I was born nearly 30 years after the end of World War II and nearly 10 years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I didn’t read about Lindbergh’s flight in the newspaper or hear Dr. King speak on the radio or trek to Woodstock to listen to Jimi perform his National Anthem. I came into the world during a gas crisis overlapping a post-Vietnam malaise, two years prior to an Iran hostage crisis. I arrived during an American funk that had never really lifted.
Until this past Tuesday. Until the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those Obama worshipers who believe the man walks on water or that he will wave a magic wand and fix America in one fell swoop. That’s not it at all. And whether or not I voted for him or believe in his political views is also irrelevant. What is important is that his election and the ceremony of his swearing in (however awkward the actual swearing was) has given America a great moment in which to be proud. The greatest American moment of the last 30 years. The greatest American moment of my lifetime.
Granted, there have been other patriotic moments since 1977. There was the 1980 Olympic hockey game victory over the Russians. There have been successful military operations in Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, and Iraq (the first time). There was the outlasting and capitalistic outmuscling of the Soviet Union. But for every achievement, there have been more negative tragedies: the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, Hurricane Katrina, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the LA riots, the recent economic halt. The list goes on and on, overshadowing American achievements and permeating my pride with cynicism and negativity.
But now I have my moment. My first truly American, could-only-happen-in-the-greatest-county-in-the-world moment. A moment that will be discussed in the annals of American history for ages to come. A moment my grandkids will be studying. I look forward to the day when they will look at pictures of the millions of people in Washington, DC and see images of the first minority president and ask, “Where were you when that happened, Grandpa?”.
(Before Tuesday, the only moment I could imagine being asked where I was when it happened was the attacks on 9/11/01. That was my moon landing and my Kennedy assassination wrapped up into one.)
Oddly enough however, I have a creeping feeling that the inauguration of President Barack Obama will inevitably usher in a new era of conservativism. A conservativism in which his inauguration becomes the highpoint of American achievement. A time when the inauguration becomes one of those landmark moments my generation will point to and say “America was great when …”. Of course, then when American pride goes into a new malaise, as it most inevitably will, a new younger generation will clamor for change. And if history is any example, my generation will push back, resisting large scale changes to our way of life. After all, aren’t we the generation that put the first non-white president in office? Won’t our America be good enough?