Having had a few days to distance ourselves from the immediate results of the election, I think one of the things that we can really get out of it, as an event, is the demographic breakdown, the response from both sides, and what this says about the culture of contemporary America.
I’d like to start my discussion with the tumblr White People Mourning Romney which documents a certain kind of reaction to the election. Although there’s some sadistic enjoyment to be had in the pictures, what I find more interesting are the snatches of discourse from twitter and facebook, indicating a sort of concerted response of disbelief with regard to Obama’s victory, and a serious sense of apocalypse. Add to this this rant by a Romney-supporter and the various responses I heard on AM talk radio stations the next day (I was driving for four and a half hours on the 7th) and there’s a serious sensation that, somehow, America is doomed now. Putting aside the misuse of words like ‘socialist’, it’s still a claim that I find difficult to understand–did we not just have four years of Obama presidency, without the end of America? I was certainly displeased when Bush was re-elected, on the basis of his earlier actions, but I didn’t think that a re-election would somehow constitute a turn downward. I think there’s a relation to the continuously-appearing opinion that either no one knows how Obama could have been re-elected, or that his re-election indicates the ignorance of those who voted for him. But why is this the discourse now? I think to understand this, we should look at how Obama actually did get re-elected.
If we look at the demographic breakdown for the election, it suddenly becomes clear that not only is this a deeply divided nation, as all pundits seem required to say at all times, but it is divided on the basis of very real distinctions. On the last exit polls I saw, Obama was leading by 10 points with women and Romney by 7 points with men. Obama led with black Americans and Latinos, and Romney led with white voters. Obama led with secular voters, Romney with regular church-attenders. Obama led with younger voters, Romney with older voters. How is it that Obama won, white church-going men (and women) ask, and the answer seems to be that he was elected by all the people that they forget constitute part of America. To be frank, the ‘division’ of this nation seems to be a division between the ‘old order’ and a supercoalition of everyone else. Romney tried to court these groups, but the Republican party’s stance on immigration, reproductive rights, evolution, education, health care, race, rape, and just about every social issue is downright offensive. This party has become the senile old man sitting in the corner shouting racial epithets. I don’t know whether this will mark the point of a major ideological change, or whether America is just preparing to retire the GOP and bring in someone new (Libertarians is my guess, since they represent similar economic ideals but generally take a hands-off approach to social issues), but this election should make it clear that what they have going now is not a sustainable strategy.
Couldn’t the GOP base rally and perhaps get more votes with swing voters? That might apply if the parties were divided over policy, but they’re not, not really. They’re divided by ideology and demographics, and that’s a losing game for the GOP. Young voters are replacing old voters. The white demographic is shrinking while the Latino demographic is growing–and the potential impending addition of Puerto Rico as the 51st state may have an impact here as well; certainly Obama’s planned immigration reform should add Latino voters with Democratic sympathies.
Although I do have strong political opinions, I’m not trying to push them here (if I were I would be arguing nearly as strongly against the Democratic Party, which is only slightly less heinous than the GOP), I’m just giving my opinion on what seems to have happened here. The face of America is changing, and if we take one lesson away from this election it should be that WASPs can no longer consider it self-evident that they are the average American. But it seems like that’s exactly what they’re doing: neglecting the change, choosing to remain ignorant just as they have in the past. This will not serve them well, but I can’t say I’m sympathetic.
[Note: since writing this post, I have encountered this analysis of race in America which gives a much more in-depth and historically-grounded account of what I’m talking about.]