The better angels of our nature
A brief list of things that have changed since yesterday:
- People under 40 can now stop thinking about defecting to Canada
- American flags are no longer embarrassing
- Hunting from helicopters, $150,00 wardrobes and accusations of socialism have disappeared from the national media
- The rest of the world likes us again
- Grammar has been restored to the White House
All in all, we’re doing better than we were last week.
But to come back to reality for a moment — and not to detract from anybody’s post-Obama glow — once you’ve had your fill of ecstatic headlines and tear-jerking international coverage, take a second to stop and consider how harrowing the last 75 days of Bush’s presidency threaten to be. We’re still months away from the promised land of bipartisanship, and if nothing else, this administration intends to cement its legacy by exacerbating the divided country Obama addressed in his acceptance speech.
In an editorial published the day before the election, The New York Times outlined Bush’s plans to aggressively extend the measures he’s pursued while in office, measures that include undermining civil liberties, diminishing abortion rights and undercutting environmental protection statutes. Also, Bush has stated that he will keep Guantanamo open, and if time permits, he plans on stealing Christmas. According to The Times, over the next three months, Bush will target the Clear Air Act, radically expand the jurisdiction of Homeland Security and diminish access to abortion, all before the magical cutoff date of December 20. While our new president already faces the formidable task of repairing the damage of the last 93 months, it’s now equally important to remain vigilant about the enormous setbacks that could be instituted over the next three.
One of the issues that needs to be at the top of the Obama agenda is Guantanamo, which in spite of its relative absence from the news lately, still holds roughly 255 detainees and is one of the most damning scars on America’s reputation and credibility. While Bush used Guantanamo to expand the juridical scope of his power, Obama must take the opposite route and restore the boundaries that have been cast away in favor of an imperial presidency. Just as Bush took international goodwill after 9/11 as a mandate for war, Obama must use the goodwill after his election as a mandate for diplomacy, and Guantanamo is unquestionably one of the greatest obstacles to diplomatic efforts. With the world watching, shutting down Guantanamo would be a sweeping symbolic gesture proving that the U.S. has truly decided to align its actions with its values. But I suspect Obama already knows this, and I have faith in one of the remarks the president-elect did not take from Lincoln’s inaugural address — “why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people?”
Finally, here’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the election of a black president.