Wednesday, November 5, 2008

May Your Hope Give Us Hope

Barack Obama stands in the torrential rains of Chester, Pennsylvania, addressing an 8000 strong crowd that has stood ankle deep in mud for hours waiting for him to appear. It is one of the great moments in the American election campaign, and a confirming symbol of the Democratic candidate's seemingly assured place in history when those elections are decided today.

If John McCain had appeared during that same storm he would have looked a sodden loser, an old man down on his luck as the election slides from his grip. The Republican candidate wisely decided to move his appearance indoors once the pelting rain settled in around Quakertown, while Obama electrified a similar scene just a city away in Chester.

That all the same circumstances were in play, yet one man could seize the day while another was overwhelmed is a case study in the way symbols work.

What those symbols say is that Senator Barack Obama is ready to lead the USA through the stormy weather that has befallen it, and that people are willing to follow him. The stormy weather is, of course, the current economic crisis and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars that have so scarred the nation's spirit, its reputation and its confidence worldwide.

It is now clear the war machinery of George Bush's administration harnessed post-September 11 sympathy as a stalking horse for imperial ambitions which have proved fatal for the regime. Broad analysis would have it this hawkishness has also been fatal for America itself; that the nation is on its last legs as an empire, rotting from within and assaulted from without.

One could refer to all manner of indices and stats to affirm the bleak prognosis, but none have struck me more powerfully than recent information that approximately 1000 suicide attempts a month are being made in the USA by returned serviceman from Iraq. This lemming-like urge towards self-annihilation among veterans goes beyond a phenomenal case study in post-traumatic stress syndrome, and on into a mass trauma at the heart of the nation.

In truth, America has been behaving in a traumatized way ever since September 11 struck. Osama bin Laden, a man with a well developed taste for symbols, made sure the event date on the American calendar matched the numbers for phoning 'emergency' when you're in trouble - '911'. It's rare a culture gets to see such a grand blow delivered right between the eyes, an event whose script assured America it was, like all the empires before it, terribly mortal. Go ahead and call for help, you ain't gonna make it.

Yet for all the devastating power of those planes sliding into the Twin Towers and the buildings tumbling down over New York, other symbols sustained themselves by association: the couple who leapt to their deaths holding hands; the police and fireman who went up the stairwells into the smoke and fire against all the odds before them.

This is the human thrown up against the monumental, and the human is not forgotten or diminished. Indeed it's the human that grows in nobility all the more, a sentiment greatly celebrated in Bruce Springsteen's Into the Fire, which conjures up an image so religious the song becomes a prayer and the men involved ascend a staircase to heaven rather than hell on our behalf:

"May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love..."

It would seem to me we similarly perceive the human and heroic scale upon which Barack Obama must act today. And that this is why we admire him so much, and why we pin so much hope upon him. Satirists with a taste for the caustic agree it's exactly the right time for America to elect a black man president. And yet there remains a deeper, truer feeling that a change in government and more especially a change in leader can transform things for the USA, even in its eleventh hour.

Is it right then to say the big game is over for the United States of America? Despite pundits by the pound leaping upon phrases like "the end of the American century" I see no desire for us to witness an end to our love of rock 'n' roll or jazz or blues, or great American films, or TV shows like Entourage or The Wire, or even the apocalyptic 'frontier' novels of Cormac McCarthy. Whether it's McCarthy's book The Road or Paul Thomas Anderson's punishing film There Will be Blood, there's a thrill to American culture even as it examines its own damaged and insanely titanic spirit.

The feelings of hope that Barack Obama kindles worldwide indicates we are no great hurry for the so-called 'American century' and its influence to come to pass. Indeed Obama's looks and youthful dynamism - along with the fact he is the product of a white mother and a Kenyan father - exude a JFK meets Martin Luther King charisma that make us feel history might yet be in the making rather than the breaking.

In these symbolic convergences he personifies not just new hopes in this time of confusion and pessimism, but lost hopes from another era as well, right down to the foiled assassination plots around him. Yes, it is true: Barack Obama is the epitome of a second chance, of something reincarnated in America's vision of itself. He is a kind of living fairytale, and for all our doubts and fears about its veracity we want to believe in that story still.

- Mark Mordue

* First published at 'Unleashed',, 4th November 20008
Photo by Jae Hong / Associated Press


Anonymous said...

Mark Mark Mark! it's Bob Blunt here; How are you? or better still, ni hao ma from Beijing! I have been here since Feb. this year teaching at a university and loving it. Was in Japan before, and Korea for some time before that.

This however is short; have just found your blog and am loving it; always have enjoyed your written word - email me sometime; Hi to Lisa too^^

Thomas Wold said...

good work my friend from the land of Obama! We miss you all. Check out my blog if you wish. The first poem may interest you as there's some rock n roll buried superficially deep in the surface of it. Hope you are well

MJob said...

I`m loving your blogg, I've been reading it for a while now, you seem so full and so happy with all the experiences you dare sharing with the world.
I like the way you write, very much. Hope I could be able to express myself so fluently as you do.
I'm a young writer, if a writer I'm meant to be told, with so much to learn and so much to experience; I don't write in english frecuently though, I'm from Mexico.
I'll be reading more of your work, to learn from a real journalist.


Maddeb said...

Dear Prospective sponsor/donor:

'Help Give U.S. Hope Foundation' is a new a non-for-profit organization, that is being developed to assist the American People who are in jeopardy of foreclosures, need food, utility assistance, etc., Nationwide. We believe the recession is a National Crisis, and typical resources to people in need, reach out to organizations for help. Most organizations have limited in resources, in addition they have boundaries, i.e., county, township, member of Church or Community organizations. 'Help Give U.S. Hope Foundation' breaks those boundaries, and provides assistance for all American People that are negatively impacted greatly by the economic crisis.

I am the founder of the campaign organization and would like to establish a business relationship with your organization. We are seeking sponsors and donations to fund this program. The website is presently being developed by a volunteer sponsor, and should be functional by the end of next week. However, we are seeking donations now to prepare for the anticipated large volume of application for assistance. I would like to submit the website pages for your review, so that you can see what this foundation is based on and learn more about what we are doing to help the American People. I could send the WebPages to an email address if you could please provide me a contact person who has the authority to make such decisions. We would like you to sponsor this program and a offer a donation to support the program.

Please have someone email or call me at their earliest convenience.

Be blessed,

Debra Brzostowski
Help Give U.S. Hope
2505 Paradise Circle
Plainfield, IL 60586

Maddeb said...
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Maddeb said...
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