This report comes to you live from an American on the other side of the world.
I had been nervous about the election for a long time because, despite the polling and Nate Silver and the general incompetence of the Romney campaign, I was afraid that Obama would lose. I really was. I had superstitious reasons for feeling this way. You see, I wasn’t born on the fourth of July, I’m not a yankee doodle dandy, but I was born on the sixth of November, and that means that every once in awhile election day falls on my birthday. The last time it happened was in the year 2000, on the day America somehow found itself with George W. Bush as president. In a solipsistic way a part of me really believed that I was to blame for this disaster, and that the heavily grinding gears of time, the beating wings of thousands of butterflies, had sufficiently fanned the winds of fate to doom America to eight years of catastrophe. Like a bellows to a roaring furnace. And now it would happen again. My birthday would push each wing and gear a little harder in the wrong direction, just barely tipping the balance…
But it didn’t happen this time. The electoral college destroyed Gore in 2000 and crushed Romney in 2012. My birthday had nothing to do with it.
I don’t usually write about politics on this blog because I feel that there are many other commentators online who do a far better job than I ever could in criticizing the American government. I spend probably in excess of two hours a day reading this stuff. Yesterday when Obama won I was in front of my computer screen for at least seven hours, scarcely able to believe it, waiting for someone to say, wait, there’s going to be a recount in multiple states, hang on, it’s not definite yet. I actually missed the moment when Turd Blossom himself accused Fox News of calling it too soon.
Here in Korea, as the world went on clattering by outside my apartment windows, I watched Fox News online and drew some solace from the complete lack of excitement on the faces of the usual shit-eating commentators who populate that bizarre netherverse. There were no smiles. Just frowns for the ghouls who had voted for the wrong guy. The bags deepening under their eyes, the sweat gleaming on their faces, as they tried to shout down the one or two Democratic representatives on the show—who themselves were squinting and grinning as though on the receiving end of a very decent erotic massage. The elven women leaden with sparkling makeup, the meaty besuited men in possession of such staggeringly repugnant intellects, bodies, and souls—all had been defeated and banished back into the shadow from which they had somehow been conjured by the dark forces of Rupert Murdoch.
Gandalf slammed his staff down into that cracking stone.
The sun flew to the far horizon, the shadows flew around the other way, and I had to walk out to pick up my son. A little cloud was casting a long black shade in the pink sky. It smelled like a farmer out in the country was burning garbage. Elementary school students were piling out of a minivan and into a taekwondo academy, and uniformed high school students were rushing off to their hagwons for one last bout of epic studying—because the following day, they would all take the soo-nung, or the Korean SAT, a test which determines whether society here will approve of their existences. I was still worried that something would come up, but I was also mostly relieved. I couldn’t really go out to celebrate: it was late afternoon, and if I had run outside to start screaming and jumping wildly—as I had with hundreds of other college students the first time Obama won—people would have thought I was crazy. There was no moment of catharsis. One of my leftwing friends who doesn’t approve of Obama texted me that in Seattle the whole city was going wild. We wanted to trade places.
Because Obama has won, there is a greater chance, now, that my family will return to America. It is a country that has chosen a good leader; a country that is making slow progress, and a country that I want to be a part of. I like living in exotic lands and exploring the world, I wish I could work every job and experience the life of every person, but I also miss living in America, and I hate that I have such a limited way of involving myself in its politics. I’ve shunted myself off to the side. At the same time the only way I could see myself happy with a desk job is if that job was involved with politics somehow. I may just head back to Maine or some other state, settle in, and run for office. Obama has helped to inspire me to do so, as I’m sure he has for hundreds or even thousands of others.
Several of my cynical friends fault the president for his continuing support of the Patriot Act, the drone war, Guantanamo Bay, and the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. These are all reprehensible actions, and I have some hope that at least the first three will come to an end in this term—though a writer from the New Yorker, I think, wrote that drones are only going to become more and not less common as the years tick on, and when it comes to the Patriot Act I think the opportunities modern technology presents for surveillance are too tempting for the government to resist, especially when they are the ones people blame for security lapses. Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither, I know, I know, but a decade ago a bunch of airplanes crashed into some pretty big buildings, killing thousands of people, something needed to be done to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, and now if you take that something away, you look weak. As I argued with one of my friends, there are also precedents for the limiting of personal liberties in American history in the form of the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Espionage Act, the latter of which is being used today to prosecute Bradley Manning. Nonetheless I feel the president has nothing to lose, at this point, from allowing the Patriot Act to expire. Still. Even FDR ordered hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans into internment camps. Washington owned slaves. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus around D.C. No president is perfect. In fact, all of them seem to do some fairly horrific things during their time in office. Good is mixed in with evil. But I think this president has far more of the former quality than the latter. We have emerged as a country and as a people from the very worst presidency to one of the very best.