The first week into President Obama’s term, he has started the process of delivering on his campaign promises of bringing change to America. During his first full day in office, Obama officially announced his intention to close the United States’ detention center in Guantanamo Bay and by the end of his second full day in office had signed three Executive Orders stipulating that the detention center be closed within one year, ordering the closure of other secret and not so secret CIA detention facilities around the globe, ordering a review of military trials of detained, suspected terrorists, and halting the use of harsh and torturous interrogation practices until US measures initiated by the Bush Administration’s War on Terror can be reviewed.

In his Inaugural Address, Obama said, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” and on Thursday said in press conference that, “The United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism.”

“We are going to do so vigilantly, we are going to do so effectively,” Obama continued, but added, “and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.”

Since September 11, 2001, virtually all Americans have been in unison about the need to proactively prevent future terrorist attacks and agree that international acts of terrorism are a phenomenon that deserves our diligent attention. However, it is the way that the United States has gone about processing the War on Terror during the past seven years that has caused millions of us to critique our government, believing the preservation of our best American ideals to be as important as the preservation of our physical safety.

Historically, America has not always lived up to the best in our ideals; many times we have fallen monstrously short. Imprisoning human beings for years on end without the due process and right to a fair trial that all Americans cherish, and torturing them physically and psychologically, is one example of our failure as a society to match our professed beliefs with our actions.

As President Bush leaves office with the highest disapproval rating of any President since Gallup Polling began in the 1930’s – higher even than Richard Nixon’s disapproval rating when he resigned from office – collective questions about accountability and responsibility are now ours to continue contemplating.

Arguably, an American President is the individual human being in our country with the most access to power at their disposal, and is therefore most responsible for the direction of the nation at large, and most responsible for subsequent consequences.
However, we may be tempted to place all our individual and collective ire for the many ills of the past eight years on our outgoing President, while the truth of the matter is that it is not nearly as clean as that.

Can we as a society take accountability for the wrongs committed in our name while simultaneously engendering optimism for the future? Are those mutually exclusive?

Hopefully they are not.

Hopefully, we as a society are turning a significant corner and are now on the path to remedying mistakes and atrocities in our recent and not so recent past. Collectively, we have come a long way in combating past ignorance and prejudices. We have yet a long way to go. As to whether our newly elected President will continue to act as decisively and honorably as he has during his first few days in office, time can only tell. But ultimately our President is only one individual, we are roughly three hundred million. And for the moment, at least, it seems we are all bringing change to America.