The Common Good

Maybe the Fighting is Almost Over

"Faith in America's Future" — that was the theme of Monday's inauguration activities.

Watching the prayers, the songs, the speeches, the crowd massed on the Washington Mall, I felt the faith. We don't have to hate each other. We can work together for a future that will be good for our country and for us as individuals. We can, as the President charged us to do, make the "values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American."

Inaugurations are times for setting aside differences and wildly celebrating. While Richard Blanco read his inaugural poem, even John Boehner looked teary-eyed.

The political divisions will be back in full force this week, of course. And yet we Americans are in the midst of some really big changes — changes that may make today's partisan squabbles look hopelessly antiquated in just a decade or two. Monday's events highlighted these changes.

On Monday a Hispanic woman justice of the Supreme Court administered the oath of office. An African-American civil rights leader and a Cuban-American Episcopal priest, once a refugee, prayed. A gay Cuban-American, the son of exiles, wrote and read the inaugural poem. Music was provided by a white woman, a black woman, a white man, and the magnificent multi-colored Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

As a Boomer woman of mostly British descent whose paternal ancestors came to America in 1634, I felt wonderfully, happily, and mercifully irrelevant. Once people like me — well, people like my father — ran America. They did a good job of it in their day, and we honor them as war heroes, institutional founders, philanthropists, and thought leaders. But the day of white Protestant male supremacy is almost over.

It's been a rocky ride as women, people of color, gays, immigrants, and people with unusual religions have moved onto the stage. We've clashed. We've attacked. We've huddled in fear with people of our own kind. But looking at this the inaugural's participants I couldn't help thinking: the changes are almost complete.

Non-Hispanic whites now make up less than two-thirds of the American population; in less than 30 years we will be a minority. WASPs — white Anglo-Saxon Protestants — are already a minority.

When the 113th Congress convened, 101 women took their seats. Three women sit on the Supreme Court. A woman is a serious contender for the 2016 presidential nomination.

People of both parties are seriously working on immigration reform and on equal justice for non-heterosexuals. There is rising concern for those marginalized by poverty, race, gender, sexual orientation, and inadequate healthcare and educational resources.

Most of these changes have occurred during the tumultuous administrations of our three Boomer Presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. These have been contentious years: change is never easy. It often feels dangerous. It divides people — and nations.

But looking at the people on the inaugural platform on Monday, I felt renewed hope. In another decade or two, the changes that are rocking the Boomer years may have produced an America in which people are truly equal — or at least a lot more equal than we are today. 

"America’s possibilities are limitless," President Obama exhorted the nation, "for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention."

Step up to the plate, youngsters. It's almost your turn.

LaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust and atThe Neff Review.

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