This morning, I turned on the tv and was immediately thrilled by the little numbers in the corner of the screen - I think at that stage, Obama had 338 and McCain 120 votes in the electoral college, and Dimbleby had a surreal interview with Gore Vidal, who declared "I don't know who you are". Then at 6am Brussels time, Obama took the stage with his family, and spoke for 10-12 minutes, calm, sensible, sane and dignified as ever.
I was three or four when my parents moved to Washington DC, and I was conscious of race, if not racism, very early. Washington is a black city, except for the compressed quarter where the expats and rich guys hang out. I remember playing with Angie Tutt, and I have a vague recollection that it was ok for her to come over to my house, but I'd never go over to her house. It wasn't safe: or that's the impression I had. It was certainly in a part of Washington that we just never visited. I remember hearing songs like Go tell it on the mountain, Oh, Happy Day delivered by Etta James with a soaring gospel chorus in the background, What's Going On. I know there were riots and demonstrations, some against Vietnam, some race-related, stuff that adults discussed in low, horrified voices. And I remember visiting other friends who had black housekeepers, ample women who changed out of uniforms and shrugged on shabby coats before catching the bus back to some other part of town. My school ran a scholarship programme, and there was a funny, long, gawky boy, Quentin, whose show and tell was a praying mantis over a foot long that he kept in a box in the corner of the schoolroom.
I wonder where Angie and Quentin are today, and how they feel, and whether they got to college and had the opportunities they deserved and if they are sitting in comfortable homes in nice suburbs of Washington, proud that their generation was the one that was able to provide not just America with the possibility of hope and change, but the whole world.
Obama's victory is a victory of clarity over confusion, of calm reflection over chaotic impulse and of a blend of idealism, fundamental decency and common sense over fear, pure fundamentalism and cock-eyed rationales with little or no foundation in fact. I hope he's also brought McCain back from his bizarre brinkmanship with the more delusional and plain weird shores of the Republican party. Simply put, where I face-palmed and did my best to ignore, I now hope. Thank you America, for giving all of us something to smile about, something to feel good about. Because if anyone has the intellect and organisational, executive ability to get us out of our current mess, it is Barack Obama.