Shifting Baselines

I believe in Obama. So I wanted to be part of his story. Our story.

So last Saturday, I flew from London to Washington, D.C. to spend four days celebrating and witnessing the inauguration of our 44th President.

I made my way down to the Sunday concert featuring actors and musicians. The music part was great with opening performances from The Boss and Mary J. Blige. They did what they do best: sing.

But when Steve Carell stood up and gave a short political speech with no intentions of making me laugh I became suspicious. And by the time Tom Hanks opined on Abraham Lincoln’s contributions to politics as the camera held a soft-touched image of him staring out toward the Washington Monument, I was annoyed. Allen Ginsberg whined in my ear, America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set. America is this correct? Is it true our nation is so struck by stars?

Singers should sing. Actors should act–and not as if they know something about politics. As my friend put it, “That was the worst movie Tom Hanks ever made.”

So I walked off the Mall and went to the National Portrait Gallery where there was a Lincoln special exhibit, which was infinitely more inspiring than anything Tom Hanks had to say about him. I quickly regained my enthusiasm, even for celebrities, several of whom made appearances the following night during Ariana Huffington’s superb party at the Newseum. Sting gave an excellent performance.

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All of this was preparation for Tuesday–when the nation’s collective efforts would fully materialize. Bright and early, I rode the metro to the Mall with thousands of others like a jellybean in a jar.

Despite the masses, the immobility, the squeeze, the cheer was implacable. I couldn’t even get worked up over the number of fur coats I saw (an uptight woman began bellyaching about my [nearly empty] coffee cup’s illicit appearance on the metro but my good spirits would not desist).

And then it was time to face the above ground mob. I could not have imagined what two million people would feel like. This was an exploration of the limits of mental stability and I kept repeating one of Martin Luther King’s most moving lines to keep calm: This will be a great America. We will be the participants in making it so.

I participated. I relinquished all sense of being an individual to become just one in a two million strong swarm of pride and support–and very good behavior. The mood was more cooperative and patient than I have ever felt before in America. As I stood mid-Mall and watched Obama take his oath and give his inaugural address (in which he used the words “data” and “statistics”!), tears traveled down many faces.

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I made my way home amidst the organized chaos, thinking to myself that the District of Columbia had done a spectacular job and, moreover, marveling at the sight of so many Americans so well behaved. Which is perhaps why I thought the event almost seemed somehow un-American.

In some ways, it was what I imagine it is like being Dutch.

Despite that very slight crisis of identity, I went to bed Tuesday night as everyone who was on the Mall must have: tired and happy.

On Wednesday afternoon, still in awe (and a little uncertain) of the cooperative America I had seen the previous day, I hailed a cab to Dulles airport. The driver was keen to discuss the inaugural fervor. He did not see the inauguration because he had to work selling cars. He said he didn’t mind who won the election as long as it was a Democrat. “The Republicans drove this economy into the ground,” he said. “Somebody should go to prison. I don’t know who–but somebody.” He was glad because he had sold a 1996 Nissan Altima despite the event.

The he turned and caught a glimpse at a display in one of the many shops that line the streets of Georgetown and said, “Hey, that’s a nice jacket. It’s made for a faggot. But, still. It’s a nice jacket.”

Phew. A sign. America was still America.

Tuesday night, I would have said the inauguration could best be summarized by mating Dick Cheney’s appearance in a wheelchair with Yo-Yo Ma’s blithe cello performance.

But, looking back on it, I choose instead a moment in the Metro station. The station manager was keeping order by shouting–happily–over the intercom: Keep-It-Mov-Ing. Keep-It-Mov-Ing. As we shuffled courteously off the platform and globbed up the escalator toward daylight, we shouted the phrase back to her in unison. Keep-It-Mov-Ing. Keep-It-Mov-Ing. There was joy. Triumph. Hope. And a single voice. Of a people. For a nation.

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All photos courtesy of Jason Ensler and his very beloved iPhone.

Comments

  1. #1 David
    January 27, 2009

    Would have loved to be there. Sounded amazing.

    After a simlilar feeling when listening to a recent introduction to a science talk I can’t help but wonder:

    Singers should sing, Actors should actor, Should scientists stick to science?

  2. #2 Ajans
    January 30, 2009

    America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956. I can’t stand my own mind. America when will we end the human war?
    Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb. I don’t feel good don’t bother me. I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind. America when will you be angelic? When will you take off your clothes? When will you look at yourself through the grave? When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites? America why are your libraries full of tears?
    America when will you send your eggs to India?
    I’m sick of your insane demands.
    When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

  3. #3 Berry
    January 30, 2009

    um … Ajans … did your Paxil prescription run out?

