Reflections on the Obama Inauguration

A contribution by Lenny, content edits by Armed with Knowledge

I was at the presidential inauguration today, the 20th of January 2009, standing several hundred yards behind the second "Jumbotron" monitor in the Capitol.

It was not easy to get there.

Part of the reason was the local heavy-rail system was overwhelmed very quickly. At 6:30 am, the platform for trains going to Washington was packed with human-sardines; an equally-packed train was just sitting there too, and I could see the headlights of another train in the distance, also just sitting there. After about two minutes of bizarre inactivity, I heard:

"This train is out of service, all passengers must exit due to a passenger sickness.” (lol, what?)
That was it for me: I weaved my way back upstairs (which was difficult due to all the malfunctioning escalators on the inbound platform that day) and left the station. If I had stuck around, who knows how long it would've taken until I had got to the inauguration.

I decided to walk there.

I got to the Washington Mall (the two-mile-long open space where the Capitol and monuments are) around 8:30am. It was a circus the likes of which I've never seen in my life. The crowds and the general hecticness of it all were one thing. But the atmosphere of it all was very strange. It was as if this was a giant celebration after the death of a hated enemy, and I suppose that’s exactly what it was: an electoral coup-de-grace of the Dispossessed Majority (that old Nixonian term, which will soon have to be renamed "The Dispossessed Former-Majority"). But seeing it in person was very surreal to me. I’ve had dreams that were less surreal than this.

The mask of post-racialism, if it was ever on in the first place, seemed to be torn off today. There was so much thickly-implied and occasionally overt racial triumphalism in the air. For the Black community, Obama's election was a crowning moment in post-1960 progress, to be sure. But the official program and the ambiance created by the crowd gave the impression that something else was also being celebrated:

  • the brazen "civil rights" prayer-leader called for Blacks to "rise up", and be inspired, thus demonstrating what Obama represented to him (in spite of Obama's mixed-race background): Black ascendancy. Then, the prayer-leader was demeaning towards Whites, telling them to "do what's right" - basically, by standing aside for Black ascendancy. That didn't sound like post-racialism.

  • Obama spoke about "melting away all the tribes", or something to that effect. Yet, from his book, it is plainly obvious that he identifies with his African-American side. And "melting away all the tribes" was not on his mind when he chose his wife, either. Michelle Obama is clearly of African stock, so their children are hardly "melted". Even more suspicious is the fact that, throughout his political career, Obama rubbed shoulders with Black supremacists. So much for looking beyond race - unless, with his declaration about "meting away all the tribes", Obama was implying all tribes except the one he identifies with.

  • Rick Warren ranted about how great it is to know that America is "not united by ties of blood in any way." Unless he somehow forgot that 95% of the Black vote went for a black candidate, I think we can be fairly certain that Warren was talking about how wonderful White racial disunity is, not Black disunity. Again, so much for the end of racial preferentialisms.

All this was topped off by the awkward swearing-in ceremony with the repeated phrase "Barack Hussein Obama."

It is worth mentioning that Obama only managed to grab 43% of the White vote, the "traditional citizenry" vote, which was hardly better than his fellow Democrats did with losing hands in 2004 (41%) and 2000 (42%). Yet the White population, which until recently made up 80-90% of the U.S. population, is down to just over 65% of the total population; consequently, by rallying the immigrant and the ever-growing Non-White populations (again: 95% of the Black vote was for Obama), Obama won the race by a wide margin. So did that mean he deserved to be in the White House? The visual and verbal clues (which to me suggested a lack of confidence) gave the impression that he had done something to defeat his foe and was disappointed with his strike, although his opponent had fallen anyway. So there he was, standing atop a vanquished opponent, facing unexpected feelings.

Indeed, behind the festive atmosphere of this "historic" occasion, there were definitely some moments where the public seemed concerned by what was going on onstage and displayed an "off" reaction. Of course, most of the Non-Whites (especially the Blacks) were basking in masked or overt racial-triumphalism. However, the others seemed to be experiencing a bit of "repressed guilt"about the Obama presidency. It is perhaps akin to the feeling felt by a White woman who bears a mixed child ("my child doesn't look anything like me"). At the same time, the events on-stage were the ultimate reflection of what is currently going on off-stage: White-America is on the precipitous decline and Obama is a capstone of that decline and the ultimate symbol thereof.

In conclusion, the two things I will remember most from this "historic event" are as follows:

  • my shock at the vulgar racial-triumphalism that permeated everything; it was kind of like a bizarro-world "Birth Of A Nation" being played out as I stood there at the Washington ‘National Mall’.

  • the undercurrent of repressed awkwardness and guilt about the symbolic overturning of the old apple cart and the symbolic coup-de-grace of the Dispossessed Majority.

Other disjointed observations:

-- The grotesque commercialization of Obama and the event. Thousands of ad-hoc street-vendors were peddling expensive t-shirts, buttons (and anything else people will buy) with Obama's face on them. So many local stores had stupidly-contrived "Obama specials", or plastered new slogans or logos aping one of more of Obama's slogans. For example, one bar in upscale Georgetown has some kind of new special alcoholic beverage they named after Obama. Images of Obama's face are plastered everywhere in Washington. This sort of "monarch" worship is so surreal for the USA. Oh, and LOTS of free Pepsi merchandise was being distributed; Pepsi is apparently the official cola of the ObamaNation. They are using a new, Obama-esque logo and have copied his slogans like "H[Pepsi-symbol]PE" onto little backpacks they are handing out. "Refreshing America!" is another slogan. I also saw a couple "My President Is Black" t-shirts, worn by Blacks.

--- I witnessed many other interactions between what appeared to be local (DC/MD) Blacks and out-of-town'er Whites. All these verbal interactions had a terse quality to them, such that it was clear that the Whites were cautiously venturing "past the Rubicon" and testing the waters of the new postracial Age Of Obama with these "difficult-to-get-along-with" DC blacks. Even in the Age of Obama, there was no harmony to these interactions at all; they felt something like a child speaking to an adult in terms of awkwardness (this is not to imply that either party was "the adult", just that this was the raw level of awkwardness).

-- At one point I saw White "Obama-tourists" giving a fairly-large amount of money to a local Black panhandler. (I will spare you a joke here involving the word "change"). Everyone with sense knows not to give these local panhandlers food - or money for food. These people get free food from many of the shelters and soup-kitchens; what they don't get is free liquor, hence the begging for money to buy it. I've seen it over and over again and, when an astute, but sympathetic passerby gives them food, it usually ends up in the trash. Why do I bring this up? Because it crystallizes the Obama-phenomenon among the Whites who supported Obama: naive fools who know nothing about the world except what they have been inculcated with.

-- On Monday, “Martin Luther King Day” (a federal holiday, of course), I also had time to go downtown. 10 or 12 people from something called "The Revolutionary Communist Party" had set up near the Washington Monument. They were accosting passersby to take their newspaper, called "Revolution", and asking for donations. The newspaper talked about Obama being the same as Bush and people being conned by phony-change, and then the obligatory "capitalism has failed, communism is the solution" stuff. I stuck around as I was intrigued, and eventually one of the New York-ish, Jewish-looking, pushy distributors came forward and briefly ranted to me face-to-face about some guy who died after being shot in the back by San Francisco cops. Then he urged me to give him money. And that was my experience.