Obama, Elections, History

I'm in New York City this week. I'm in New York today. It's part of a regular pilgrimage we make to the city every year if we can make it; above all, my husband's a theatre director, and this is part of his investment in his career, this is part of his own research. Since we've been married it's been part of mine, which has been good for the playwriting side of me.But being in the US on election day, especially this election day, is historic.This election is historic. It's already been so -- the fact that two major contenders for president were visible minorities, albeit in the same party. Whoever wins will make history -- the first black president, the first female vice-president, the oldest president. But history has already been made.What's historic for me in my adult life is the participation of the American people in the vote. Since Reagan, which was the last time that I remember an election generating as much discussion as this one, there's been a distancing between the average citizen on the streets from their leadership. Perhaps it was the result of the contempt shown for good sense by the nomination of a B movie actor as Republican Presidential candidate back in 1980, I don't know; it certainly seemed like that to me. So it's true I was seventeen at the time, and frightened for the world. So it's true that it was a terrifying time for those of us who didn't have any say, for those of us who weren't moved by the smooth delivery of the man who would be president (and why wouldn't he have a smooth delivery? He was an actor, after all, not that there's anything wrong with that, but he made his living all his life by being able to deliver lines.) But the election of Reagan marked, it seemed to me, watching from the outside, an abdication on the part of the majority of the American people of their right to participate in the democratic process.As Gil Scott-Heron observed in his commentary on that election:

Well, the first thing I want to say is:Mandate my ass! Because it seems as though we've been convinced that 26% of the registered voters, not even 26% of the American people, but 26% of the registered voters form a mandate or a landslide. 21% voted for Skippy and 3, 4% voted for somebody else who might have been running. 


Being on the outside in American elections, watching a fraction of the American people go to the polls and elect leaders whose impact resonated far beyond the borders of the USA, and suffering the consequences of those choices, has not been easy. As a result I've distanced myself from all of the elections. Why work myself up about something I can do nothing about? Why worry about how "they" stole the election in Florida (twice) when I could have never made a difference anyway? And more recently, why get worked up about this presidential race when I could never do anything to affect its outcome?

I know the answer to the last question. It's been answered again and again around the world, and yes, I voted in the if-the-world-could-vote poll, and yes, I voted for Obama. But I'm above all a Bahamian, and Bahamians above all are pragmatic people, and fundamentally what matters is what have we learned from this process? What have we learned from the involvement of ordinary Bahamians in the Obama campaign? What have we learned from the real chance of real change, and how will that affect us at home?

Because our last election was a joke. I've said what I can say about it; we voted based on hype, rather like we go to see movies at Galleria, more than on anything of substance. We never questioned our candidates about anything likely to affect us and our nation in the long run. We never demanded from them what we have seen from the American candidates. We never dissected the spin, if spin it was; we never educated ourselves in any general sense on issues, on anything that might actually matter. No. We preferred to go along with what the newspapers said, with what the talk shows said, voting from emotion rather than reason, allowing both parties to get away with sheer idiocy that has very little to do with the world in which we find ourselves. 

And how much do we really, even now, understand about the world in which we find ourselves? In our Bahama-for-Obama frenzy (which, understand me, I share), how much do we understand what that means for us? How much do we really appreciate about the implications of a victory for Barack, which is (at the risk of jinxing a sure thing) the likely outcome of this vote today? It goes beyond the glib Democrats-are-bad-for-our-economy platitudes (which are pretty shallowly-based it seems to me, and have not really considered the idea from the point of view of history; was Truman bad for our economy? Kennedy? Was Roosevelt throughout his career, or was it only at the beginning when he repealed the idiotic Volstead Act?) 

Here's the thing. How can we, after this election, which has already been historic no matter what the outcome, in that it's likely to be one of the few American election in half a century or so where far more than 26% of the registered voters turned out, go back to thinking of ourselves in the same way? How can we maintain the sense of victimhood that allows us to get away with the systemic mediocrity, institutional cowardice and bullying that have marked our preferred way of doing things for well over twenty years? How can we continue to allow ourselves to doubt ourselves after this?

You tell me.