I have been following the American elections with great interest this entire campaign. I don’t think I’ve followed any election ever – American or back home, with this kind of commitment. Why so? Well, for the same reason as most other people –
- First being the fact that the President of the United States of America is also the leader of the free world. It is the highest office in the world and the decisions taken in that office have an impact on the whole world.
- Another reason for such a committed interest in the US election was that I was insanely curious from a purely sociological standpoint to see what happens when a human being and a chimp contest for the highest office in the land – who would the American people choose? Well, in the end….in the battle of Woman v/s Chimp, the chimp won and how!
- The last and perhaps the most compelling of reasons would probably become abundantly clear by the end of this piece of writing.
I was watching in shock and dismay as the electoral results for each state came in, refreshing my Google home page at a feverish pace and even when it had become very clear that Donald Trump was going to win, it just wouldn’t sink in.
The impossible had happened. I’m not as saddened by the fact that the proverbial glass ceiling still remains unshattered even though the world got so very close. The American press is as free as ‘free’ can get. For the past two years, there has been an nauseating amount of coverage in media – both print and broadcast – dissecting each candidate down to pieces and bringing forward all the good, bad and ugly that people needed to know about both these candidates in order to make an informed choice. I’m saddened by the fact that people chose what they did in spite of everything they knew – they chose a delusional reality TV star, a racist, arrogant businessman, a misogynist, a xenophobe and a demagogue. People chose hate and anger over hope and sense. I’m not saying that Hilary Clinton was the best option but I am saying that anyone, just about anyone, would be a better option as compared to an overgrown man-child with a mercurial temperament.
As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron. – H.L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, 26th July 1920
Looks like 96 years later – that day has arrived.
I couldn’t probably articulate what I felt better than this brilliant piece by David Remnick in New Yorker
“The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.”
And what strikes me the hardest – now moving closer to my third reason – is the earth-shattering contrast between the current President, Barack Obama and the president-elect Donald Trump. I owe all my interest in these elections largely to the unbridled admiration (that borders on being an obsessive crush sometimes) that I hold for the man. I have been following possibly every single speech (and almost every interview) he’s given, I’m almost in equal amounts – in love with his wife – Michelle, I’m in awe of their strong, charming partnership as a couple and I’ve had some time (if only at the surface level) to understand some of his major domestic and foreign policies of the past 8 years. People watch cat/puppy/baby videos to sooth themselves and feel warm & cuddly…..I’m subscribed to White House YouTube channel and I watch every itsy-bitsy video of the POTUS – with children, or on Halloween day and have the same reaction and so many more. My heart melts every time that baby superman says – ‘That’s POTUS!’. (very junkie, groupie like behavior…I know, I know but I’m okay with being an Obama junkie. It’s a title I can live with, very happily so.)
There so many great speeches but here are a few of my personal favorites.
A more perfect union (2008)
50th Anniversary of the Selma March (2015)
At the British Parliament (2011)
White House Correspondent’s dinner (2016)
Barack Obama put his weight behind Hilary Clinton in this presidential race more than any president in US history ever has for his successor. Michelle Obama followed. Her address at the Democratic National Convention earlier this year was one the most poignant and stirring speeches I’ve ever heard. Till the last day of this campaign, Barack Obama campaigned for Hilary Clinton, rooted for her, made a call to the decency of the American people to choose hope over hate and do the right thing. But the people have spoken and whether we like it or not Trump will be the next President of the United States of America. All we can hope for is that the weight of responsibility that he carries will sober him down; and that his rhetoric of divisive, hateful politics will evolve into one that unifies the citizens of the country and that he will be work to be a President for all of the American citizens. So the call of democracy will have to accepted with grace because even with all its flaws, democracy is the best known form of governance to mankind. A leader may enrich the nation or it might ruin the nation but at least in a democracy – you to get to choose who ruins you. :)
“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” – Winston Churchill at the House of Commons, 11 November 1947.
