If John Kerry had won in 2004, I would have woken up the next day smiling because we had wiped the smirk off America's face. The long snarl of the Bush administration would have been over.
But this morning I woke up weeping with joy. As I had gone to bed weeping.
Not just because we elected as president a black man -- yes, of mixed race, but that's how it works in this country -- although that would have been enough.
Not just because of the wave of joy that his election unleashed.
Not just because that joy itself occasions joy. This was not a grudging acceptance.
But also because something I never even imagined happened yesterday: We not only elected a black person to the presidency, but racial progress itself became a symbol of something larger.
Yesterday I would have said, along with many others, that there is no frame more pervasive, insidious, or toxic than that of race in this country. Today, with our embrace of this man -- and his glowing, loving family -- we framed race in something larger.
We elected Obama in the face of an old politics of division driven in its extremity to caricature. For once we said no to that. Enough! The global crowd that gathered yesterday was expressing -- I believe without facts but with all my heart -- its weariness with division and its deep yearning to be together in peace.
The defining moment in our country's continuing struggle against racism wasn't about race. We found something bigger. At last, at last.
This is not to say the struggle against racism is over. Of course not. Yesterday did not desegregate our cities or wipe clean our prejudgments. Four years of images of that gorgeous black family in our White House will make a far larger difference, and it will make the difference right at the perceptual level, where our worst prejudices cower.
To live up to the ideal we just embraced, we have to do intentionally what Obama does by nature. He listens to those with whom he disagrees, but he responds only to the goodness expressed in even the most fear-driven of statements. Ignore the small, the petty, the self-involved, the defensive, and respond to the moments of goodness in all of us.
This is a practical program. I've seen it adopted on purpose and I've seen it work. Avoiding getting dragged into negative shoutfests is basic troll management. Learning to hear and respond to what is good and shared in an expression we find detestable is harder. The best teachers do this routinely. We can all learn to do it. We can. Yes, we can.
It is a big part of how Obama brings out the better nature in us. It is a big reason the unrelenting and unreasoned negative campaign aimed at him failed.
It is also a task performed historically all out of proportion by African-Americans. That is a blessing we have not deserved, but could not have survived without.
* * *
No more Bush. I felt an almost physical relief. My shoulders rose. My back straightened.
I can look out at the world for the first time in my life and say I am proud to be an American without feeling a need to explain why, and first getting some apologies out of the way.
* * *
I know Barack Obama is going to disappoint us. I know I will deeply disagree with some of his policies. But I trust his deliberative process and I trust his open heart.
* * *
Our children last night said that they were jealous that my wife and I got to live through the era of great heroes, that we can talk about the times we saw JFK, RFK, and Martin Kuther King, Jr., and how we were moved by them.
I told them they had seen that moment tonight. But they knew that already.
And we get four -- eight! -- more years of watching this man -- that one -- approach a podium to speak, knowing that our best natures are about to be summoned.
So forgive me for weeping as I relearn that we are not fully human when we are without hope.
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