Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal

07 Nov
November 7, 2012

I was on an airplane last night as the election was decided. As the plane landed after midnight on the East Coast, I confess that my hand was shaking as I turned on my phone for the news. I did not want to see dishonesty and divisiveness and raw political hackery rewarded. It is hard enough for anyone to actually address the problems, to move this country forward, to make the intransigent American ruling class yield even a yard of the past to the inevitable future. But going backwards last night would have been devastating. I read the returns in silent elation; a business trip had me traveling in business class and the gnashing of corporate teeth all around precluded a full-throated huzzah on my part. I abhor a gloat.

But the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self-righteous discrimination against homosexuals. Some in the Republican party and among the teabagged fringe will continue to play such losing hands for some time to come; this shit worked well in its day and distracted many from addressing any of our essential national issues. But again, if they play that weak-ass game past this point, they are fools.

America is different now, more so with every election cycle. Ronald Reagan won his mandate in an America in which 89 percent of the voters were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling. Fifty thousand new Latino citizens achieve the voting age every month. America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

You want to lead in America? Find a way to be entirely utilitarian — to address the most problems on behalf of the most possible citizens. That works. That matters. Last night, it mattered just enough to overcome the calcified political calculations of men who think that 47 percent will vote against them because they are victims, or that 53 percent are with them because the rest of us vote only from self-interest and without regard for the republic as a whole. It was a closer contest than common sense and the spirit of a truly great nation should dictate. But unless these white guys who have peddled “normal” for so long — normal as in racial majority, normal as in religious majority, normal as in sexual orientation — unless they have a hard moment of self-reflection and self-awareness, well, it will not be this close again.

Eighty years ago, the Democratic party became a national utilitarian enterprise, molding the immigrant waves of Irish and Italian and Jew into a voting bloc that stunned the political opposition and transformed American society, creating the world’s greatest economic engine in the form of a consumer class with vast discretionary income. The New Deal asserted for American progress — shaping and influencing administrations both Democratic and Republican — for three decades before running aground on the shoals of the civil rights movement, resulting racial fears and resentments, and, of course, the Southern strategy of political cynics.

Well, a new voting bloc as formidable as the New Deal coalition certainly isn’t yet complete, and the political results are still fitful. To be sure, venality has transformed the upper house of our national legislature into a paralytic failure, with a new standard of a filibuster-proof supermajority now the norm. The lower house of that legislature reflects less of any national consensus than it does the absurdity of post-census gerrymandering. Never mind Obama. If Romney had won this election, our government would be just as broken. It is the legislative branch that remains an epic systems failure.

For lost and fretful white men, unwilling to accept the terms of a new America, Congress is the last barricade against practical and inevitable change. But there, too, the demographic inevitabilities are all in play. All the gerrymandering in this world won’t make those other Americans, those different Americans, go away. And the tyranny of minority and lack of compromise that you employ to thwart progress now will likely breed an equal contempt when the demographics do indeed provide supermajorities.

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes are going to be counted, more of them with each election. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against the next, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens who demand to control their own bodies.

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year.

Lots of waste and shouting and ignorance still to come, of course. But last night was a milestone.

 

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  1. Chase says:

    Thank you David Simon for this great article. Being a bigot is NEVER acceptable, even if someone thinks it’s because of “my values” or whatever frequently repeated little words they use to try to justify their xenophobia. It doesn’t matter what religion, beliefs, traditions or how “American” you think you are, discriminating against people for any reason whatsoever is just plain wrong. Imagine if someone’s religion said that “murder is fine!”. They could try to justify that all they want, but murder in the true meaning is never fine. Even if they said something like “well, you have your opinion and I have mine”. Folks, that might be a technical “opinion”, but with a little abstract thinking, that “opinion” really has about the same weight as a fact, regardless of whether it is technically an opinion or not.

    So my point is pretty much no matter how you slice it, thinking of race, sexual orientation, or any type of person as having “less value” because the person is not white (and I’m white by the way) is absolutely 100% wrong. Also, we absolutely aren’t being hateful against other whites by saying this. It’s simply that in the US there seems to be a special breed of “white” people that have this incredibly hateful, vile, bully-like view of others. They are wrong. Period. It’s not about their whiteness (It’s just that they happen to be of that color).

    And about the religion thing, folks, I’m just going to say it: religion is all about being delusional. It’s time to grow up. We are well into the 21st century. Again, back to that “opinion” thing. This is not an opinion issue. This is a fact. God simply does not exist. And if you say “well, how do you know for sure?”, the answer is that there comes a point in an intelligent human being’s mind when he has to accept that Santa, the Easter bunny, and all other crazy things do not exist. He takes all the facts together, assembles them in his (hopefully) thinking mind and comes to a logical, realistic, scientifically supported conclusion. With that said, if one can be religious without being hateful or starting wars, then that’s fine as long as he keep it to himself. Your religious personal beliefs deserved to be “attacked” when it comes to them being hateful or starting costly wars.

    It’s a little funny how, with all the information available these days, there are still people who haven’t the slightest idea of how their own planet works, yet feel even remotely qualified to combat well known natural facts, usually by hatefully spouting off scripture from some ancient, very out-of-date religion, as if man’s word has any influence on the workings of the known universe.

    The good news? Atheism is on the rise. Bigoted, weak-minded people are are being replaced rapidly by more intelligent, tolerant, rational human beings. It’s about time.

