Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

The heavens are being scanned, and signs of favour from the Almighty are being sought after in these most auspicious times. Today, after eight long years of bungling by the outgoing administration, a new President rises to power in America. Hope permeates the air and the winds of change are poised to encircle our incredible shrinking globe. As with all great men who rise to the challenge when humanity stumbles, we have placed our collective faith (along with many doubts) in Barack Obama and his new Administration to help heal a world broken by nearly a century of wars, a failing, oil-based economy, corrupt politics and the ever-widening maw of globalisation which threatens to engulf the world in its relentless thirst for money and power. No Atlas ever carried a heaver burden than the burden of our hopes that he now must bear. Will he be the right man for the challenge? All the early signs seem to be in agreement that in spite of his youthful inexperience, he is indeed the right man for the job.

Thinking of the junior senator from Illinois brings to mind another young, inexperienced lawyer from Springfield, who, like Obama, had absolute confidence in the principles laid out by the Founding Fathers of the Constitution and who, over a century ago, also faced just as many odds and not a few prejudices in his own bid for the White House. Yet it's just as well for America that he was up for the challenge, for if he had not been, the country might be a very different place today. If not still wrestling with its early blight of slavery, it would most certainly be a single land split into more than one nation.

That man was Abraham Lincoln, and if not for his cleverness, honesty, stoicism, geniality, absolute faith in the goodness of people and his own ability to move others with brilliant oratory, America would be a land forever divided by the Civil War.

Obama has all these qualities of character and the challenges he faces today are no less than those faced by Lincoln. The nation is just as divided, this time idealogically so. Yet, unlike the Mason-Dixon line, ideology is fluid and ideas and the minds that hold them can be changed. In addition to a broken Treasury, two costly foreign wars to shore up a failing global economy based on oil, rising unemployment, chronic global cynicism and eroding standards of education, health care, quality of life, and the environment are all immense obstacles to overcome. To get the support he needs, like the former prairie state President, Obama has surrounded himself with the best and the brightest minds for the task, crossing party lines and including former rivals. In an example of history repeating itself, Obama has even made Secretary of State his own party rival, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln had made a former contender for his party ticket and the White House, William Seward of New York, his Secretary of State and the two soon after became inseparable friends. Seward was invaluable to Lincoln during the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed. Alaska, a.k.a. 'Seward's Folly' prior to the Gold Rush, owes its existence to this self-same Seward. Let us hope Clinton becomes like a Seward to Obama, and does not prove to be a thorn in his side or a producer of follies with her headstong nature.

A brilliant poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow perfectly captures the feeling of these times, just as it did when it was written, under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln:

THOU, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!

Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
’T is of the wave and not the rock;
’T is but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!

In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,

Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o’er our fears,
Are all with thee,—are all with thee!

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