⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

November 5, 2008

"A New Spirit"

Even if I am thousands of miles away from the United States, I had a shared experience this morning as I watched Barack Obama's victory flash across the screen. Tears. I cried. And I've cried all day - a deep welling up of emotion- ongoing. And so, like many other Americans, I've stepped back and asked why this victory - and I would dare say, regardless of political affiliation - means so much - symbolizes so much.

You don't even know that it is building up - underlying how you think and feel and relate to the country of your birth - to your people and culture. This morning, my tears came from that store of disappointment, disillusionment, almost shame - that finally burst open and was released.

I am not terribly liberal politically. In fact, I lean toward libertarianism. I believe in liberty above all. And for that reason and many others, I have been ashamed of the past 8 years of government in the United States.

There is also a part of this emotional reaction that is particularly salient for me because I don't live in the United States. When we were at war in Iraq in 2003, I was at school in Oxford, England and in that context, at that moment, it seemed that when I opened my mouth I could feel (or visibly see) that my American accent was a political affront, a frightening sound to the people around me.

And now that I am in France, I've had the privilege of being the butt of many (perhaps well-deserved) American jokes. French/American tension is well-established. After the election in 2004, the French took Bush's re-election as a mandate to continue and amplify their disdain for Americans - culture, politics, people.

My tears this morning came from being tired of experiencing this while at the same time knowing that the United States is an exceptional country in singular ways. My tears came from the relief of knowing that people will celebrate the United States again and greet Americans with a smile and not a grimace.

But more importantly, my tears came from my fundamental belief in equality, meritocracy and humanity. It was heartening in a way that I have never before experienced - that people voted in record numbers to elect Barack Obama. That age was cited as a more relevant issue for people in exit polls than race. That black voters came out in unprecedented numbers, but so did white voters - as many white people voted for Obama as they did for Kerry in 2004. So, yes, race is/was an issue. Fundamentally. And at the same time not at all. That paradox is what makes this event historical and exceptional.

In his speech on race, Obama said, "In no other country is my story even possible." That is what rings true today. That is what makes me cry. That this election marks a historical chapter in possibility. And that possibility has triumphed over a story of violence and division on racial lines that has so scarred the United States.

Just as McCain said in his concession speech - this is a victory for all Americans, partisanship aside. And crucially, as always, hubris is as dangerous as ever. With a largely democratic legislative branch and executive branch, caution and bipartisanship are more important values than ever before. The undoing of this great achievement would be through arrogance and overreaching by the democrats.

But man, I am proud.

In Obama's words: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”


tmildenhall said...


Marc said...

Emilie-reading your blog was like reading my journal i wrote an hour ago. I've never felt proud about our country. I'm sure part of this is actually becoming politically aware during our dear Bush's years, but I had tears in my eyes as I watched that crowd of 200,000+ people scream "Yes we did." Today was the most excited I've ever been to be an American.

Jill said...

You have such a way with words. I sit here reading with tears streaming down my face (carrying over from last night). I agree with everything you said and appreciate the unique perspective you have after living in different countries.
I wish you could have been here to celebrate with us. It was wonderful watching Mr. Obama and his family walk out on stage as our new first family. I love that my daughter was sitting on the couch watching the historic event. What a wonderful thing for her to see.

Xavier said...

Yes you did.

I do not have the privilege to be American today but more than ever, I wish I were.

Being married with one of you guys kind of counts a bit, doesn't it? ;-)

Emilie said...

it totally counts my xavier. and you'll get your passport soon enough...

jill, marc and tom - yeah - pretty cool stuff. julie and i were talking today and it is really beautiful that joyce will never know anything different - like mary kate - this will be their reality from the get-go. beautiful.

Janice said...

Unlike the other "older" members of the family, I was crying right along with you youngsters. I was transfixed by the joy on the faces of African-Americans in that sea of humanity. I too was thrilled that this threshold was crossed. I remember all too well the turbulent civil rights years. I graduated from high school in 1968-the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. It was a year of riots, protests, sit-ins, and shoot-outs. It was also the year that President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Forty Years of inching along and finally the events of yesterday. It was marvelous!

Emilie said...

Janice - so pleased to read what you say. Thanks my wonderful aunt. It is indeed remarkable given the historical context - marvelous.

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