 1967, at the time of the Detroit riots, the civil-rights movement was still young: only a few years before I came there was still segregation in the South. In the following years, the struggle for social justice and against war, took all kinds of violent and nonviolent forms, but the clashes felt tonic to me, proof that I was part of a living society still debating its future and serious about its ideals. After the ideological facade of the Cold War crumbled, there was briefly the hope that we had gotten rid of ideologies for good, and that we were on our way to a pomising post-history. The new Europe, freshly liberated from the Soviet empire, looked with dewy eyes to the U.S. for inspiration. What they didn’t know was that the U.S. is not a homogenous dream-factory, but a battleground where even the Constitution has to defend itself every day, and progress is by no means automatic. One of the unfortunate effects of globalisation is the rapid distribution of cliches, and when the cliches about the U.S. didn’t fit the reality, the europeans were... imagine... disappointed. Let’s not bring up the 20th century, OK, Europe? I any case, I’m not gloating because we are a long way from any post-history, unfortunately. I don’t think that the idealism of the Sixties died in any of us boomers, but it sure received some tough reality checks. I first thought that I’d recognised that battered idealism in Hillary Clinton, and then I realised that Obama was the face of that idealism, and a better-looking one at that.

 
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