As the eyes of the world turn today to Washington for his inauguration as the 44th President of the USA, hope is both the defining emotion behind his remarkable rise to power and the explanation for it – and it is a spirit shared far beyond the borders of that great but troubled country.
After eight years of the mean-spirited cynicism and self-interest of the Bush administration, the whole of the western world is hungry for a return to idealism and integrity in public life, and Mr Obama has reached today’s historic crossroads so triumphantly by offering that prospect more compellingly than any American president for half a century.
Hope that he can fulfil his aspirations for a kinder, fairer and more dignified USA, whose new approach to its central role in world affairs will help spread those benefits internationally by example and action, is also the main wish being directed towards Washington today by hundreds of millions of people around the globe.
The Bush era not only poisoned political life in America but, by extension, encouraged the decline of standards elsewhere and reinforced public distrust of politicians in general. Today, even in the knowledge that there will be inevitable disappointments along the way, the world can realistically hope that the reversal of that process will now begin.
It is fashionable in some quarters to deride claims for a special relationship between Britain and America but impossible to deny the significance of shared history, culture and language. For a century or more, emotionally as well as economically and militarily, America has mattered to Britain, and thus to the Channel Islands, in a way no other foreign country can – and there will accordingly be a lifting of the spirits in Old Jersey as well as New Jersey today. Moreover, as inhabitants of the global village, we all have a direct interest in the difference one inspirational leader can make to world security, economic stability and environmental action.
Many tears will be shed at the symbolic fulfilment – in the city where Dr Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech 45 years ago – of the hopes of that era for civil rights and racial harmony. The emotional power of today’s events, though, stems also from an even wider yearning for something new and better.
Will President Obama’s well-documented antipathy towards tax havens present Jersey’s international finance industry with a new set of regulatory challenges? Probably, but in today’s economic landscape that would be happening in any event and, besides, it is a minor consideration in the grander scheme of things and in a world in which political leaders and communities everywhere in search of greater unity and purpose are drawing new inspiration from his example and his famous campaign slogan. ‘Yes we can’.