Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Dampness of Hope

I maintained social media silence on the playing out of the American election, despite the alluring narrative of this being Wall Street versus the world. Despite, admittedly, there was much at stake: If Wall Street could impose its views of the world on America, the World would have been in line, with the guns and bombs and enough American young men still ready to sacrifice their lives without really knowing why. While I got up early enough on Wednesday to catch Obama give his victory speech, and exclaimed on Facebook that he seemed to have got back his oratory just in time, this was very different from what I did four years back: Sat through a night of vote counting, in a hotel in the middle of a business trip, just because I hoped that this President would be different. In 2008, in a world of continuous war, terrorist attacks and recession, I needed the hope as badly as anything: I surrendered my sense to the blind belief that if someone looked different, he must be.

Obama turned out to be a disappointment, but that's partly my, our, fault. He behaved like an American President that he is, upholding American national interests and playing within the constraints of American realpolitik. The euphoric vision of a world statesman, climaxed with a premature Nobel Peace Prize not long after he assumed the Presidency, started fading in the first contact with reality: Guantanamo Bay remained open, the assassinations continued as usual, the banks world over acted with impunity and the rich became richer and lazier. But, all of this could have been, should have been, well foreseen, but for the naive hope that we harboured. As the events unfolded as expected, we looked intently for the signs of doubt in the man himself, arguing to ourselves that despite being the most powerful person in the world, the President is only a victim. I believed too much into the narrative I constructed myself.

Indeed, in the election, President Obama was the least worst choice, and therefore deserved to win. Governor Romney, apart from being propelled to the Republican candidacy by the Wall Streeters who saw him as one of their own, did not really know what he stood for. Admittedly, that's not a bad thing for a politician, but he didn't behave exactly like the boss: He sounded too desperate and mostly clueless about the job he was applying for. Besides, it was rather improbable that a candidate like Mr Romney, unquestionably a plutocrat, will be elected by the Americans in the middle of a recession and when the banker's social prestige is at its lowest. So, while the President evaded answers, prevaricated on crucial decisions, and remained partisan and quite narrow in outlook, Mr Romney looked like a loose canon in search of a target. He was not the person even the Americans could vote for.

So, despite that the best man may not have won - because it looked more of a puppet show than the battle of men - the outcome should give me that catch-all consolation typical of middle class life: It could indeed have been worse. The Americans prevailed, as they can always be trusted to after all options have been exhausted, as good old Churchill hoped for. The speeches have been made, full of the same old rhetoric that gets spoken election after election, no matter which country. Hope, now dime a dozen, has lost its redemptive shine, and become a trinket to be handed down to the voting public with a make-believe 'yes, we can' slogan. One more time that the cans have been kicked down the road.

There will be much read into the results now: That Americans have changed and become much liberal; that the tea party madness should now recede, Israel may see sense and climate meltdown may be contained; that democracy beats the money and power, and therefore inherently regenerative. President Obama will now make promises to be decisive and wind down the wars as he promised. Some of it will happen, but most, including the structural changes for the sake of a sustainable society and a cooler planet, will not happen.

The rhetoric of fairness, justice and opportunity, will be paraded around, without conviction, courage or commitment, by politicians, but that does not necessarily undermine what these sentiments mean. One must remember that hope wasn't meant to be a good thing when it was sent in Pandora's box; it was meant to be a way to ensure suffering. Real change comes from necessity, not hope. So will it be, as people will march for democracy and for rights in different places and will be shot at, imprisoned and tortured all over the world, in the belief that things would change. This election, Obama's victory and all the rhetoric around it, is inconsequential and will always be so. All wiser, I have now come to see that these elections didn't really matter.

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