Can we get back to normal now? Can we get down to addressing the myriad problems that plague us? Can our feet touch the ground and our minds grasp reality?
Being in Washington this past week has been like living in a dream world where everyone's excited, happy, rich, starry-eyed, star-studded, and fancy free. This is nothing like the real United States, where stocks have lost trillions of dollars in value, credit is ridiculously tight, unemployment is at record highs, houses are being ripped out from under defaulting owners, and jobs do not exist.
The deification of Barack Obama has elevated him above the aurora borealis, beyond the Milky Way, and to points unknown. Whatever goes up must come down, and when he does, the crash could be atomic.
I see two potential disasters emanating from this fantasy state. First, it could strain race relations to a point where they have not been for years. Second, overblown expectations for a completely untested president could crash and squander his immense public support much more quickly than might otherwise occur.
On the race front, I'm not sure whether to blame the media, the Democrats, African-Americans, or all Americans, but to many people, the constant allusions to President Obama fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream and some people's claim that he is "our man" serve to deepen racial divisions, not erase them, as Obama himself has sought to do. In the words of columnist and author Mitch Albom, on the meaning of Inauguration Day:
If you're happy because Obama is half-black, and now black issues will be moved to the forefront—then today is nothing to celebrate, because you are breaking things down by race, and once you do that, it doesn't matter which color you prefer, it's still myopic, and it's not unity.
I had a frank discussion about race and Obama's inauguration with a close African-American friend. She explained that because white people did not suffer through slavery, we could not possibly understand the way African-Americans feel about President Obama's historic win. She added that, for the first time in her life, she felt being African-American was an advantage rather than a disadvantage, and "that feels good."
I would never prejudge how it feels to be a member of any group to which I do not belong. But I do know if any other ethnic group (Hispanics, Latinos, Jews, Italians, Arabs, etc.) were celebrating in similar fashion, nonmembers would feel excluded and divided. What we all need to feel now is united.