Barack Obama was privately officially sworn in yesterday, January 20th, as required by the constitution, but another public symbolic swearing in will take place today followed by the usual parade and other festivities.
Notice in the photo that Chief Justice John Roberts is reading the oath this time. Recall that in 2008 he trusted his memory and ended up botching the words, requiring a private re-swearing later, and gave fodder to the crazies who argued that Obama had not been properly sworn in and thus his presidency was invalid.
Although I have been a harsh critic of Obama on many issues, one has to concede that a black man becoming president at all and winning a second term in the face of some vicious and racist opposition, is a major advance for the US and I am glad that I lived to see it happen. The coincidence that the swearing in will take place on the day commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. adds a nice touch.
There are many things that as a young man I thought I would never see in my lifetime but have come to pass.
I never thought that I would see a black person elected as president of the US but I was wrong.
I thought that the apartheid regime of South Africa would never give up its hold without massive bloodshed and that Nelson Mandela would die in prison but I was badly wrong on both counts.
I thought the Cold War would be a permanent fixture with us constantly living under the threat of nuclear annihilation. That has largely gone away. (Thanks to machineintelligence in the comments for reminding me of this.)
Equal right for the LGBT community was not something that was even part of the discussion when I was young since that community was largely missing from public life in those days but now we are just a hairsbreadth away from seeing that happen.
When one sees the massive inequalities in society and the way that the rich control the system in such a way as to perpetuate their privileges, it is easy to become cynical and lose hope for meaningful change. The sad feeling that one cannot expect any real progress was echoed recently by actor Matt Damon who, like many, was disillusioned by Obama’s first term and thus does not expect much from the second Obama presidency, saying:
I assume there will be some Supreme Court appointments in this next term; that alone was reason to vote for him. I don’t think I said anything a lot of people weren’t thinking. It’s easier now more than ever in my life to feel the fix is in, the game is rigged and no matter how hard you work to change things, it just doesn’t matter.
But Damon is a lot younger than I am and while I share his sense that the fix is in, if one lives as long as I have, one sees enough change to realize that it can happen, albeit slowly and not the way one expects, as the examples I gave above indicate. When I find myself brooding along the lines of Damon, I cheer myself up by thinking of another quote from legendary radical journalist and muckraker I. F. Stone who lived to a ripe old age and who said:
The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you’re going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got be willing — for the sheer fun and joy of it — to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.
I know that I will die before many of the things I have hoped and fought for come to pass. But the baton will get passed and some day my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their peers will see the results. Just as I have benefited from the failures of my antecedents by seeing the attainment of the things they failed at in their lifetimes, so will future generations benefit from my failures.
And that is good enough for me.