During those eight years we lost ourselves. Following a singular day– one day– of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. But we wanted to believe and so it was easy to lie to us, just like with the Tooth Fairy.
Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 200 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights– silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation tortured men, created an archipelago of secret prisons, a regime of indefinite confinement and renditions to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. How much would be enough for revenge? When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were near by or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we would kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later.
Then in 2008 hope we were sold and we slobbered over it like the pigs we had become. He was a king, awarded a Noble Peace Prize simply for not being George W. Bush. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously.
Today, this day, four years later we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We re-elected him mainly just because he wasn’t the other guy, everybody’s reluctant guilty choice. We now today go though the motions of a celebratory inauguration like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a second generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.
People who saw the movie Lincoln were struck by the personal anguish the president then brought upon himself ordering men to their deaths in support of a moral cause, ridding this nation of the horrors of slavery, human bondage, once and for all. That president enduring many necessary evils in pursuit of a goal he knew to be noble, the unfinished work of creating a truly democratic and just nation. On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham to remind that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs.
So you Barack, who so shallowly call forth Lincoln’s legacy, for what cause do you condone our modern necessary evils? For what noble crusade do you allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because you can do so? Why do you prolong the war, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan? On what crusade do you keep your enemies in Guantanamo?
Lots of talk today, inauguration day, Martin Luther King Day. But those are the questions Mr. Lincoln and Dr. King would demand answers for from their graves, Mr. Obama.
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