Obama’s second inauguration .. “faith in America’s future”

Jan 22nd, 2013 | By | Category: USA Today

President Obama swears oath of office, as the Boehners look on.

TORONTO, CANADA.  TUESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2013.  According to mastermind Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the official theme for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration yesterday was “faith in America’s future.” As elaborated on National Public Radio’s live blog: “Schumer says that ‘America always rises to the occasion. America prevails and America prospers,’ no matter the challenges.”

No doubt (at all), various observers inside and outside the USA today will in one degree or another disagree. Cf, eg, the quite different looks on the faces of President and Mrs. Obama and House Speaker and Mrs. John Boehner, as the President was sworn in.

Canadian Embassy in Washington. Viewed from Obama's side of the Capitol. By "mitch potter " via email 12:59 PM.

And note press headlines across even the USA’s good neighbour and best friend in the world, from west to east: “Thousands watch glitzy ceremony as Barack Obama takes public oath of office” (Vancouver Sun) ; “Obama takes public oath of office, sets out bold agenda for Term 2” (Winnipeg Free Press) ; “‘Our journey is not complete,’ says Obama in inauguration address” (Toronto Star) ; “Point chaud — La puissance minée des États-Unis …  Obama n’aura pas les moyens d’une politique étrangère ambitieuse …” (Le Devoir) ; and “Obama takes on hot-button issues in inaugural address” (Halifax Chronicle Herald).

“Faith in America’s future” did nonetheless seem to me the underlying crucial message of the second Obama inauguration. As Van Jones on CNN pointed out, this is an America where a “new patriotism” is in the air. And I would agree myself with those who have urged that “Obama embraces progressive agenda in second inaugural address” and “In second inaugural, Obama appeals to his progressive base.”

Jay-Z and Beyonce arrive at the ceremonial swearing-in for President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

In the very end, however, I also found myself thinking back to a Toronto Star column from more than two weeks ago, that was drawn to my attention again late last week at a local east-end public Institute — called “Walkom: End of American empire? Maybe not.”

In this column Thomas Walkom discusses a recent book, The Making of Global Capitalism by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, who both teach at York University in Toronto. Walkom points out that : “At a time when it has become conventional wisdom to speak of the end of American empire, this book is a useful antidote. Panitch and Gindin don’t figure that the US is finished. Far from it …  They point out, correctly, that America remains the epicentre of innovative capitalism, and a magnet for foreign investment. The US trade deficit, which to many economists is a sign of weakness, is to these authors a sign of America’s continuing strength, particularly as a safe haven for foreign capital fleeing uncertainty.”

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden — two politicians who actually seem to like each other. Imagine that!

As Walkom also points out, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin are very much “on the academic left,” and “no fans of American-led capitalism. But their book helps to explain its extraordinary resilience.”

History, as the quite conservative Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot advised many years ago, “has many cunning passages.” Watching Barack Obama’s impressive and progressive second inauguration on Monday, January 21, 2103  — on a quite beautiful winter day in Washington, DC, which apparently drew a crowd of “at least 1 million” people — I was struck by the thought that his new American patriotism has become the vessel through which the next great wave of American-led capitalism will be expressed politically. Of course, you can only really tell about such things after they have actually happened. But it just may be that those older elements of the US business community (to say nothing of the Republican Party) that still find this concept implausible, or much worse, are finally going to have to think again.

What does Obama’s new American patriotism mean for Canada????

President Barack Obama arrives for his ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Up here in the true north, strong and free, as we constantly and carefully observe all the vast world-historical (and lesser) events in our great friendly giant neighbour next door, we always end our thoughts by wondering : What does this mean for Canada?

Especially in earlier eras, there have always been those — on both sides of what George W. Bush re-christened “the unfortified border”several years ago — who have believed that every forward move in the United States brought the day when Canada (like the rest of the Western Hemisphere?) would finally join the more perfect American union that much closer. See, eg, yet another Toronto Star item, from just this past Thursday : “From the ‘State of Ontario’ — the next US president.”

