Reading the signs and portents of Obama’s America

We call it inauguration after the Romans, of course. Beginning at midnight on January 1st of each new year, the priests would take the augurs — the signs and portents — for the two new consuls, the duoviri who would govern the Republic for the next year. The ceremony would end with a long, slow march to the top of the Capitoline hill at dawn, at the end of which the senior consul for that year would sacrifice a bull. Only then would the new consuls and the senators convene in the Curia to take up the Republic’s business for the year.

And Janus, for whom January is named, is the god of doorways, presiding not just over beginnings but also endings. Today marks not just the beginning of Obama’s presidency, but also the end of the Bush era in Washington.

Both Bushes, pere and fils, seemed to me to be fundamentally decent people, quite unlike the man who served between them. But Bush the younger, by being so roundly reviled as president, has nowhere to go but up from here. Someday Americans will have the fortitude to thank this man for calling Islamofascism by its true name: Evil. In the mean time, the bull is no longer his to slay.

I’m less afraid of Obama than I was on election day, but still I fear for capitalism and for individualism. The good news, always, is that socialism cannot work. The bad news, always, is that millions perish in the process of discovering that socialism cannot work. Janus may well be opening the door to a renewed appreciation for classical liberal virtues, but it seems likely that the glorious light we associate with ages of reason may be found at the end of a long, dark hallway.

The one hope I hold today is to be found in the photo at the top of this post: I hope that today is the beginning of a post-racial America. Everything we’ve done about race so far, for four hundred years, has been pretty stupid. I hope it turns out that electing a black president was the first smart thing we have managed to do to bridge this divide.

Augurs and their portents, with or without the animal sacrifices. What signs do you see for America’s future?

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