Some thoughts on the immediate aftermath of the 2012 American election
I actually thought I would relish Mitt Romney’s losing speech, but I didn’t. As odious a human being as he is, it’s hard to lose an election. It’s especially hard to publicly lose something you’ve been fighting for for seven years, and now that I know Mitt Romney has about as much chance of ever being President as I do, I actually feel a modicum of pity for him. He seems like a very bitter and entitled man, more interested in the Presidency for the validation it would confer on him than because of any actual political convictions. He was a centrist as Governor, an extremist during the Primaries, and then went back to being a centrist for the national elections. That it is now impossible to be simultaneously right-wing enough to win the Republican primary, and moderate enough to win the Presidential election, appears to be a given. If the Republicans have any hope of winning in 2016, they need to wrench power away from the neofascist Tea Party wing which currently control the party. It’s not just a moral imperative for the party to stop relying almost entirely on the votes of angry white people happy to blame the country’s ills on blacks, gays, Muslims and single women – it’s a matter of political survival. The strategy didn’t work.
When the Romney and Ryan families joined Mitt on stage – two straight, white, conventionally-attractive heterosexual millionaires, with their two blonde, conventionally-attractive wives, with Mitt’s five ultra-privileged, heterosexual sons, and everyone was awkwardly hugging each other and smiling at an audience chanting “U!S!A!”, which always reminds me of the Two Minutes Hate bit in 1984 when everyone starts chanting “BB”, anyway, the whole scene seemed to me the death throes of a certain vision of America – one that is explictly rooted in sexism, homophobia and white supremacy. These sentiments are still widespread, in America and abroad. But the Republicans had one last shot at winning an election through appealing mainly to angry and misinformed white people, and it didn’t work. Because of demographics, yes, but also, I hope, because of progress. This election was theirs to win, and losing it to such a fragile incumbent is testimony to a strategy that was hopefully condemned to the dustbin of history approximately eight hours ago. Not many general elections are won by a candidate who essentially told half of his electorate to go fuck themselves. Romney may think it’s not his job to worry about “those” people, but it is demographically essential for the GOP to widen their base. How they do attempt to do this over the next four years will be interesting.
My emotional reaction to Obama’s victory speech surprised me as well. Ten minutes in, and I was crying. It was 8am, I was sitting on the sofa in a friend’s bedsit in Nottingham, weeping at the victory speech of a man I will never meet and whose policy positions I mostly disagree with. It was the crowd shots which set me off. All those people cheering and weeping for a candidate they put faith in, at the end of an election which seemed at times like an epic Manichean battle. I love seeing people getting involved in the democratic process. It just moves me. The closest thing I have to a religion is a belief in the importance of empathy and equality. I know many people hold those values while coming to very different conclusions about which policies will best implement them, but anything is better than apathy. Sometimes I think I have more in common with the people I ardently disagree with than I do with the people who are just apathetic about the world outside their front door. And as I switched between the BBC coverage and the reactions of my friends on Facebook and Twitter, it occurred to me how thankful I am for the many people in my life who take an interest in the world around them. Even the Romney supporters. Even the Tories. When I saw footage of the celebrating crowds in Chicago and Washington DC last night, it made me happy because I saw people engaged in that endless quest for solutions to the only problem which really matters – how to live well, together. We may never get there. But when I see people actively participating in the democratic process, even when I disagree with them, and even when it seems futile, I feel they are expressing something that is fundamental to their humanity, and it makes me tear up.
Obama’s victory speech included the line that “the duties of a citizen in a democracy do not end with voting”. Here’s to four more years of a humane, intellectual progressive, and a mixed-race man born before the Civil Rights Act was passed, grappling with the most difficult job in the world. I wasn’t crying this morning because of Obama, I was moved when I saw shots of the crowds because I saw millions of people who care enough to inform themselves and get involved in politics. From the tiny stakes of student union politics to the US Presidential election, 2012 was a year in which I variously rooted for the electoral success of myself, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Ken Livingstone, and finally, Barack Obama. This is a long way of saying that I love elections, and last night reminded me why.