On that note of democracy and free press, I have to say it was admirable the way stand-up comedians and some of the talk show hosts covered this election – thanks to Trump’s goof ups, there was no dearth of material ever – but some of them just rose to occasion brilliantly. Take a bow – Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, John Oliver, Samantha Bee and the little I watched of Bill Maher and of course the exclusive return from hiatus of Jon Stewart. It’s been a long, long year for all of them. Phenomenal coverage though it didn’t lead to the outcome they’d all hoped for. Nevertheless, a battle well fought.
On my way to work and back, I have on so many occasions listened to my favorite Obama speeches in a loop just as I I would hear some of my most favorite songs. I admire the content, the choice of words, his delivery, his adorable sense of humor, his very famous long pauses and the inherently difficult nature of some of his addresses. But over all these years, I think one of the hardest speeches for him to make must have been the one on made on the morning of 9th November after Trump’s win.
I thought Hilary Clinton’s concession speech was very dignified and uplifting too. As I saw Obama speak that day and meet with Donald Trump at the White House next day, I couldn’t help but marvel as this man’s sense of composure, his very dignified, measured and yet authentic responses to the media and above all his sense of grace. He’s a statesman through and through.
In 2011, the Commons Speaker – John Bercow, welcomed Barack Obama into the British Parliament with the introduction below;
“It is my honour, Mr President, to welcome you as our friend, and as a statesman. Statesmanship is the cement which seals our shared idealism as nations. It makes meaningful the unity of ambition, passion for freedom and abhorrence of injustice that is the core of our close alliance.
It has fallen to you to tackle economic turbulence at home, to protect the health of those without wealth and to seek that precious balance between security which is too often threatened, and human rights which are too often denied. History is not the burden of any one man or woman alone but some are called to meet a special share of its challenges. It is a duty that you discharge with a dignity, determination and distinction that are widely admired. Abraham Lincoln once observed that “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.’
Barack Obama amongst many other admirable qualities, is a man of character and grace. And as I go through life, I have come to realize that grace is a choice. In the most adverse of circumstances, you choose to be graceful, you choose to be dignified. It’s not something you are born with. It’s a choice you make and then draw upon all your inner strength to hold up to it. One of my math teachers back in XII grade – a lovely woman by the name Mrs. Rane always said to the class about tests, assignments, studying or whatever we were whining about at that time– “Learn to love the things that need be done”. I have never been able to get this out of my head. As much as you abhor some of the events and tasks ahead of you, you wake up that morning, show up, summon every ounce of strength in your body and do it with as much graciousness as humanly possible. That’s a choice you make to do it that way and no other way and it defines who you are. I think that’s what Barack Obama has chosen to do now. The world didn’t expect any less from man of his stature.
To close on a lighter note, whenever I talk about ‘grace’ I’m always reminded about this episode from Seinfeld – cracked me up the first time I saw, cracks me up every single time I watch it even today.
Landis: [interviewing Elaine for a job] Not many people have grace.
Elaine Benes: Well, you know, grace is a tough one. I like to think I have a little grace. Not as much as Jackie O…
Landis: You can’t have a little grace. You either have grace or you don’t.
Elaine Benes: Okay, fine. I have no grace.
Landis: And you can’t acquire grace.
Elaine Benes: Well, I have no intention of getting grace.
Landis: Grace isn’t something you can pick up at the market.
Elaine Benes: [annoyed] Alright, alright, look, I don’t have grace, I don’t want grace, I don’t even say grace, okay?
Landis: Thank you for coming in.
Elaine Benes: Yeah yeah right.
Special note to Ms. Landis – It can be acquired. And it is a choice. As Ms Rowling put it so very profoundly – “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” So whether you’re born with it or not, choosing grace and kindness in any situation or rejecting it, says a lot about who you are as a person.
Back to Obama, he will be sorely missed by the world and history, I believe very deeply, will be kind to him. A theory of wishing for impossible things says that if you can write it or say it out loud – the universe may just conspire to grant you some of your most fantastically improbable wishes. Raising my glass to the ever- inspiring audacity of hope, here goes my wish;
I hope that someday I get to meet one of my heroes, Barack Obama – in person.
There, I said it. :) Now, I’ll just let the Universe get to work