The first presidential election I was legally eligible to vote in was Bush II v. Gore, in 2000. It would be a gross understatement to say that the resulting mess (hanging chads and suspect recounts and corporate voting machines, oh my!) upset me. What it actually did was obliterate my faith in our system of "democracy." For eight years I believed that our country's fate was irredeemably out of our hands.
And then Obama was elected, and that was great. We drank champagne and cheered and maybe cried a little. I can't remember for sure.
But I remained trepidatious for a few more months. My cynicism was so great by that time that I feared Bush II would refuse to step down. People told me this was ludicrous, and I'm quite glad that they were right. That moment, on Inauguration Day, when the outgoing President calmly stepped onto a helicopter and out of our lives, as the crowd below chanted na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, GOODBYE!--that was the moment that a strange feeling tugged at my heart, literally raising the hairs on my arms.
|Don't let the rotors hit you on the way out!|
The feeling had lain dormant in me for so long that I'd forgotten what it was. It took me a moment to recognize it as . . . patriotism. Pride in my country.
I felt another taste of that last night. Not because of any particular person or thing that was voted for or against, although I think a lot of good choices were made yesterday. What made me shiver was watching Romney up there on his stage, conceding that it was over and oh-so-sincerely wishing the President well. I don't care what he was really thinking behind that smirk. What makes me teary with pride is the peaceful exchange (or in this case non-exchange) of power.
I love that it was ridiculous of me to fear a coup four years ago. In many parts of the world, peaceful transitions are not a given.
Change is built into our system. That's very scary sometimes, and I'll admit I was a bit nervous about this election. There's a lot that's ugly about the process. But it has the potential for great beauty, and some of the choices we made last night--narrowly, squeaking by--show just how willing to evolve this country is. For a big, fractious, diverse nation, we're doing okay.
Or so it seems today, anyway.