My paternal grandfather, who stood tall in height and wisdom, would often teach life lessons from his observation that the darkest portion of the night sky is just before dawn.
Likewise, my maternal grandmother’s face seemed to metaphorically convey her belief that we cannot see daylight until we make it through the night.
How true today, as many celebrate a new year brimming with pleasant possibilities.
As the sun sets on the Bush administration, the past eight years may be recorded as the “unenlightened years” of American history. After all, just before the elections of 2000, the national budget surplus was $230 million; the nation was in peacetime; citizens enjoyed the privacy of home; personal income paid the bills for most; American jobs were still in America; schoolchildren had classes such as art, band and drama as educational options; and the world community actually liked the president of the United States.
And then the lights went out.
What a difference eight years makes. The 2000 presidential elections were so illegitimate that only one other time in American history had the winner of the popular vote lost the election, and the loser won — the Hayes/Tilden Compromise of 1877.
The deal in the election of 1876 was that Rutherford B. Hayes would be declared the president in consideration for the removal of federal troops in the South who were dispatched, in part, to protect newly freed African Americans by the Reconstruction Congress, following the American Civil War.
Like 1876, the 2000 elections would portend bad times. By August 2001, just eight months after the beginning of the Bush administration, the national treasury had been drained to the extent that the $230 million dollar national surplus of a year before had become a deficit.
Halfway around the world, and to their credit, on Sept. 7, 2001, an international delegation met in Durbin, South Africa, at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. That delegation agreed to shed light on terrorism wherever evidence led to it, and address reparations for indigenous people who had been oppressed and exploited by governments.
Four days later, the conference’s light was dimmed by the unbelievable events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Soon after, the Bush administration would attack the sovereign nation of Iraq without provocation, occupy it and declare a war without end — the War on Terrorism.
As bombs lighted the legendary land of Abraham, innocent people, including children, died in the darkness of destruction and dispossession. None other than a journalist known as the “Prince of Darkness,” also known as Robert Novak, met criticism of the war by American diplomat Joseph Wilson with the exposure of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a secret CIA agent.
The bombs that had been dropped on Iraq exploded in American cities, too, with the increasing costs of war leading to drastic reductions in domestic programs like health benefits for veterans, the National Endowment for the Arts, education budgets, infrastructure construction projects and funding for emergency responders.
As the global lights lowered, so did the brilliance of the American presidency. The White House pushed the passage of the Patriot Act through Congress, resulting in the suspension of constitutional protections of personal privacy. Federal surveillance of private citizens was approved and purchased from American telecommunications companies.
In short, the near-decade of darkness was governed by a dim-witted White House that subverted the intent of some laws, while simultaneously refusing to enforce other laws as they were originally intended. And to top it all off, an Iraqi journalist gained global notoriety by throwing his shoes at an American president, one man’s attempt at vengeance for the orphans and widows of his war.
But joy comes in the morning. Since the dawn of civilization on African horizons, the winter solstice — observed on Dec. 21 — has recorded the yearly date when the sun is at its lowest point in the southern sky and seems to remain still for three days. On the fourth day, Dec. 25, the sun appears to rise in the sky until the vernal equinox on March 21.
As we get ready to bury the Bush administration later this month, a new day is dawning in America, with a new light for the world provided by the enlightenment of a new son — President Barack Hussein Obama.
While it is true that the darkness yields to light over time, and the sun takes many minutes to rise, we must be patient and keep our heads to the heavens as the son ascends. In the words of poet Maya Angelou, let the “yet-to-be United States of America” be the light of the world.
Gary L. Flowers is the executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, and a columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association.