The American journey in democracy that began with the election of George Washington in 1789 never stopped.
The founding fathers’ 1776 declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” saw America’s once-excluded blacks, women, and the young translate the framers’ vision into reality on Nov. 4 by electing the first non-white male to lead the once-white nation. Yet, the journey is far from over.
Democracy, from the Greek word “demokratia,” refers to a system of popular (demos) government (kratia), or government of the people — the “demos” govern. It operates through the rule of law, not of men, based on the principles of equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal treatment.
Fundamental in the system are the concepts of changing or replacing governing officials or leaders through regular constitutional opportunities (elections); the greatest number of the people can influence major government decisions, or the general direction of the country.
In the American system, Thomas Jefferson inscribed the principle of right of dissent and disobedience in the Declaration of Independence — a government exists to serve the people, who have the right to resist its commands that no longer serve the public will. Essential in the system are a responsible free press that provides facts, raises awareness, and keeps leaders responsive to those who elected them; a majority rule that respects minorities’ rights; and power that alternates and changes hands — today’s winners and losers will trade place tomorrow!
Last Nov. 10, Barack Hussein Obama set foot for the first time in the Oval Office. Current White House occupant, President George W. Bush, whom Obama had accused of “failed policies,” pledged “complete cooperation” in the transition of power, and called Obama’s election “especially uplifting” for Americans who witnessed the civil rights struggle. Obama honored Bush and observed respectfully that the United States has “only one president at a time.”
In two months, Obama will take oath as the 44th President of the United States.
“Is this a great country or what?” asked Thomas Friedman, who writes America is “surely the only nation that could — in the same decade — go to war against a president named Hussein (Saddam of Iraq), threaten to use force against a country whose most revered religious martyr is named Hussein (Iran) and then elect its own president who’s middle-named Hussein.”
In his Nov. 9 column, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner acknowledged the “generous honeymoon” the world gives Obama, and thanked “everyone overseas … for your applause for our new president.” Then, mincing no words he told “those Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Indians, Africans and Latin Americans” who expressed “their joy at having ‘America back,'” that “Your love is fickle and … it will last about as long as the first Obama airstrike against an al-Qaida position in Pakistan.”
“If you want Obama to succeed,” he challenged, “don’t just show us the love, show us the money. Show us the troops. Show us the diplomatic effort. Show us the economic partnership. Show us something more than a fresh smile. Because freedom is not free and your excuse for doing less than you could is leaving town [on] January .”
Last week, I quoted Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum, who used to live in Poland, wrote for British newspapers and for Slate magazine, and who warned in the Nov. 4 Washington Post’s “Five Election Myths” that “a good deal of rejoicing at the passing of the hated Bush administration” would be faced with a “reality that will set in quickly.”
On Nov. 11, in “More Than a Rock Star” Applebaum, an Obama supporter, writes about a “familiar creeping feeling” that maybe “the legitimate rejoicing” at America’s supposedly post-racial era, was mixed with “something else,” as she wondered whether it was “starry-eyed celebrity worship” or “celebrity charisma” that influenced “the cheering Germans” or made “adult men and women scream when Obama walked onstage in Chicago.” If indeed this were true, she writes, “we’d be in trouble.” Applebaum expressed the “hope that the uplifting effects last at least until the end of next week.”
On the same day, the Post’s “Racism Rears Its Head in European Remarks on Obama, Some Public Figures Display Open Scorn” also appeared. Some quotes in the article are discomforting.
Two days later, the Post’s “Europeans Foresee Their Own Obama Emerging One Day” described how America’s “Obama’s ascent” gives “momentum and enthusiasm” to activists pushing for minorities’ greater voice, but that “no one expects a ‘European Obama’ to emerge anytime soon.”
And there was the Post’s front-page “Facing Obama, Iran Suddenly Hedges on Talks” reported from Tehran how Iran which called for “direct and unconditional talks” with the U.S. is now “sounding wary of Obama.” And then the Post’s “In India, a World of Hurt Over a Perceived Obama Slight,” because the President-elect has yet to speak with India’s leader after he had spoken with 15 world leaders.
Meanwhile, John McCain who lost the president election to Obama with 58 million votes to 66 million, appeared Nov. 11 on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
McCain declined Leno’s bait to accuse the press for his defeat: “You know, one thing I think Americans don’t want is a sore loser.”
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.