America the beautiful

America the beautiful

In an odd and touching way, everyone won on Tuesday night, even Sen. John McCain, whose gracious concession speech, a model of menschlichkeit, deserves to be enshrined in history. It was refreshing to see this side of him again, after a long and bitter and sometimes nasty campaign.

He acknowledged, to a ballroom filled with white supporters who surely have no idea how hard it is to be black in America, how significant this election has been for black Americans and “the special pride that must be theirs tonight.”

He noted that “though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of … citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.”

He cited the shameful reaction to Theodore Roosevelt’s White House dinner invitation to Booker T. Washington, and said that “America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time.”

Anyone who witnessed the reaction in the black community could see mingled joy and tears at this achievement of one of their own – and the mingled joy and tears of Barack Obama’s other supporters.

Jews, in particular, resonate to that interplay of emotions, for so many reasons. We too have been shut out of the corridors of power, and have waited and worked for the privilege – and duty – to enter them. We understand.

But we should not overstate the singularity of Obama’s victory for the black community. He is one of them, but they are part of us, of America, and as he said in his first speech as president-elect Tuesday night, “we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.”

There are sure to be trials ahead, some of them very trying indeed. But for one night – and, one hopes, forever after – we were one nation, undivided, the United States of America.