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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

The conclusion

As the end of 2008 hovers, we reach the conclusion to a momentous and remarkable year. This year, events occurred and questions were asked, some left unanswered. What is undeniable, however, is their significance. This year can not be ignored.

The election of the first African American president

Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States doesn’t just mark the elevation of a biracial American to the highest office. Rather, it represents the fulfillment of many dreams, continuous efforts and an act.

As Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist, remarked,Obama is a confirmational figure, and this election confirms what has been gradually occurring in American society ever since that July day when Johnson virtually outlawed most forms of racial segregation in America. We’ve been transforming ever since.

It was 44 years ago that the Civil Rights Act passed. Since then, while perennial frictions and occasional distrusts have not disappeared completely, the progress has been tremendous. Attitudes have evolved and prejudices deconstructed, displaced by individual acceptance and collective unity. Consequently, America has emerged as a more tolerant, just and equal society.

Obama’s ascension is about more than overcoming our racial conflicts. But acknowledgement of its importance is necessary.

The collapse of America’s financial pride

In the past, the American financial sector towered among its peers, their success inspiring entrepreneurs, investors and business owners around the world. But the dramatic collapse of America’s financial and insurance giantsAIG, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the buyout of Merrill Lynch reveal fundamental weaknesses the way the industry is organized.

The reasons for the collapse were multiple and interrelated. At a broad level, the unchecked capitalism and continuous derivative speculation led to an era of corporate excess and mismanagement. In the end, these mistakes culminated in the systematic fall of all actors involvedhomeowners, subprime lenders, banks, rating agencieswith rapidly dwindling home values and defaults leading to non-payment, credit freezes and unparalleled waves of layoffs.

For many around the world, the severity and immediacy of the crash corroded international confidence. More importantly, the downfall indicates structural weakness in America’s brand of capitalism.

Many lost savings, and America’s financial reputation suffered too.

The loss of the conservative movement

The conservative movement once prided itself on the gravitas and force of their ideasPresident Reagan’s reactions and policies to the major threats of the 1980s, for instance, helped steer America out of hyperinflation and restored America’s sense of purpose against the communist Soviet. But the conservative ideas outlived their usefulness. As numerous socio-political and intra-national dynamics changed, Republicans clung to the past, continually advocating the same proposals in differing contexts.

Moreover, the movement grew so partisan that it no longer tolerated dissentoften the creative process that engender ideas. Christopher Buckley, son of the venerable National Review’s founder,resignedonce he voiced support for then general election candidate Obama. Moreover, with the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh becoming the influential voices of the movement, pragmatic solutions were rejected for ideology. These incidents illustrate a party that lost its identity.

Unsurprisingly, voters overwhelmingly voted for a Democratic president and Congressional majority. It is a referendum on the ideals that defined America for generations.

At stake this year was the very core of American exceptionalism and it’s larger experiment. As individuals, we cannot foresee the future, only watch as events unfold. But 2008 has offered us lessons, instructions and most importantly, hope. We’ll be waiting for a new dawn with renewed promise and confidence.


ZACH HAN wishes everyone a wonderful end to an important year. Wish him back at zklhan@ucdavis.edu


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