He’s not the messiah. He’s a breath of fresh air and possibility. His victory arouses widespread relief and positive energy more than cultish character worship. He’s not going to save the world. But he’s going to inspire each of us to do as much as we can. Perhaps Nelson Mandela put it best in his own letter to the President-elect. The world’s secular saint pointed to Obama’s personal narrative as proof that “no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.” As President of the United States of America, and as nominal leader of the free world, Barack Obama will spearhead the globalization of the most precious and priceless of human goods: “Hope.”
But Hope is an insubstantial vague thing, no? Sneeringly, many voices in many camps have branded Hope with a capital “H” and “Change” with a capital “C,” as no more than fleeting concepts cooked-up in David Axelrod’s think tank. But such a view is typical of those suffering from a poverty of human understanding. As the world discovered on Tuesday, within each teardrop of joy, Hope is a very much a real and palpable force: It both presupposes and invigorates our ability to change our world. Today, in the United States and across the globe, the politics of Hope means the future begins now. Hope is on the move.
As the optimism born of the 2008 American election disseminates across borders, we are already witnessing new kinds of Hope surge and swell. In most nations, we recognize the Hope of a better international system, manifested in the Hope for the return of multilateral cooperation with the United States of America. This Hope is more the permanent exit of what University of Toronto political science professor Beth Fischer has referred to as the “cowboy-swagger” of the Republican Party. It is Hope for renewed, dignified leadership that is not just multilateral. As Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd noted in his official statement, Obama’s ascendancy comes at a time when the world is in every respect “fearful for its future” and in need of a champion.
There is also the Hope of reconciliation, the Hope of a peaceful village. Obama’s victory is the true beginning of a noticeable American penitence and the full inclusion of minorities in the patriotic fervor. The cleansing is represented first and foremost by the President’s multicultural heritage and the fact that within the White House, there will soon reside two little girls, Malia and Sasha, who are the descendants of slaves. Black Americans can now tell their children they can be anything they desire and truly mean it. In time, they won’t even have to say that.
This kind of Hope, in time will span across oceans to other historically marginalized and subjugated minorities. Already in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves, poor little boys on crutches, dismembered by wars of intolerance, are wobbling across the soccer field wearing “Yes, We Can!” t-shirts.
The Hope of global integration and inclusion is now more likely than ever to flourish. As Afghan president Hamid Karzai so duly noted, this will probably take a long time. But the Obama presidency represents a milestone, and the movement has begun. Many who are quick to congratulate the United States upon the confrontation of its racist past are not likely to admit the same problem exists at home. Over time, however, the election will serve as an example in countries where racism and other modes of oppression are seemingly recalcitrant.
Perhaps most importantly, Obama’s victory will engender Hope in aspiring new leaders around the world—the Hope of better individuals. This goes beyond the politics of identity and into the general politics of life. Obama’s multicultural heritage is not the only symbol of possibility. Along with it comes his way of leadership, reflected in the way his campaign was conducted. The Obama team tapped into the American psyche and conveyed a multicultural, unifying, and somehow still unique personal narrative. Regardless of who Barack was before the election, he became a storybook man over the past year and a half. He has never ceased to be smooth, open, gentlemanly, and cheerful; a man who speaks directly to the camera, doesn’t take money from lobbyists, and treats his wife with the utmost respect in public. He represents the Hope that you can win without seeming to succumb to the game. His politics is not the politics of naivety or of demagoguery. It is the politics of Hope, the politics of what-is-becoming.
The direction the world takes with Obama at the forefront will be far from perfect. The man has many flaws, most notably his limited foreign policy experience. He’ll certainly be held accountable when the mechanics are incorrect. But more importantly, he is a symbol of the triumph of Hope over rusty Experience, and as a persuasive communicator, will continue to spread Hope. As Malcolm X, said long ago when he returned from the Hajj, “the true criterion of leadership is spiritual.” The spiritual Hope of Barack Obama touches not only what is deepest in Americans, but what is deepest in all mankind.
Raúl A. Carrillo ’10 is a social studies concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.