19 January 2009

The One

The streets of DC are grey and eerie, the only colour that breaks the concrete monotony is the royal Obama Blue radiating out from an endless succesion of posters, badges, buttons, shirts and banners. The city alternates between starkly deserted and overwhelmed by the mass of humanity, with no middle ground. I am informed that DC at the weekend is normally a ghost town, but the added presence of Military Police and desert camo-painted Hummers on every intersection add to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere that the crowds of thousands shuffling down the centre of a normally busy street brings. It is coronation choreographed by Roland Emmerich.

We went into the pre-inauguration concert yesterday, held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. the crowd stretched down the full length of both sides of the Reflecting Pool, with a massive overflow area centred around the Washington Monument. Despite the throng of hundreds of thousands there was an incredible party atmosphere, but oddly sober and well-mannered. The concert saw a diverse group of musicians, singers, actors come together in what was labeled as a 'renewal' by Obama, whose short speech was greeted with reverential silence. While there was no mention of the current administration, or the events of the last eight years, Presidents from Lincoln to Kennedy, Eisenhower to both Roosevelts were invoked, like the names of saints called upon to intercede on behalf of the living.

The ceremony and mythology on display was both enrapturing and disturbing. Growing up in Ireland I am unaccustomed to public displays of national pride, for any such demonstration (save at an international sporting event) at home is intrinsically linked with Republicanism and extremest views, in a similar way to the tainting of English nationalism by football hooligans and the far right. In both nations the middle class feels distinctly uncomfortable with public displays of national pride and patriotism.

Not so in America, where national pride is (literally) worn on the sleeve, and national hymns are sung loud and boldly without a trace of cynicism in the eyes of the thousands-strong chorus. The theme of the inauguration is one of 'National Renewal', with the government seeking to rebuild the public's confidence in it as an institution 'of the people, by the people, for the people', and although he is never once referred to, the spectre of George W Bush hangs in the air over every word and every choreographed act of this grand coronation.

This week is in every aspect a grand exorcism, a ritual cleansing where the people and the government come together to atone for the sins of the last eight years, grant each other absolution, and renew a sacred contract with each other. What we are witnessing is the dedication of the Second Temple or the forging of the Davidic Covenant between God and man. A new society is being built and we are writing its Book of Law.

But between the slogans, the flags, the banners, the ubiquitous Shepard Fairey poster in every window and on every t-shirt, the legion of volunteers organising neighbourhood councils, and the unwavering faith and loyalty in the eyes of the masses who have travelled from every corner of the land to be here, we are also witnessing the birth of a cult of personality the like of which the US has never known.

And for this one brief moment in time it is impossible not to be swept along with it.

Links
Photos of the 'We Are One' concert

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2 Comments:

At 1:45 pm, Blogger 2BiT said...

You'll like this I'm sure:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/01/20/us/politics/20090120-inauguration-panos.html

 
At 4:52 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

how do you actually manage to keep blogging from a different continent. amazing.
well, i was looking out for ye the whole time on the telly, but never spotted you! hope you gave an extra cheer for me thought! hurray!
x
c

 

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