  4. #4 Jennifer L. Jacquet
    February 1, 2009

    Hi David,
    Interesting point. However, I have no problem with celebrity involvement in anything as long as their interest and motive is genuine (Angelina Jolie’s genuine involvement with humanitarian efforts and Will.I.Am’s involvement in the Obama campaign come to mind). But Tom Hanks being told to read a speech about Abe Lincoln or Naomi Campbell hired to be anti-fur (by PETA) only to turn around and wear it on the catwalk again when the campaign has passed..I don’t dig it.

    Also, Ajans is not out of Paxil but IS quoting Ginsberg’s America–a poem well worth reading:

    http://www.carcosa.net/donathl/engl102/America.pdf

  5. #5 sohbet siteleri
    February 1, 2009

    hello David, Interesting point. However, I have no problem with celebrity involvement in anything as long as their interest and motive is genuine (Angelina Jolie’s genuine involvement with humanitarian efforts and Will.I.Am’s involvement in the Obama campaign come to mind). But Tom Hanks being told to read a speech about Abe Lincoln or Naomi Campbell hired to be anti-fur (by PETA) only to turn around and wear it on the catwalk again when the campaign has passed..I don’t dig it.

    Also, Ajans is not out of Paxil but IS quoting Ginsberg’s America–a poem well worth reading:

  6. #6 Jerry Moxley
    March 4, 2009

    Hey Jennifer,
    I’m a regular follower of this blog, being a young biologist who agrees with many of yours, Daniel Pauly’s, and Josh’s ideas on the blog.

    Anyways, in reading htis post, I was amazed at the similarity of experience (especially regarding the “Keep it moving” call and response). I assumed to myself the loudspeaker must have been doing it all day.. until I saw your final photo where it appears I was actually 3 people behind you. I”m the dumbfounded face directly above the video camera in the foreground.

    Good to meet you. Wish we could have talked more about the interaction between our two work (I also do some projects with small scale fisheries, but more basically management reform and conservation type work).
    cheers

  7. #7 Jennifer L. Jacquet
    March 10, 2009

    Jerry,
    What a small world! That’s incredible. Hopefully our paths will cross again (and more explicitly) one day…
    Best wishes.

  8. #8 Inez Vasquez
    March 28, 2009

    Singers should sing. Actors should act–and unqualified corrupt community organizers should stay in Chicago. Still believe in Obama?

  9. #9 www.kerizimcet.com
    June 9, 2009

    Singers should sing. Actors should act–and unqualified corrupt community organizers should stay in Chicago. Still believe in Obama?

  10. #10 hikayeler
    June 16, 2009

    Hey Jennifer, I’m a regular follower of this blog, being a young biologist who agrees with many of yours, Daniel Pauly’s, and Josh’s ideas on the blog.

  11. #11 neon
    June 20, 2009

    Everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. was truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing.
    SELAM…

  12. #12 Bayram Turları
    June 24, 2009

    American leaders like Obama came out of the above legend photograph

  13. #13 netlog
    July 1, 2009

    Jerry, What a small world! That’s incredible. Hopefully our paths will cross again (and more explicitly) one day… Best wish tes

  14. #14 bayram turları
    August 10, 2009

    for this beautiful blog thank the manager and founder of blog, but I’ll ask you something do follow this blog is legal

  15. #15 aşk şiirleri
    September 4, 2009

    Singers should sing. Actors should act–and unqualified corrupt community organizers should stay in Chicago. Still believe in Obama?

  16. #16 web hosting
    September 11, 2009

    14
    for this beautiful blog thank the manager and founder of blog, but I’ll ask you something do follow this blog is legal

  17. #17 dekorasyon
    September 12, 2009

    Anyways, in reading htis post, I was amazed at the similarity of experience (especially regarding the “Keep it moving” call and response). I assumed to myself the loudspeaker must have been doing it all day.. until I saw your final photo where it appears I was actually 3 people behind you. I”m the dumbfounded face directly above the video camera in the ground.

