Congratulations America! You’ve overcome.
You’ve overcome Islamophobes, racists, war-mongers and purveyors of fear. You’ve overcome a generation of political apathy and have launched a new trend of interest that should be emulated everywhere. As a people, you embraced the urgent need for deep-level change in Washington – and you’ve just elected a new President with a strong mandate to lead that change.
The world has watched throughout the long and sometimes arduous campaign that brought Barack Obama to the White House on November 4 and it will be watching intently for the next four years. After two consecutive terms of extreme right-wing politics under the Bush administration, you can’t blame anyone at home or abroad for having high expectations of the coming presidential mandate.
But be warned: the first African-American leader of the world’s last remaining super-power also bears an unprecedented burden. If he fails in even the smallest detail of policy or judgment, there will be those quick to blame his black heritage and forget that he is also half-white.
America under the tenure of George W. Bush Jr. initiated three wars –” in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and globally "a war against terror" – and these continue as Obama prepares to take the reins of power. The so-called War on Terror is the huge "elephant in the room" as Obama steps into office. It has been used to justify the steady erosion and compromise of human civil liberties; to condone rising Islamophobia worldwide; to promote torture; to operate inhumane detention centres such as Guantanamo Bay; to rationalize increasing global militancy; and to neglect urgent peace and social justice issues at home and abroad.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are the least difficult to handle of America’s three wars. Much could be accomplished simply by pulling troops from cities and establishing military bases outside the volatile zones – a solution employed by European occupation powers. But President-elect Obama could be even more creative and innovative than that if he has the will and courage to surround himself with top advisors who are not part of established lobby groups and who are willing to leave their political agendas and self-interests at the door.
On the national front, economic reform is urgently needed, along with major improvements to health care, education, environmental safeguards, gun laws, and crime deterrence — especially in schools. Economics and social reform initiatives must come together in a genuine push to narrow the gap between America’s "haves" and "have-nots," so that the welfare of the young, the poor, the needy, the elderly and the disabled are moved to the top of the list.
It is no longer acceptable that America’s financial system can be allowed to favor only the rich and powerful, but not the middle class and working poor. The U.S. still represents more than 20 per cent of the world’s economy and this will almost certainly continue over the next four years while Obama is in office; any good he can do in this area will benefit people both inside and outside the country.
In fact, the attention of the Obama administration could easily be totally absorbed by the economic crisis. The U.S. jobless rate has reached a 14-year high of 6.5 per cent and continues to rise; full-blown recession is more than a distinct possibility.
Yet the world is still hopeful that the historic election of an American president of colour can turn many other things around for the better. Antigua’s prime minster has already declared that he wants to rename the island’s highest peak "Mount Obama." No pressure for a new leader who is already facing great heights to scale!
I was in Cairo just after the American election results were announced. No sooner were they made official than many new fathers whose family names are Hussein (Obama’s middle name) called their infant sons Barack, so as to be registered as Barack Hussein. Even Egyptians who claim to be uninterested in world politics have emulated my fellow Canadians in following the U.S presidential campaign from start to finish and staying up until the early morning hours of November 5 (local time) to see the results for themselves.
Perhaps it is unrealistic to hope that this newly minted and idealistic young American president can achieve Middle East peace by ending the 42-year-old Israeli occupation of native Palestinian lands. But I dared not tell my Egyptian friends that. Within hours of his confirmed election, however, Obama had appointed an Israeli-American as his Chief of Staff. Does that mean all our hopes of peace through justice have been dashed? Only time can tell.
From the moment when it seemed inevitable that Obama would win, some analysts began talking about his chances of being assassinated in office by white supremacists or some other extremist faction. But chances are far higher that he could be politically "assassinated" by powerfully entrenched Washington lobbyists. That would be as great a tragedy as a literal killing, for it would be accompanied also by the death of hope.
For now, however, let us pause to enjoy the hope that Barack Obama can truly succeed as an effective agent of change in a world that badly needs to believe in him.