What a beautiful and galvanizing celebration of the most idealistic aspect of our nation’s character, the peaceful appointment to power, either for the first time, or, as today, for another four years. For all the acrimony and rabble-rousing of politicos and their viewers, we all nevertheless accept, on both sides, that we are one nation and that we all accept our chosen leader (whether—as individuals—we chose him or not).
The musicians, James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, and Beyoncé, all made our hearts swell and our eyes tear up. The poet laureate’s Inaugural Poem was layered with iconic imagery of small points and grand visions, candid moments and desperate struggles—a beautifully, evocative work that could not have been more apt to the occasion. Even the meteorology cooperated, with a brisk breeze that furled our Stars and Bars to picture-perfection!
The first daughters, fortunate in being so close, obviously comfortable with their side-roles—where single children, or crowds of sibs in large families, have no such intimate and mutually supportive partners for this, the most public of childhoods. The absence of many Republicans was politely overlooked by the celebratory crowd—and I, too, was very forgiving and sympathetic towards the GOP—their recent repudiation by the majority of Americans has left them stunned and confused.
But most of all I enjoyed the shots of the Clintons, arm in arm, especially Hillary. Her grin was ear-to-ear and one could easily imagine her lightness of spirit as she attended what for her was, in some degree, the last day of school. She had gone from NY Senator to Democratic Candidate for President to Secretary of State. And as Secretary of State, she had spent the last four years circling the globe, arbitrating world crises both major and minor, and bringing herself to exhausted collapse right up to the last days of her appointment. Nor has her work gone unnoticed—her efforts have been roundly applauded by all but the most dyed-in-the-wool Neo-Cons. Most important of all, she helped President Obama to ‘grow down’ our existing wars, without getting us into another one out of sheer jingoist bombast.
She almost died doing the work of ten men (and I use the term ‘men’ advisedly) and spent a week in hospital in her last appointed month of service. That joyous glow showing in her face as the 2nd Inaugural Public Ceremony rolled along was, I assume, the face of someone who was about to have a real ‘day off’ for the first time in a decade. For someone of Hillary Clinton’s character, we should not be surprised if she becomes restless after just a few days or weeks of this pause in the juggernaut of her career. But, as I heard Rachel Maddow say so well while commentating on today’s ceremony, even if the stress of her ceaseless toil makes it impossible for her to do anything else in future public service (much less run in 2016) she has already left her indelible mark on American history, as first lady, senator, and secretary of state.
I have had some personal experience with what we usually call ‘burn-out’, whether from business, government service, politics, or life itself, and I would not lay any criticism upon Ms. Clinton if she did allow herself to say ‘enough’. In our present society, there isn’t nearly enough attention paid to the idea of diminishing returns in life. We live our lives ferociously, obsessively, often too narrowly—the benediction to ‘stop and smell the roses’ has become as much of a joke as ‘trust me’ or ‘why can’t we all get along’. But as we ceaselessly compete against our relations, our neighbors, our co-workers, and the rest of the world—as we dig deeper and deeper for those goals that any self-respecting person could set themselves—we give up the most important part of our founding Declaration, the ‘pursuit of happiness’.
If our goals in life require unending struggle and toil, absence from our loved ones, and even acceptance of the ‘every one for themselves’ ethics (or, I should say, lack of ethics) of our business world—what, then, is the purpose of our lives? Shouldn’t our lives be balanced between hard work and rest, sadness and joy? The United States of America has led the world from far ahead of most other countries for a very long time and there is one reason—we sincerely believe in the dignity of every person. That freedom and equality have shaped our country and given the world a good example. And I think it is time we embraced the cardinal issue of our times—quality of life.
In recent times we have seen the richest people in the world get richer off the defrauding of everyone else—and then get ‘bailed out’ corporately while the selfish business leaders hand out golden parachutes to each other. Having destroyed our economy with their eyes wide open, they then take advantage of the high unemployment to enforce a renewed despotism over those ‘lucky’ enough to have a job.
The working man, once the bedrock of our middle class, has been reduced to a new birth of slavery wherein the corporation takes all one can give, and tries mightily to reduce compensation to its lowest possible limit. That’s not even taking into account the millions of ‘part-timers’, who are part-timers only in the sense that they are denied the legal rights of an ‘employee’!
Our children are never seen playing in their yards—their homework and extra-curricular activities have taken up every moment of what used to be called ‘after school’—a period of life that I remember fondly, full of chatter and games and just hanging out.
Corporate culture has seeped into every aspect of our lives—and corporations are given more rights by denying what we formerly thought of as our rights, back in the legendary times of consumer protection, OSHA, and financial regulation. The twenty-four-hour news and media place our minds firmly in the morass of global crises we can do little to change, and distracts us from the less sensational, but more meaningful, issue of what’s going on in our own state, county, or neighborhood.
We end up imagining ourselves in direct competition with hordes of cheap labor in newly developing countries like China or India—but it is our corporations that have created these sweatshops, then used their existence in a bald-faced attempt to force our own workers to bow to this neo-slavery. It isn’t as obvious a controversy as Civil Rights or Education, but it is nevertheless one we are required to address if we want our lives to have meaning to ourselves and not just to the accountants in corporate headquarters.
So I have spent these past years on disability, a disability due as much to the stress of the business environment and the ossification of a super-wealthy-upper-class into an irresistible power, as it was to nerve damage and brain entropy. How can it be that many of today’s businesspersons suffer from symptoms similar to some returning war veterans, a PTSD born not of battle, but of greed and carelessness? Why do we feel tempted to use the phone while we drive, if not from a deep insecurity with the seconds that fly by without being used to compete, to earn a living, to get an education? We are voluntarily torturing ourselves!
I wish people would just start acting like they did in the seventies—back then, ‘all work and no play’ was considered a recipe for ill health, both physical and mental. I wish people would start taking 35 minutes for lunch, instead of the obligatory 30. I wish people would drive more slowly each morning—honestly, why are we in such a rush to get to our slave-cubicles? So what if there are millions out of work? There is still an inconvenience, and added cost, when firing employees—and any manager knows darn well that a good person for a specific job isn’t easy to find. Workers of the World, throw off your self-imposed chains…
Thus I say if Hilary Clinton has done her all (and I think that’s beyond argument) we should respect the toll such sacrifice takes—not badger her about running for President. Even if she does stand for the office in four years, the job will be plenty stressful as is, without Ms. Clinton being hounded about it starting today.
Getting back to the inauguration, I love the magic of a second term—Obama’s speech was an affirmation of all the issues that we’ve tip-toed around during the overextended campaigning—he will fight for LGBT rights, he will fight for equal pay for women, and he will continue to lead America without feeling obligated to deploy troops at the drop of a cowboy hat—and, more importantly, to fight for the benefits and gratitude our nation owes to all its defenders-at-arms.
Well, a TV show like that is bound to make the rest of the day anti-climactic—but I’m still feeling the heat of so much togetherness and patriotism in my chest.
Hooray for us!