Tracey Barnett: America's ideals will outlast a president with none

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Tracey Barnett. Photo / Natalie Slade
Tracey Barnett. Photo / Natalie Slade

Tracey Barnett

It was late. My family had all gone to bed hours ago. The house was dead quiet, welcome silence after a long day doing political commentary on television for the newly inaugurated 2008 President Barack Obama.

This was no time of innocence; this was an entire nation sucking in one big breath of expectation. You could still separate out satire from reality and never imagine the bile of a 140-character presidency to come.

George W. Bush didn't seem like a Disney princess in comparison then. Sarah Palin was the stupidest thing we had seen splutter across our political radar. Lipstick on a pig? Bring it, Sista.

We had Barack Hussein Obama, the diamond-grade cherry on top.

Suddenly "Hope" had breadth and depth and a silhouette that looked like old photos of a young black student confidently slouched over a reefer, smiling like he had a secret.

You could almost hear him talking with friends at Harvard, remaking the world with Niebuhr and Alinsky and no limits. And I believed.

I flicked on CNN. Reporters moved through the thousands waiting for hours in the bitter Washington winter cold, rugged up from their eyes on down. A reporter approached two middle-aged black women. They had come to see this moment with their own eyes, they said.

One woman opened her big coat to the camera. Pinned inside the lining were old and new photos of her family, the ones who couldn't be there to see this day.

They could have been great-grandparent sharecroppers, black and white flappers, full-colour university graduates. How many generations had offered their shoulders so this one man could stand taller?

I moved closer to the screen, almost touching it. History couldn't slap you any harder. The Land of Promise was fulfilling its dreams, one young stoned Chicago organiser at a time.

I sat back on my heels, looked around at the empty room and felt tears hit my chin. The unwieldy fault lines of my birth country can get dangerously ugly at times.

But in that moment, I realised America's relentless push for progress, the unapologetic ideals of its "Yes We Can" DNA were mine too. Hope wasn't just a promise; it was an entitled next step.

When the election results started to come in showing Donald J. Trump was to become the next president of the United States, my daughter was sitting with her classmates in a Co-op lounge at Harvard.

As the Midwest states began to fall for Trump, people began to cry. Not just single tears in an empty room, some sobbed.

As a political columnist, I comment on the news, I don't make it.

But tomorrow, a hemisphere away in Auckland, New Zealand, I will speak at the Women's March and say: "I am here for my daughter and my son. I am here for my mother and my grandmother. I am here because I cannot sit alone in a room seeing the Land of Promise betray a new generation that is owed the sweet trajectory of hope."

I was propelled to dream bigger from the inspiration of a black man whose reach outstretched what we once thought was impossible. My daughter will have to push past a president who publicly addresses the size of his genitals.

The time for mourning what could have been is done. The time for defending what you know is true has just begun.

Values are worth this fight. Because in my lifetime, I never realised I was potentially standing on quicksand.

Like a mantra that ripples out, I want New Zealanders, Germans, Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Cubans all to know - We, the People, in order to find a more perfect union will continue to strive for the Greater Good. We, the American People, value respect. We value diversity. We value inclusiveness. We value sanity and empathy and an educated, focused, thoughtful mind. We value the gorgeous, diverse voices and ideals of Harriet Tubman and John Coltrane, Leonard Bernstein and Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan.

Yes, our imperfections may be legion. But America's secret, the power that no one can measure, will be how our nation chooses to rise beyond what is ahead.

What I have to remember now is that idealism is still my birthright. Our silence is not just complicity; it is his fuel.

When my daughter came home for Christmas holidays I noticed a small pocket book on her bed. It was by that same, venerated community organiser from Chicago, Saul Alinsky. An activist torch passed to a new generation. I should have known she had already been anointed. Our job is to join her.

- NZ Herald

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