  18. #18 kurban bayramı turları
    October 14, 2009

    Personally, I find fasting enjoyable. Shorter fasts help me reduce calories and I believe my mental performance increases slightly. Longer fasts I use primarily as a means to cleanse myself, but I wouldn’t do a long fast if I have to work. I also think that fasting has improved my discipline in eating healthy

  19. #19 haber 16
    October 18, 2009

    Thank you

  20. #20 indir
    March 11, 2010

    I participated. I relinquished all sense of being an individual to become just one in a two million strong swarm of pride and support–and very good behavior. The mood was more cooperative and patient than I have ever felt before in America. As I stood mid-Mall and watched Obama take his oath and give his inaugural address (in which he used the words “data” and “statistics”!), tears traveled down many faces.

  21. #21 Hosting
    April 2, 2010

    I assumed to myself the loudspeaker must have been doing it all day.. until I saw your final photo where it appears I was actually 3 people behind you.nice web hosting

  22. #22 msn
    April 22, 2010

    Jerry, What a small world! That’s incredible. Hopefully our paths will cross again (and more explicitly) one day… Best wish tes

  23. #23 elektrikçi
    May 24, 2010

    Good to meet you. Wish we could have talked more about the interaction between our two work (I also do some projects with small scale fisheries, but more basically management reform and conservation type work). cheers

  24. #24 Çet
    May 31, 2010

    hello David, Interesting point. However, I have no problem with celebrity involvement in anything as long as their interest and motive is genuine (Angelina Jolie’s genuine involvement with humanitarian efforts and Will.I.Am’s involvement in the Obama campaign come to mind). But Tom Hanks being told to read a speech about Abe Lincoln or Naomi Campbell hired to be anti-fur (by PETA) only to turn around and wear it on the catwalk again when the campaign has passed..I don’t dig it.

  25. #25 film izle
    August 10, 2010

    All of this was preparation for Tuesday–when the nation’s collective efforts would fully materialize. Bright and early, I rode the metro to the Mall with thousands of others like a jellybean in a jar.

  26. #26 güzel sözler
    November 2, 2010

    hello David, Interesting point. However, I have no problem with celebrity involvement in anything as long as their interest and motive is genuine (Angelina Jolie’s genuine involvement with humanitarian efforts and Will.I.Am’s involvement in the Obama campaign come to mind). But Tom Hanks being told to read a speech about Abe Lincoln or Naomi Campbell hired to be anti-fur (by PETA) only to turn around and wear it on the catwalk again when the campaign has passed..I don’t dig it.

  27. #27 edebiyat
    November 2, 2010

    Anyways, in reading htis post, I was amazed at the similarity of experience (especially regarding the “Keep it moving” call and response). I assumed to myself the loudspeaker must have been doing it all day.. until I saw your final photo where it appears I was actually 3 people behind you. I”m the dumbfounded face directly above the video camera in the ground.

  28. #28 fesbuk giriş
    December 19, 2010

    hello David, Interesting point. However, I have no problem with celebrity involvement in anything as long as their interest and motive is genuine (Angelina Jolie’s genuine involvement with humanitarian efforts and Will.I.Am’s involvement in the Obama campaign come to mind). But Tom Hanks being told to read a speech about Abe Lincoln or Naomi Campbell hired to be anti-fur (by PETA) only to turn around and wear it on the catwalk again when the campaign has passed..I don’t dig it.oy karagözlüm

  29. #29 Kurabiye Tarif
    February 8, 2011

    vay obama imparatorlugu abd neler oluyormuşta haberimiz yokmuş valla ne desem bilyiormu artık dünyüda ne dömenler dönüyüor ne haltyard karıytırılor bilemiyorum artık nediyem kurabiy tarifi bari kurabiye yapım yiyem abd selam american rüyası yalanmış

  30. #30 İsmek Kursu
    February 9, 2011

    Jennifer Jacquet good american rüyasını güzel anlatmışsın amerika bu kafayla giderse zaten batıp gidecek obama kurtaramayacak gibi gözüküyor tabi peşinden hangi ülkeride batırack yaşayıp göreceğiz thnak ismek kursu

  31. #31 Yesilcamdan
    February 9, 2011

    evet artık Is Obama aware of what’s going on there wow Empire states dünyüda Well now what you say bilyiormu haltyard karıytırılor I do not know anymore what Domene dönüyüor nediyem cookies recipe cookie making at least Hi-eating American dream of the united states lie yeşilçamdan

  32. #32 BilgiSpot
    February 11, 2011

    harbiden bu Obama az deil. Boşverin amerikayı benim siteme girin en iyisi. Teşekkürler…

  33. #33 müzik dinle
    April 4, 2011

    çok süper bi paylaşım yaa :)

  34. #34 dr mustafa eraslan
    April 15, 2011

    I also think that fasting has improved my discipline in eating healthy

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