President Barack Obama, center and Beau Biden, Attorney of Deleware, right, watch as his father Joe Biden is sworn in at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

To me this kind of argument has grown less and less convincing, virtually every year since the present Canadian confederation of 1867 began, in the wake of the American Civil War. Thus “From the ‘State of Ontario’ — the next US president” in this past Thursday’s Star is actually a resurrection of a “spectacularly entertaining archival gem from the official program of the 1901 US Presidential Inauguration.”

Nowadays, even with “Obamacare” we still have — for the vast majority of we ordinary citizens — a much more sensible health care system up here in Canada than our friendly giant neighbour next door. And even if President Obama actually does manage to move the markers ahead somewhat on the thorny issue of gun control in his second term, we the people in Canada are still and will no doubt remain a considerably less violent version of what our Constitution Act, 1982 calls the “free and democratic society” in North America.

Medicine wheel.

But what, you may well ask, about broader questions of crucial political symbolism and so forth? (Or something like that?) And here I think another recent Toronto Star column by Thomas Walkom offers the beginnings of another kind of answer — to which we almost certainly ought to be paying more attention over the next few decades (or even just the coming four years). This column also appeared this past Thursday, under the headline “Aboriginal day of protest a qualified success: Walkom.”

A frank recognition and even celebration of cultural diversity is of course one great key to the new patriotism in Barack Obama’s America. “Native Americans” do constitute a recognized strand in this diversity. And there were even some motley bows to this side of the story in yesterday’s inaugural parade. Yet the first peoples of the United States (“Indians” as the great western movies of Hollywood’s golden age still maintained) did not cut much of a swath in the broader rhetoric of the new American patriotism yesterday. And if we ever finally deal seriously and effectively with Walkom’s” Aboriginal day of protest a qualified success” in Canada, things will and ought to be rather different.

The Wye River at Georgian Bay — a key gateway to old Wendake (aka Huronia), the cradle of Ontario’s modern history.

It is a while since I have done such calculations in detail. But the last time I did, as I recall, there were only about twice as many of what we Canadians now officially call aboriginal peoples in the United States as there are in Canada — compared with almost 10 times as many people at large! Aboriginal peoples, that is to say, are some five times more important in Canada today, relatively speaking, than in the United States. And this says something real and important about our comparative pasts, presents, and futures.

As the great historian of the ancient Canadian multiracial fur trade, Harold Innis, tried to tell us as long ago as 1930 : “We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.” (And for more recent references to this, see, eg, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.) Similarly, the “aboriginal peoples of Canada” and their historic rights are actually mentioned explicitly in Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982 — in a way that has no exact parallel in the still no doubt quite noble Constitution of the United States of America.

Portrait of Bill Reid (1920-1998), acclaimed Haida master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer and spokesman — one of Canada's (and British Columbia’s) greatest artists. By Chris Hopkins.

Finally, there is, I think it is fair to say, nothing in current US constitutional jurisprudence quite like the case put forward in Brian Slattery’s provocative article of the mid 1990s, on”The Organic Constitution : Aboriginal Peoples and the Evolution of Canada.” The recent burst of Canadian aboriginal protest in the Idle No More movement just underlines the vast human difficulties of dealing with such extremely thorny human political (and economic and cultural!) issues. But we Canadians of all varieties could do a lot for the future of Canada, if we actually did try to engage more seriously with these particular roots of 21 st century Canadian diversity over the next four years — during the second term of the Obama administration next door.

As a very last gesture on the broadest issue here, I do think as well that one of the most impressive parts of the second Barack Obama inauguration yesterday was the way in which it revived the ancient and definitively potent traditional theme of Democracy in America, as perhaps the most crucial element of the new American patriotism (“We the people,” as the President urged so compellingly, several high rhetorical times, and not in the strictly satirical way that SCTV used to do up here, and rightly enough in that context too). We in Canada ought to be looking to our own 21st century variations on this theme as well, if we want to grow and prosper in the new North American future. And I only point to the recent piece on this site, “How two early January 2013 events show that the British monarchy in Canada is living on borrowed time ..”, as one small step in yet another right new direction — for the long-term future of the true north, strong and free, in the new age of Barack Obama’s new American patriotism! (And remember : his sister got married in Canada, at a wedding at which he was present himself!)

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