What a strange moment to watch the inauguration of the first African-American president. I grew up in the US under the shadow of the War in Indo-China and the gradual end of segregation. It is a day I never thought I would see. Of course, we all know that this is not the end of racism, but it is a great symbolic victory for those who have fought so long and hard against it terrible scourge.
But what strikes me as particularly strange as I watch Barack Obama give his inauguration speech is the notable dichotomy that underlies his words. In recent days, as well as in today’s speech, Obama has talked a lot about returning America to its greatness. And those of us who have been so horrified by the Bush administration’s total disregard for the constitution and the rule of law, hope that Obama will reverse a great deal of what has happened over the past eight years. But as seductive as Obama’s speeches can be, let us not kid ourselves! The prosperity of the United States is not been built upon generosity and the promotion of human rights. On the contrary, anyone who has paid any attention knows that the US has continually undermined democracy when its outcomes has not adhered to its political and economic interests. We all know that US trading policies through institutions such as GATT have been designed to undermine the economic independence and prosperity of the world’s poorest nations. For generations the US economy was built with the sweat of slaves at home, and in more recent years US prosperity has been built on the backs of third world workers who, if they ever had the gall to assert their independent right to built their own economies based upon more cooperative ideals, suffered from US oppression or wars waged by proxy in the interests of Wall Street. In the past eight years the US has openly practiced terrible violations of human rights with the excuse of a ‘war on terror.’ But for the past two hundred years it has consistently violated human rights with other kinds of excuses and spin. From its support of the Shah of Iran, the carpet-bombing of Laos, to the mining of Nicaraguan waters, the US has built its prosperity on raw, ferocious, filthy power. Obama talks about rebuilding American greatness, but the only meaningful discourse would be talk of RE-Making America in the real spirit of truth and democracy.
Obama’s first chance to Re-make America would be to stop its closest military ally, Israel, from keeping the worlds largest prison camp in Gaza and pressure it into giving back the land it has stolen, and in the process ensuring that the people of Palestine can build themselves an independent and prosperous nation in fairness and democracy.
Whenever you feel yourself seduced by Obama’s talk of hope, remind yourself what the United States has really been and hope that it can be the first empire in history that can truly re-make itself into that which it has pretended to be.