Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00

Celebrating Obama's Second Term Inauguration

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I can count on my fingers the number of times I have wanted to tune in to TV news and feel a real connection with America. One of those times was President Obama's second inauguration on Monday, which was, coincidentally, also Martin Luther King day.

America had re-elected its first black President, proving that his election four years ago was not just a fluke. It was not a case, as Romney partisans ardently hoped, that any Democratic candidate after George W. Bush’s eight years in office would automatically win. No, America liked what it had experienced with President Obama, and opted for more. A decidedly majority white country had re-elected a member of a not-so-long-ago enslaved minority.

My three most incredible moments during Monday's inauguration were not the political posturing, or even Obama's strong speech. Rather, the moments began with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Let me explain.

Although lately it has been infused with a sheen of "cool," Brooklyn has long been a kind of adjunct to New York City's center. Especially in the 1970s, when the choir formed, Brooklyn was where people who could not afford to live in Manhattan lived. It was where residents, when they said they lived here, often did so while averting their eyes. Brooklyn was a poor, less savory cousin to the rest of the city, largely a place of shame.

So, did you see any shame in the choir singing? What I saw was a well rehearsed choir — they had reportedly practiced their song 300 times and waited three hours in the cold, standing proudly in their robes and looking straight out at America. What I saw were blacks and whites, and men and women as equals, the newly arrived well-to-do and those from the old Brooklyn singing together their “Americanness” on the world stage. Afterwards, their lead soloist, 30-year old Alicia Olatuja, who had done jumping jacks to alleviate her nervousness, described her experience as "surreal." Listening to her was surreal for me, too.

The second most moving moment was James Taylor's rendition of "America the Beautiful." This was the same James Taylor who was once confined for nine months in a mental hospital, and placed on the powerful antipsychotic drug Thorazine; this was the man who was rejected for military service by the Selective Service for psychological reasons. That James Taylor had clawed his way back to reclaim his sanity, build a career as one of the world’s most loved musicians, and sing for the President of the United States (at both inaugurations), inspiring the world.

The third moment(s) were impromptu shots of the President kidding with his wife, Michelle, and bantering with his two daughters, evidence of his somehow seemingly-normal life even amid the White House pressure cooker and a 24/7 news cycle. These personal moments were capped off in the President dancing with the First Lady at the inaugural balls, the two obviously celebrating each other and this great thing they had achieved.

Other, perhaps, than with JFK, can you remember another time like this? Could Russia's Vladimir Putin, or Egypt's Mohamed Morsi or Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, or any of the other world leaders have had such easy, natural moments? I have not seen it.Instead, those moments were testimonies both to the Obamas, and to the country that made them. Just imagine, by contrast, that Mitt Romney had won. No? I thought you might not like that image!

The second inauguration of this president said, in deeds even more than words, that America has turned a corner. That the angry white men who used to lead America are giving way to a country which, in the President's words, has evolved from Selma to Seneca Falls to to Stonewall.

This is the country in which we now live. It is a new country, which has transformed before our eyes. A country which once included slavery, one in which only male — but not female — property owners could vote, one which viewed Latinos and gays and other minorities as second class. That country now draws its strength from its great diversity.

All of this reaffirmed my pride to be an American — something I had not felt as recently as the Bush years. It also fed the hope that maybe our long national nightmare is finally behind us, that even so called "conservatives" will have to adapt, or find themselves sidelined to history.

God bless this President; and God bless our new, inclusionary America.

By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist

*Photo Credit: Vinni Markovski

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