Notes on Politics: Amen and Alleleuia

Posted by Michael Borshuk On 3:05 PM


After growing up a river's-width away from the USA and after living here for four years, I've long thought of myself as a kind of sometimes-envious step-son of this big nation. There are moments when I want in on the American party: when I hear jazz, when I watch baseball, when I read Walt Whitman or Ralph Ellison.

But almost as often during the past decade, I've also taken solace in my outsider status. I've shaken my head at the misguided policy and malicious politics that defined the past eight years and said, many times, with relief, "Well, I'm not really from here." I can observe, I would remind myself, but this is not a mess with which I have to deal intimately. This is not my family, and the dysfunction I see around me is not a force with which I have to contend.

Last night, though, I found myself wanting in again. Perhaps with more vigor than I've felt at any point in my life.

The wonder and admiration with which I read the Declaration of Independence; the chills I get when I hear Ray Charles sing "America the Beautiful;" these individual moments of wanting-to-belong rushed into something bigger, a wave of confirmation of all those qualities to which I've previously been attracted in America. The sudden embodiment of hope and expectation about what America was supposed to be.

And it's not the cult of personality, as right-wing pundits dismiss. It's not the cynical sheen of televised performance. No, those things didn't move me. What did was the conflation of ambition, hope, and democratic responsibility made real. That combination struck me.

So here's to the next four years. Not for the miracle cure that the simple-minded supporters may see Barack Obama as representing, but rather, for a return to the kind of rhetoric that's drawn me always to the best of American culture: the celebration of diversity, the re-emergence of personal civic responsibility, and an unblemished faith in the power of collectives working together, across potential division, toward an ever far-off but eternally shared set of human ideals.

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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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