Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After: mixed thoughts on the next four years

My family celebrating the Obama victory in Chicago in 2008

Family voting block for Obama in Chicago, Nov 6, 2012 - white, Latina, Asians in the house!
November 7, 2012 9am Laura Kina

I remember the sheer jubilation of the 2008 election and I’m comparing it to the measured feelings I have this morning.

Four years ago we dragged our then 14 year-old teenager, Ariel, out of the house and down to Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate the victory of president-elect Barack Obama. We wanted her to witness history. We went with a pack of new parents and strollers (all of us interracial families and mixed-race folks, by the way). The crowd went wild when the election was called. “OBAMA, OBAMA, OBAMA” we shouted along with thousands, jumping up and down. Midori, then 3-years old, couldn’t handle the noise and broke down in tears. Ariel wasn’t sure what the big deal was just yet but my husband, Mitch, and I were beyond ecstatic. It seemed that this was more than a presidential election…this was the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream! Pure hope.

With the inauguration of the first black (or biracial) president, claims were made that we had entered a “post-racial” era. And then the economy tanked and racial issues were reduced to the triviality of “Beergate.” “Race” was a tricky subject the President wished to avoid so he could pragmatically deal with bigger issues. I understand and it may be true that “race” is not the issue of the day anymore (or at least how we used to conceptualize it), but, amongst other things, access to power and privilege and social inequality remain a concern.

Ariel is now 18 and part of that 10% Latino/a vote that made such a difference last night. I was very proud that we could join her for her first time voting. Through Twitter, she quickly noticed that her peers were posting pictures of their ballots on Facebook and Instagram and she helped get out the word via social media not to do this since this invalidates ballots in many states. During the debates we had watched TV together and had two cell phones going with multiple Twitter and Facebook conversations and feeds. The way we watched and participated in the elections had changed and it was fun to hear the 18-year old perspective and my 30-40+ demographic friends' perspectives. With the “1980s calling for their foreign policy back” and “binders full of women,” the debates seemed to be a comedic farce though.

I was so nervous about the election yesterday that we opted for a quiet election watching party (with drinks and lefty friends) rather than the downtown Chicago crowds. I had resigned myself to a long night of watching the results come in. We went home and I tucked Midori into bed and no sooner did I kiss her goodnight than the phone rang and my brother Sam called from Washington DC with the news. We heard the cheers from the TV and we were soon all jumping up and down on the bed. OBAMA, OBAMA, OBAMA!

I dozed off while waiting for Romney to concede but woke up again to hear Obama’s victory address. "Hope is a stubborn thing. Not blind optimism…We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions."  

Yes, so true. I was beaming with relief and pride but then he said something else that made me pause:

"This country has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that's not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared — (cheers, applause) — that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great. (Cheers, applause.)" (

I haven’t had time to fully process this yet but the proximity of “exceptional” and “destiny” makes me think of “manifest destiny” and “American exceptionalism.” Is it possible to be patriotic and not, as one of my Facebook friends noted, to display “national chauvinism”?

I drove my 7-year daughter to the bus stop for school today. We live in a very diverse Jewish/South Asian neighborhood. A little boy named Mohammed ran up to us and said, “Guess who is president today? OBAMA!” The group of kids at the bus stop cheered. Many of the kids held mock-elections at their schools and all reported landslide victories for Obama. The parents (who are black, South Asian, East Asian, and white) all expressed a collective sigh of relief and went on to discuss drones, deportation and the rising cost of higher education.

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