This is a guest post by filmmaker and author Eugene Jarecki. The video clip above is from a talk that Jarecki gave last Thursday at the New America Foundation on the topic, “The American Way of War.”
The passage below is an original piece just drafted by Eugene Jarecki in commemoration of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States. The Washington Note is grateful to Eugene for allowing us to be the first to publish this powerful “ode to tomorrow.”
Eugene Jarecki’s 2006 film Why We Fight won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival as well as a Peabody Award. His new book, The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril, has just been released by Simon & Schuster/Free Press.
AN ODE TO TOMORROW
Though the future is yet unknowable, let us for a moment imagine that when we wake tomorrow it will be a new day in America.
Let us appreciate the poetry that once upon a time, a one-term congressman from Illinois became President of the United States and freed four million African slaves and, 145 years later, an African American first-term senator from Illinois – borne not of the rapacious legacy of that compulsory migration but rather of a voluntary choice by two adults – should become President of that same land.
Let us imagine that a nation once built on the scarred backs of black Africans could, in arguably her darkest hour since, be rescued by the son of a Kenyan exchange student and a white American woman from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Let us imagine that that man and woman could have met and married amid the sweltering heat of Jim Crow America and, just two weeks before the courageous freedom rides of 1961, produced a child whose very birth would seem a hopeful reminder of America’s long-deferred promises – of racial harmony, of social courage, and of the power of love to free us from the shackles of our self-annihilating prejudice.
Let us imagine still that that young child should, through hard work and self-acknowledged providence, have become the figure of serenity, fortitude, vision, and grace who has stood before us for 23 long months and kept his dignity.
Let us imagine that beside that graceful man has walked his true and intrepid partner, co-parent of two confident and glowing children, who likewise has conducted herself with poise, substance, and candor — cognizant of yet unspoiled by the toxic air of Washington.
Let us imagine that, opposite them, an opportunistic campaign of division, viciousness and ideological bankruptcy was overcome by one of decency and depth — that an effort to appeal to our lesser selves, to that in us which is divisible, was defeated by one that appealed to the best in us, to that which is indivisible.
Let us, though, not be fooled.
Let us not allow ourselves to be lulled into false comfort.
Let us go to sleep tonight and luxuriate, yes, in one night of hopeful rest.
And let us in those hours of sleep not plumb the darkness of the cynicism and doubt that have become a national affliction.
Let us sleep not with anger but in peace, secure in the hope that our hope shall endure and even prevail.
Yet let us wake tomorrow more vigilant than ever to ensure that the new day upon us shall not become the elusive phantom of a dream.
Let us commit ourselves – each of us individually and in concert — to whatever it will take in time, energy, and resources to demand that promises made along the way will be kept and that compromises struck will be weighed against the greater gravity of the challenges we face and, if judged inappropriate to the moment, be replaced by enterprises of greater courage.
Let us not forget that today’s triumph can become tomorrow’s loss if the battle won dulls our resolve to fight the larger war – a war not of bombs, machines, hubris, corruption, and shortsightedness (we’ve done all that) but rather one of souls, humanity, decency, justice, and, longevity.
Let us recognize that no single man – no matter how talented or well-intentioned — can possibly be a substitute for the much-needed chorus of a democracy.
Let us recognize that for that man to fulfill his promise to realize the kind of change we seek — in the care of our bodies, our minds, our children, our planet, our streets, our livelihoods, and our security — that we ourselves must be the agents of such change, whose unrelenting commitment to fundamental reform will be needed to give him the fortitude to battle the disfiguring forces of Washington.
Let us not forget
a government not of men but of laws,
a government of separated powers not arrogant ones,
a government of checks and balances honored not suspended, and finally,
a nation that is ever a work-in-progress, at her best when she recognizes and seeks to mend her frailties and at her worst when she denies them.
Let us not forget that, without accountability for the trespasses of recent years – the errors and wrongdoings that have cost tens of thousands of lives and shattered millions more — there is insufficient motivation for real and systemic change.
But of course, there will be time for all this.
For now, let us join with those around us in jubilation, with family, friend, and stranger alike, and commit ourselves that we shall all meet again — daily, weekly, in whatever ways our waking moments allow — to build the community, nation, and world we seek.
— Eugene Jarecki