Note: film writing takes the day off…
Well. Looking at the results of last night’s election, it appears to me that the democratic process worked in America. People went to the polls and voted in record numbers, and despite the radically different ideas about the direction in which the country should go, the majority vote and the electoral college both have proven that President Bush has earned a second term as President of the United States of America.
However, the outcome of the election is, to me anyway, chilling. I am less concerned about the voting process and far more concerned about what the result says about my country.
For me, some incredibly shocking trends emerged. First of all, in a campaign that was run on the “They Hate Our Freedoms” rhetoric of the President, it turns out no one hates our freedoms more than US. Bans on gay marriage carried every state in which they were proposed (as I type, Oregon remains too close to call, but appears to be leaning in favor of the ban). Polls showed that so-called “Moral Values” drove citizens to vote in record numbers, and not the usual discontentment with the status-quo. “Moral Values” is code for religious isolationism, and the left has a long way to go to show the right wing in this country that the extension of civic and civil rights to the oppressed is a far more “moral” decision that the exclusion of citizens from the full benefit and protection of the law. I’m sure if you put The Defense of Racial Purity proposal on the ballot in 1960, most southern states would have voted to defend segregation. The problem is, consitutional rights are not up for a vote. And with a conservative Supreme Court refusing to extend rights to those who deserve Constitutional protections, gay rights will remain the last frontier of state-sanctioned exclusion from civil protection for the forseeable future.
The vote for President also can be seen as an endorsement of his born-again Christian agenda, an agenda that prioritizes the Bible over the Constitution as the fundamental organizing philosophy in the social contract. I certainly believe that Americans have the right to worship whatever God they choose, but the Federal and State governments have a responsibility to protect our secular rights and freedoms outside of the context of a single religious interpretation. Apparrantly, my fellow citizens disagree.
What is most troubling to me is that, in a time of international war, xenophobia, isolationism, straight up lies about the “pre-emptive” War in Iraq, job loss across the country, and arrogant disregard for the opinions of our international allies (framed in this campaign as “letting other countries choose what is best for America”), my fellow citizens decided that these issues are less important than punishing their neighbors, endorsing restrictions on the right to free speech (Patriot Act), the right of women to choose freely among reproductive health care options (the forthcoming Supreme Court appointments), medical research on disease (stem-cell research) by voting for a President that they know shares their “core values.”
I will say this– zealotry does inspire organization. The right in this country did a masterful job of organizing and turning out the faithful. Rural and urban, poor and rich, they all put their economic status, class differences, and seemingly competing interests in the world aside and for one night rallied behind the man they believed would lead the nation toward their vision of a safe, traditional, unchanging, isolated shining example of prosperity (for the few) and (enforced) moral “courage.”
On the left, the road is long. How can we overcome the tax-exempt political advocacy of the Sunday pulpit and the White House? How can we re-claim the moral highground for our vision of the world? In the past, organized labor, social justice movements, and the economic interests of the poor and middle classes have helped promote the agenda of a relatively progressive Democratic party. Look what has happened to the core issues.
–Labor, based in traditional manufacturing, has been dismantled by big business and outsourcing while workers themselves have no economic hope from either party and have begun to vote their conservative religious and “moral” values.
–Social justice movements were pretty much dismantled by their ultimate collapses in the 1970’s. They continue some very good work today, but they have not resonated with Middle America, who sees security and justice as being mutually exclusive, and have lost the mandate of many of their religious allies.
–Economic interests have been spun away from actual jobs and work and into “tax-relief” and “freedom from big government.” Of all of the traditional Democratic interests, the left has lost the battle of prosperity in the worst way. Of course, a dismantled and ineffective Federal government offers no real reason to support the notion that investment in tax-funded programs will help anyone.
Ultimately, the nation is scared shitless. Intellectuals and the left in America are now the “arrogant elites”– the wealthy are simply humble good American boys who played by the rules and won. Anger and outrage at fellow citizens who voted against change and for aggressive isolationism in international affairs, who sought the comfort of faith and “traditional values” in a world that is changing and uncertain is like being outraged at a child crying for being afraid of the dark. The attempt to preserve these values, this traditional identity, this idea of America will fall by the wayside as soon as history catches up to our insecurities and proves that these deceptions, lies, fears, and this divisive hatred of our neighbor’s rights are simply teardrops in the unstoppable rivers of change and time.
One final word of caution: You can’t vote on or elect History. America had better buckle up. The world has a lot of lessons in store for us.