Thursday, November 8, 2012
Divided we stand?
"Flags" is a science fiction story of racial and religious divisions tearing the fabric of human society apart in the future. And, how is the present looking?
A long, exhausting and nationally divisive campaign for the leadership of our country is at last over.
As one commentator said within minutes of President Barack Obama being declared the winner: "We've reached the end of a six billion dollar campaign which changed absolutely nothing." Essentially true. The incumbent president is still in office and Congress is still divided. In all probability, the Republicans will continue, to the best of their ability to logjam the political process, preventing our now twice-elected head of state from governing in any substantive way. The people have grown weary of political gridlock and so the GOP has promised bipartisanship, but let's face it: Both the GOP's choice of a candidate, and the sharp split in the popular vote starkly illustrate that the differences between the two parties are just the focal point of a cultural divide for which, in essence, there is no compromise. As a nation, then, are we like a dysfunctional family, a house divided against itself? Or...is this national divide merely a developmental stage, the growing pains of a rapidly evolving and maturing society?
Seeing the polling results playing out on screen, stark blocks of red and blue filling out the map as the hours dragged by toward election's end, it was almost like watching a re-enactment of the civil war, red states and blue defining the geo-cultural divisions of these supposedly united states. Predictably, the red states, mostly the "bible belt" lands south of the Mason-Dixon went for Romney, while the more "ivy-leauge" northern states went for Obama. As commentators tallied the votes along class, ethnic and gender lines, it was clear what this race was really about on so many levels, and it wasn't the economy. As the number of female senators elected was hailed by progressives as a victory and the Hispanic vote going solidly to Obama seemed to illustrate the growing alienation between the GOP and the Hispanic populations in general, the much-touted Republican claim that gender and ethnic issues would be eclipsed by what they call "common-sense" economic concerns was shattered. Mitt Romney was a candidate for the white, hetero male boys' club that is the face of corporate America. The only message he or the GOP had to offer was that corporate types have the know-how to fix the economy. (Conveniently ignoring the fact that they're the ones who broke it to begin with.) But clearly, loss of hope wasn't enough to swing the people decisively their way. And, the GOP simply can't make peace with the disenfranchised voting blocks of this country...Hispanics threatened with "self-deportation," women threatened with loss of reproductive freedom and all hope of economic equality, senior citizens threatened with loss of critically needed medical services. To do so would destroy the core values that define the GOP in our times: The concept of "traditional" and "normal" America.
What does that mean today? The party that claims to stand for "traditional values" is having a hard enough time just defining itself. What is the GOP today? The party of big business? The party of thinly-disguised racist yahoos who take to the streets in 18th century rebel costumes instead of white sheets and hoods? Or, are they simply the childish, stubborn party of "whatever Obama wants, we say "NO"? One thing's clear: There's no question where their money comes from...Wall Street. Big business. Coal and Oil. And, that's the kind of power that argues against compromise, the kind of money that may encourage them to just dig in and hold the line and try their damnedest to prevent the economy from recovering for another four years.
So, can anything really change? Yes. Because, as history shows, the "traditionalists" (people who simply don't what to give up their own comfortable position in order to let the unjustly disenfranchised work toward their fair share) have the power to slow progress to a crawl, but not to stop it forever. This election may have demonstrated that America is sharply divided, but also that the face of America is changing. For the first time, white males are in the minority in the U.S. For the first time, voters in state elections have affirmed the human rights of our gay and lesbian citizens. State ballot questions have challenged the "personhood" of corporations. It's the changing face of America that gave, not simply Obama, but the concept of hope itself a second term in office.
Some have suggested it was really Hurricane Sandy that pulled the election out for Obama. There may be a grain of truth in that. But, maybe not just because the voters saw President Obama in the trenches in the disaster zones looking like a commander-in-chief. Maybe not even because it's so easy to picture a President Mitt Romney triaging rescue efforts in a future super-storm, air-lifting the Wall Street tycoons out of a flooded Manhattan while leaving the workers to drown. (That's free enterprise, right?) Maybe...just maybe...the disaster of New York has finally shaken the public out of it's denial about the ultimate consequence of corporate greed, fossil fuels and pollution: global climate change. You can only live in denial until your house washes away. Mayor Bloomberg conceded the reality of climate change. Meteorologists are warning of the growing threat of super-storms. Urban planners are even beginning to re-design coastal cities to weather what may be coming our way.
Yes, it's a changing world, a changing American demographic and a changing American mindset. Divided we are, but perhaps not forever. As the tide rises, the old edifices of fear and intolerance that have kept the greedy elite in power for so long may finally be starting to erode.