Back in July 2004, a transcendent political figure rose to the altar of world politics. He was a senate candidate for the state of Illinois who delivered the landmark speech at the Boston Democratic National Convention. He was the ‘skinny kid with a funny name’ – Barack Hussain Obama. The United States of America accepted him with open arms.
He was the son of a black man and a white woman who graduated from Harvard Law School. He was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. He became a community organizer in Chicago before becoming a Illinois State Senator. He was personification of ‘the audacity of hope’.
Four years later, he would become the first person of African-American descent to take charge of The White House. Symbolically, it was the ultimate liberation of the US from its conflicted history of racial segregation. He took over a country in an economic catastrophe and an international quagmire of wars.He epitomized hope and change.
And change there was. Not one that he had expected. Everything he did was seen through a racial filter. Even his citizenship, his American identity was questioned, so much so that he had to produce his birth certificate to prove that he was born on US soil. Suddenly, a growing wave of racial undertone overtook the US political discourse. He was even painted as a Muslim because of his ancestry. The discourse in America was rotting in way that seemed irreversible.
In early 1980s, an independent woman became the First Lady of the deeply conservative US state of Arkansas. Hillary Rodham wasn’t their typical first lady who would be shadowed by her husband. She didn’t even take his last name. A lawyer, she was deeply interested in policy-making, something that wouldn’t go down well with the political elite and the conservative voters.
She bit the bullet and changed the appearance and public persona to advance her husband’s political career. Public scrutiny didn’t evade her. When she became the First Lady of the US, history repeated itself. He involvement in policy issues didn’t bode well with the Washington political elite. She was disdained and frowned at. Her husband’s infidelity didn’t help either. But she stood by him all along.
She won the election for the Senate seat of New York and started carving out her own political career. Her ultimate aim – The White House. She lost to a rising political star in 2008 Democratic nomination but she had put ’18 million cracks’ in the glass ceiling of male dominance in Presidential politics. She became the Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s administration.
But she was ultimately a woman. Americans had different standards for her. What she wore, how she looked etc. were much more important to the media. She couldn’t fall ill, she couldn’t take a day off, she couldn’t be nasty, she couldn’t sound authoritative.
But the public drama of political witch-hunt didn’t take her down. She rose from those insults and finally broke the proverbial glass ceiling to become the first woman to be nominated by a major party for the US Presidency.
And then there is Donald Trump. The man behind the racist birther movement.
This US election isn’t at all about the economic conditions of Americans or the threats of terrorism facing it. By any measure, it is much better off and much more safer than it was eight years ago. It certainly isn’t about the superiority of American hegemony because there is a wider public recognition that it cannot be the global Police.
This election is about the social reality of America, which has recently been marred by an appeal to the least common denominator. Has it ridden itself of the racial realities that ended in the Civil War? Has it accepted the realities of female anatomy, of abortion? Has it risen above the anti-Japanese, anti-Jewish and the general anti-immigrant sentiments of the mid-20th century?
Can the Americans accept without the slightest of discomfort that a woman can be their President?
Barack Obama famously said in his 2004 DNC speech –
There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.
Is that really the truth?
That question will define the US influence over the world in the coming decades.