With Obama’s victory unlikely to break the deadlock between Democrats and Republicans, and an economy yet to fully reassert itself, some people are writing off America as a country that has lost the will to fight. It could be compared to a sports team in the dressing room at half time facing the prospect of defeat.
But is such defeatism justified?
I have just returned from New Orleans, which is a potent symbol of America’s challenge. Hammered by Hurricane Katrina and ravaged by recession, this US city suffered so seriously that many thought it would never recover.
I was there with the phenomenal British American Project, a conference designed to build transatlantic ties, and got to see close up what happens when fate destroys the people you love and the possessions you cherish.
The emotions are real and raw. Tears are never far from the surface and the sense of suffering is everywhere to see. Katrina swept through New Orleans and as the levees broke it flooded over 85 per cent of the city.
Communities were displaced, loved ones killed, homes submerged, families destroyed.
And even before Katrina the city was in freefall decline. Its education results were some of the worst in the country, its economy was propped up by government hand-outs, even its football team, the New Orleans Saints, had become a metaphor for the city as a team of losers.
But here’s the thing. There is something that the toughest of times establish instantly and that is just what sort of fighter in life you really are. Make no mistake, New Orleans has proven to be a true heavyweight and has fought its way to a recovery that is phenomenal, motivating and emotionally inspiring.
The most obvious manifestation of this has been a galvanising of infrastructure projects on a mammoth scale. New Orleans has risen again. It has built itself back brick by brick.
But there is much more to it than that, something about the attitude of the people you meet. Unbowed, undefeated and unbelievable. This is a community that has skilfully turned tragedy into triumph.
We met entrepreneurs that lost the lot and rebuilt massively better businesses; we met educators that have inspired today’s New Orleans students to be the fastest improving in the States; we visited the Saints and saw a stadium magnificently rebuilt and a team that many see as one of the most talented in America today.
Oh, and then there is the music and culture that acts as the cement to hold it all together. Some say that this sort of thing is intangible. I’d say get yourself over to New Orleans. It’s tangible, brilliant and permeates everything.
There is still a long way to go. Visiting District 9 you are just overwhelmed by the loss, the sad houses still standing with the chilling white crosses showing that they had been cleared by the emergency services. But while poverty still abounds this is unmistakably a city on the up.
Never give up, never surrender. Today’s phoenix rises from the ashes not because of serendipity or luck but because of steel will and determination not to die.
A couple of weeks ago Obama said that for the States “the best is yet to come.” Many scorned that particular view, many predict that the American century is over. Many, I would suggest, are very wrong.
America fights hard when its back is against the wall and right now it’s fighting ferociously. New Orleans is a mobilising trailblazer and an inspiring beacon. It shows what happens when you galvanise the power of belief, the strength of community, the potential of people.
“Who’s that? Who’s that? Who’s that say they gonna beat them Saints?" That’s the cry of the sport team, the roar of New Orleans, and the spirit of a city that has just plain refused to be beaten.
Thought the game was over? Think again. America’s second half has just begun.
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- Barack Obama
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