Thoughts on the Inauguration

I can’t tell you how excited I am about January 20, this momentously important day, one of the most historically significant days in my short lifetime. But as much as I am excited, I have been troubled: reconciling, for example, Rick Warren, and the censorship of Gene Robinson with all the optimism I have about the beginning of our new president’s term.

What I’ve realized, though, is that for me it’s not so much about Obama as it is about not being Bush. Obama’s a centrist. I’m presumptuous enough to call myself a radical leftist. But Obama in the White House means that moderate views, not far-right neoconservative ones, will become the law of the land. If that means a restoration of the (centrist) principles of the Constitution, I can live with that—even if it means that same-sex marriage will still be illegal, we’ll still be pro-Israel, anti-Muslim hawks, and the war on drugs will continue. Even if those things remain the same in the next four and eight years, if President Obama means that no one will be tortured in the name of my “freedom” I can live with that. If I can go abroad without practicing my Canadian accent, I can live with that.

I’m hoping most of all that this administration will reverse some of the damage done by Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. A couple weeks ago, while walking by the security checkpoint on my way out of Newark (“Liberty” International) Airport, I saw one of those body scanner machines the ACLU warns about. And my eyes widened and I thought what I would do, the next time I flew out of Newark, if they asked me to go through one of those machines. Would I refuse on principle? Would they let me fly? What would happen? Would it be worth my safety to put up a fight? Which option, active or passive, would allow me to better retain my dignity?

Anyway, the reason I’m optimistic about tomorrow is that, even though I know it won’t bring some of the policy developments I’m most passionate about, it will bring a basic sense of dignity back to the White House. I’m pretty confident about that. And things won’t change immediately, and I’ll definitely keep protesting the things that don’t, but I hope that slowly I can forgive America for how it’s betrayed me.

I read Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” out loud to myself last night. I had never thought very deeply about the lines, before, and I realized that all of it—and especially the last stanza—expresses something of how I feel about my country. This is how that poem ends:

America you don’t really want to go to war.
America it’s them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Readers’ Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking at the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

The inauguration tomorrow, America, makes me want to put my queer shoulder to the wheel.

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