Lately I have frequently been watching, and listening to, the rendition of America’s first national anthem by Kelly Clarkson at Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Somehow it gives me the certainty that in November 2016 the American people won’t hand the White House over to a real estate developer turned media clown, who at will can change into a xenophobe, a racist, a misogynist or a mini-Hitler, depending on the responses of his audiences, or to an acidic legal scholar operating on the far right side of the Constitution, whose only ambition is to starve the government, or to the son of Cuban immigrants, who betrayed his own kind in one of the most monumental flip-flops of all-time, or to a bully from New Jersey, who hasn’t seen his state in months but is probably already scouting the DC area for bridges he can close to retaliate against Democrats, or to the scion of a political dynasty, who has become so desperate that he now has his brother, the former president who was asleep when the 9/11 warnings came in, then sent US troops oversees for an insane adventure and had the economy collapse on his watch, campaigning for him.
The lyrics of the song are not always encouraging. ‘Sweet land of liberty’ is promising, but then comes the line ‘Land where my fathers died,’ suggesting that if your father didn’t die in the US you don’t belong here, which would make both Obama and me unwanted aliens. The following line, ‘Land of the Pilgrim’s pride,’ is even more concerning. Although the Pilgrims, as religious separatists, were not exactly like the Puritans, who still recognized the authority of the Church of England, they often had even more extreme views than the latter, who were infamous for their intolerance against other Christians, let alone Jews or Muslims. If Donald Trump was not of German descent, and his family’s name had not originally been Drumpf, his anti-Muslim tirades would fit very well in this tradition. It makes the line ‘Let freedom ring’ sound hollow, because the Pilgrims only wanted freedom for themselves but for nobody else. But what makes the song so impressive is the way it is sung, the arrangement, the fantastic band and its director, and most of all Obama’s priceless, if hardly noticeable, facial expressions as Clarkson performs.
The commentator announces Kelly Clarkson as ‘the winner of American Idol,’ and immediately after she’s finished all he can say is ‘Kelly Clarkson, a terrific voice.’ She goes from soft to all out in the three verses she sings, and every time her cue is the director who raises his head and opens his mouth wide when a verse starts. During the first verse Obama looks pensive, during the second amazed, and during the third excited, as if he’s thinking: “Shit, how fantastic is this?”
At the time of his second inauguration Obama already had the major achievements of his presidency behind him. He had pulled the economy out of the ravine where George W. Bush had left it and he had passed the Affordable Care Act, and his being fully accepted as the US President was perfectly mirrored by the shown acceptance of Clarkson by black women in the crowd.
Call me a dreamer, but I cannot imagine that a country where such wonderful events have been possible so recently is about to regress into the grip of reactionary Republican rule that sends women back to the needle, the uninsured needy to the ER, and the poor to charity.