November 2, 2004 was perhaps the most difficult night of my life.
After a last minute Karl Rove-approved smear job of John Kerry's Vietnam War record tilted the polls, I watched in despair as the US Presidential election results increasingly pointed to a second term for Republican George W Bush. And the next day, when Ohio, my home state and the last to fall, was shaded a definitive red and various commentators declared the contest over, my heart really and truly broke.
Expecting the worst, I consoled myself with the thought that four disastrous years would somehow 'prove me right', as if it somehow mattered.
But today -- with your brave sons and daughters mired in two ill-conceived and horribly executed wars, with your financial system floundering and retirement savings disappearing, with golden parachutes for irresponsible, greedy bankers and record profits for well-connected oil companies, with rising numbers of bankrupt and medically uninsured Americans, with record home foreclosures and falling real estate values, with no viable alternative energy plan on the horizon and a more-desperate-than-ever dependence on foreign oil, with a sagging infrastructure, diminishing educational standards and the tacit acceptance of warrantless wiretapping -- I do not feel vindicated.
I feel hurt, pained.
Hurt to see you so divided domestically. Pained to see you mocked internationally, your image so thoroughly tarnished.
It is one your great traits, however, that when most challenged, you rise to the occasion: In the 1860s, when Slavery and Civil War threatened to rip you apart from the seams but ultimately could not destroy your beautiful tapestry. In the 1930s and 1940s, when the Great Depression and War plunged the world into crisis but fascism stalled in its march across the globe while fledgling democracies took root. In the 1960s, when even the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King could not stem the tide of justice known as the Civil Rights movement.
Through those trials and tribulations, your purity as an idea, a concept, emerged unscathed.
So let them call me naïve, let them say my fifth standard history textbook has left me brainwashed. Let them sound your death knell. I still believe you to be a force for good in this world. I still believe your best days lie ahead.
Don't listen to the naysayers, the ones who dismissively label you just another imperialist superpower, solely and selfishly up to no good. Yes, the last eight years have lent credence to their criticisms and cynicism, but today we start afresh.
Today, I've cast my ballot for a man named Barack Obama, son of an African immigrant and a white woman from Middle America, a man raised partly in Indonesia, with a story so unlikely it's the stuff of fairy-tales. Today, we reject the politics of fear and embrace the politics of hope.
For me, one of the great ironies of this 2008 Presidential Election has been my high degree of connectivity to it all. In 2004 -- despite my presence in the epicentre of national politics, ground zero as it were -- I left embittered and disillusioned. Today -- 7,000 miles away in South Asia -- I'm elated once more, my faith in your inherent goodness affirmed, my breast swollen with hope and optimism.
But can one assign a value to 'hope', to 'change'? What is the oft-trumpeted 'American soft power' really worth? We know this inspirational message has resonated, but how can it affect day-to-day lives? In short, will it work?
Well, with your economy in shambles, with your international standing diminished, with increasingly emboldened and defiant Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, we know now that reckless corporate giveaways, 'You're either with us or against us' rhetoric and relying on hard power don't work.
So, yes, your McDonald's, your MTV and your Coca-Cola engender a certain amount of disdain overseas. Yes, the unchecked arrogance and incompetence of your leaders has done much to damage your good name.
But, living abroad, I can let you in on a little secret: The rest of the world still wants to believe in you. Survey results show that, worldwide, people prefer an American superpower to none at all. I'm not sure that can be said for any other hegemonic power throughout history.
In an increasingly globalised world, the world's nations increasingly share the same problems: lack of opportunity for the most disadvantaged, resource scarcity, demographic imbalances, security threats from terrorism, cooling world financial markets, etc.
We also suffer similar politics. What I've seen, living here in India, is that politics of fear, of divisiveness, of calling the patriotism of 'others' into question, is not unique to you. It's a human problem.
So the journey ahead is no doubt rocky, difficult, taxing. But we shall overcome. If the mountain were completely smooth, as they say, there'd be no way to climb it. You must look forward and seize this opportunity to lead in the 21st century, to be proactive instead of reactive, to be that shining city on the hill.
You were originally constituted by a motley collection of puritans and ruffians from England, who left that country in order to escape religious and government persecution, who came together to form a more perfect union, a new, novel way for humans to govern themselves.
And despite the slip-ups, of which there have been many, you've always found your feet. As goes the famous religious hymn, first popularised as a Negro spiritual and now known the world over, 'Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound '
How sweet the sound, indeed.
Matthew Schneeberger is an American citizen who works with rediff.com in Mumbai