Maybe it's premature to borrow Cat Steven's song title. It's spoiled sport to say "I told you so". The United States may be post-courtesy and post-propriety -- its own unique manner of being "post-Puritanical", as the erosion of the superficial reveals our asperity -- but it is not yet post-racial.
The Presidential election of 2008 should have been a runaway for the Democrats; the people were tired of the failed wars and the abysmal economy. Because the party took a chance on candidate Obama, it was not a runaway, though it was a win. Today, many seem to have all but forgotten what party delivered us into the chasm, and they are ready to swing back, for visceral reasons. If Romney wins, it will not be the 1% who elect him.
Because it was President Obama who presided over a country in duress, it is he who will be blamed for not turning it around (a trick probably no president could have accomplished in one term.) Because it was he, he will be judged doubly harshly. Because he has actually ascended the American throne of power, he has stupefied and angered those with entrenched prejudice, those who think white men speak for them (even when they don't.)
Listening to Cat Stevens last night brought the thought to mind. Despite his unquestioned excellence as a musician, when Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 (becoming "Yusuf Islam"), he endured no end of disdain. No doubt part of that was spawned from fans who wanted Cat back, but there is also no doubt that disdain and intolerance of The Other played a part, the fear that such a great guy had been so readily "brainwashed".
Many of you voted President Obama into office, but you may not be able to keep him there, and that thought does not please me. One of the deciding factors may be because his race has put a stick in the hornet's nest of latent American racism, and it is easy to lump our current failures upon his perceived inabilities. For some people, their disappointment is independent of race, but not for a great many others who see Obama's background as a community organizer as a pander to special interests, which means, not them.
If he wins, it will be in the sort of squeaker John F. Kennedy pulled out over Nixon. (Per our own experience with voting here in Florida, if you're the distrusting sort, beware -- the Romney's own an interest in a voting machine company.) Some will say Obama deserves to lose based upon his performance, but surely this is a case where there is no magic fairy in the wings to make things any better. Things are already very tough for the average American, and further compassionate austerity measures as promised by the beaming, lying Romney will only further harshen the lives of the average citizen.
Unfortunately, per usual, our eyes are taken elsewhere, to topics that do not directly affect us, and the charlatans perform their legerdemain as if to a metronome. And the people, those who listen, sit awash in a welter of lies and bad information.
Ultimately, as they always do, they will default to their primitive calculus that will produce for them no matter how uneasily, at least the ersatz image of a President to take them through the next term. Each voter's ability to imagine depends upon how far evolved he is from his received self-image; most people cleave to those images that proved at least the semblance of security, and that usually means someone who looks and sounds like them, no mater how marginally.
What the people now know most is, it will be a rocky next four years; they will all be, as we have become acclimated to that expectation. They hope the price of gas will not rise too much, but they know it will spike and fall in response to the vagueries of the trading markets. Even many of those with conviction are willing to let their environmental sensitivities erode, a bit, if it means the oil will keep flowing, petroleum addicts that we are, and like addicts everywhere, the pushers do not care that we get better.
Our science is reduced to a shell game, global warming, a mere theory. Of course, even if the harbingers like this year's massive crop failures turn out to be a one-off, why not prepare by putting on the petro brakes and really trying for a shift? Instead, the 50% (more?) of Americans who do not wish to be weaned (who have had too much taken from them already) cry out that coal and oil can fuel us for, why, the next 100 years! At least that. And somehow, when they turn of the lights and nod off, they feel better with that thought.
Here are the betting margins from the South (and you should not dismiss this as being a representation of solely the "Ricky Bobby" South), where even (and especially) the power elite will muse on game day (that's football), "I wonder if our niggers will beat yours?" It may be the older generation which says it aloud, but the tension remains in their scions.
Many have opened their hearts after a lifetime of seeing the inequities, but many, too have fallen victim to the equal opportunity policies they once championed. Changing one's bedrock thought, the thing that allows one to maintain his identity in a tumultuous life, is a difficult thing.
Hollywood is doing its part, but some resent the patronization. We now have Latina and black glamor with J-Lo and Halle Berry and all who have followed, and stories like Monster's Ball. This is not Rita Hayworth (Margarita Carmen Cansino) anglicizing her look by dying her hair and doing electrolysis on her hairline -- this is a celebration of otherness. However, it has all passed relatively quickly, and the anguish portended by Thomas Jefferson still perdures, namely, that slavery will be the burden of this nation. So it is.
Last week I read a book review of the last known lynching in America which took place in 1934 Marianna, a little town to the West of Tallahassee. Friends have shared with me stories of being invited to lynchings to the East (in Live Oak), and of the KKK parades down main street. The people who share these stories have opened their hearts and grown to one degree or another, but by their own admission, their fellows have not.
My mother moved to Miami in the early 1960's and was amazed to see "WHITE" and "BLACK" signs over the washing machines in the laundromats. She thought, "How neat -- they keep some washers for white clothes, some for darks." Then someone told her the truth: The signs were for the color of the people, not the wash.
Why do people hate? I have no answer, but it perdures like the hardest things in nature. Nations (people) have always warred over land to which they feel entitled, deciding the current inhabitants too stupid or venal to be allowed to continue. That disdain is based in long-held prejudices based upon religion (ironically), race or creed. Our story of the Hatfields and the McCoys provides a sad slogfest embodying the persistence of hatred, it's power to drive even mindless self-destruction.
Self-destruction. There is something seductive and dark about the impulse: If I can't have it, you can't either. Some people see Obama as Other, Romney as Self, even though it is not remotely true.
These people will not be able to see Obama as one of them, as an American, and they will vote against their interests in order to dislodge the Interloper, as they see it.