David B.




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January 1, 2009

The Year That Shouldn’t Have Been


So, what a surprise: As a country, we have managed to creak our way through another 365 days of existence, remaining marginally intact for the 232nd time since formally coming into existence. Despite war, recession, corruption and the pervasive malaise of a populace adrift in personal purposelessness, the United States endures. In and of itself, generally a good thing.


New Year’s is the traditional moment for annualized stock-taking and self-assessment, and this column joins virtually every other one in existence in this faintly-futile exercise, in full knowledge that in a year’s time we will invariably find ourselves once again at almost precisely the same juncture. Ostensibly underpinning the exercise: The belief that somewhere there is some point lurking behind the journey from the beginning to the end of the calendar, that there is some actual reason for enduring the trial and travail.


At the conclusion of this most ignoble of years, is there anyone who can say with certainty what that point actually is?


What was the point behind racking up billions more in debt and thousands more in deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan?


What have we accomplished in the aftermath of the housing collapse, or the collective hara-kiri of the financial sector?


Dear America: What have you done to improve yourself over the last three hundred and sixty-five days? Have you restored habeas corpus, reigned in the butchers of Abu Ghraib, reformed your corruption-riddled economic system, moved to redress the monumental social inequities that separate rich from poor, white from black, male from female, gay from straight? Have you done anything to further transform the ideals embodied in your sacred founding documents into realities rather than abstracts?


If we as a nation and a people haven’t managed to move at least marginally forward by some meaningful metric – whatever that metric may be – why have we bothered?


There are two good reasons, all bad news notwithstanding: George W. Bush is shortly to vacate the White House. What’s more, he will be replaced by Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president.


Obama inherits a battered, bruised nation embroiled in scandal and economic collapse at home and military quagmires abroad – a nation which, by all appearances, is presently positioned on a sharp downward slope in terms of international influence and economic might. At the cusp of 2009, America is a nation questioning its place in the world, questioning its reasons for being, questioning its ability to fulfill its promises of liberty, prosperity and justice to the individuals within its borders. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt and Truman, Obama inherits a nation beset by challenges that threaten its very being. The fondest hopes of his supporters notwithstanding, there is no assurance that he – or any other potential president, for that matter – will succeed in meeting them.


Nonetheless, for all the afflictions plaguing the USA on this dreary December 31, we can look back on the miserable year behind with some small satisfaction: Somehow, against both the odds and historical precedent, we managed to elevate to high office a man who, only a generation or two ago, would have been considered ineligible to eat in half the country’s restaurants by virtue of the color of his skin. It may not be enough for redemption, but it counts for something,


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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