Monday, January 19, 2009

The Transition - One big miracle, many small miracles

At a time like this, when there is the peaceful transition of power between two opposing political parties in American democracy, it's almost cliched to note what a powerful comment is on the stability of that democracy. It is unfortunately still rare in this world.

But inside the larger picture, there are lots of minor miracles. There are thousands of people involved in this process, from the Presidents themselves to the Secretaries, to the Secret Service agents, to the interns. And every single one of them does what they have to do. All of the Republicans (well, almost all, Bob Gates is still there) pack up their files and clean out their desks and unplug their computers. Then the Democrats set up their files, sit down at their desks, and plug in their Blackberries and laptops. Some of these transitions take place over days, weeks, months. Some of them are scheduled within seconds, like the Secret Service agent who will, at 12:01, move to stand behind Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. There will be snafus and mistakes, but we won't hear about many of them, if any.

Obama's people will start changing what Bush's people did. They will begin rewriting regulations, moving personnel, changing policies. The Bush people know this. They aren't happy about it, but they accept it. Within my grandfather's grandfather's lifetime, this transition precipitated a great deal of bloodshed.

The Civil War took place four score and seven years after the founding of this country. We are 144 years past 1865. Well more than half the lifetime of this country is now between us and the era of Lincoln, but it is close enough that Barack Obama is consciously echoing Lincoln's Inaugural, including his journey by train, even using his Bible for his swearing in.

There have been disputatious transitions since then, most recently in 2000. There have been instantaneous transitions forced by tragedy in the form of death or resignation (Johnson, Ford).

But we have survived every transition. We think nothing of the fact that Barack Obama and his appointees will now have the ability to possibly prosecute members of the Bush administration. Well, I shouldn't say that we think nothing of it - we are thinking a great deal about it. Whether or not those who might have committed war crimes will have to pay for them hangs heavy on many hearts. But if the Obama administration does bring criminal charges against members of the previous administration, we can be confident that the union will survive. There will be no question of that.

A long time ago I realized that one of the great virtues of American democracy is that it is designed to withstand the maximum damage that can be inflicted on it. Many people have tried to destroy this country, either purposefully, from without or from within, or inadvertantly, by virtue of their malfeasance while in office. None have been successful, because there will always be a far greater number of people, both within and outside this country, who have invested their souls in its success. As much as we complain about the current government's policies, as imperfect as our system is, we all benefit far more from it in extraordinary ways, and for that reason, we all have extraordinary reasons to believe in the system of American democracy.

There have been many small miracles over the last couple of months, and there was one big one on November 4th. Tomorrow we will all witness the greatest miracle of all.

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