    Reply
    • Dan says:

      I think it’s weird people are so excited that white religious influence is declining. The modern world was basically built by white Christians. This isn’t to say that nobody else could have done it, but nobody else did do it. It’s also evident that a single belief system is gaining dominance. It’s the one people call leftist or progressive. It’s believes in an increasingly invasive federal government, tons of little laws, enforcing its dogmas with social exclusion. It has its own bad words such as the n word that is probably equivalent in social consequences to saying Jesus Christ as a swear word on televion in 1950. So the new dominant belief system has exactly the same things about it including censorship that people complained about in the old white Christian system. Whether the new left leaning socialist leaning system is capable of producing or maintaining a free society remains to be seen. I don’t really think it will be able to. I think it’s going to make a bigger and bigger more invasive government that will eventually become Big Brother. But we’ll see. Anyway I really think the republicans lost, Obama didn’t win. He barely beat mitt Romney! And it was because of the swing states. I think it’s because he’s a savvier politician. I think Ron Paul would have beat Obama head to head. But you’re right of course that the West is moving away from its white Christian roots. This really shouldn’t produce jubilation though. It should produce soberness I think at best and even a certain amount of apprehension. We are clear cutting the old institutions. I fear we may be cutting ourselves off at the root.

      Reply
    • Dan says:

      Oh I also wanted to say the main immediate reason for today’s legislative gridlock is obamacare and the way they rammed it through. The gridlock will probably decline the farther we get from that disgusting event. That was my personal moment of becoming totally disgusted by politicians.

      Reply
  2. Jason says:

    The problem is an uninformed and apathetic electorate, more interested in American Idol than those governing them (we can thank the “mainstream” media for that). Obama may have been the best choice of the three names on the ballot, but that doesn’t mean he was the best choice. His record proves that. Thank goodness I have the ability to write-in a candidate. I vote my conscience and principles.

    Today, Obama wants the ability to bypass Congress to get what he wants (in violation of the Constitution), to kill American citizens with drones, and make 11 million ILLEGAL immigrants in the nation citizens. This is NOT what America is. My grandparents and other ancestors came over to this nation from Europe and took the legal steps to become citizens.

    On a side note, Mr. Simon, was there ever talk of a season of The Wire focusing on the prison system? I know you did that a bit with the Barksdale clan, but I mean as a full-season arc? Especially now that many are going to private ownership, I think that would’ve been a very timely topic for the show.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Disagree. The American electorate actually wants some very reasonable things if you look at the polls. I have much more faith in the collective will and intent of my fellow citizens. I believe in the ideal of democratic, representative government. The problem isn’t the people.

      The problem is the second branch of government, the legislative. It’s been purchased wholesale by our monied interests. Capital has seized the legislative reins to a point where the popular will cannot find purchase without achieving improbable super-majorities in the national legislature. Short of that, gridlock.

      If the people were actually heeded, I would be rather sanguine about our prospects.

      Reply
      • Jason says:

        Agree with you on the legislative branch being purchased.

        You have better faith in people than I do. I’m in my early 30s and most people my age can’t name their reps in Congress, but they know every contestant on American Idol. They think a drone was in the Terminator films. I am speaking about my personal experience. You obviously have a lot more than I do.

        Reply
      • Jason says:

        In my experience, people don’t want reasonable things. And while the legislative branch is bought and paid for, the “mainstream” media doesn’t help matters. People need to realize there are more options than the Republicrats.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Then democracy can’t work, can it? And we should trust which dictatoriat class to bring us reasonableness? Conservatives? Liberals? Libertarians, who demonstrate their contempt for republican, representative government with every sounding, yet seek elective office so as to then demonstrate their incapacity to build anything but a civic justification for their own selfishness and disconnect from any communal moment of connection?

          Or should we instead try to maximize the voice of the collective and aspire to the democracy we invoke only as platitude?

          I look at the polling data and I see what the majority of Americans believe when it comes to many fundamental issues and I am entirely encouraged. Would that the collective will ever actually be expressed through our purchased political infrastructure. But no.

          I don’t think you could be more wrong about what ails us. It’s not that the people want the wrong things, by and large. It’s that the citizens of this republic no longer get what they want. And need.

          Reply
          • Jason says:

            You’re right, the people aren’t getting what they want. And I see them complain, but not really do anything about it.

            We should elect men and women to represent us who will follow adherence to the people, within the framework of the constitution. In my Congressional District in 2010, we had a candidate for Congress who was neither Democrat or GOP. Jake Towne was an independent who had a plan to govern and represent us based on the Constitution. I volunteered, joining a small group who helped.

            He lost, naturally, as businesses and special interests funneled money to the incumbent GOP candidate. After the election, our Congressman backed unpopular initiatives and I listened to people clamoring for something different. When they enumerated what they were looking for, it was Jake Towne! These people asked me why they never heard of him. All they had to do was look (and not discard the information I gave them and/or led them to). They blew a chance to get someone to act in their interests. I am sure I wasn’t the only one who had this happen.

            Reply
            • Jason says:

              It is evident reading over my posts that I have not articulated my point clearly enough. Allow me to try again.

              Special interests and big business have our legislators bought and paid for. And Citizens United makes it legal. And while perhaps people are generally in agreement on issues, I don’t see enough ire at the fact they are not getting what they need or want. THAT’S the apathy I speak of. I don’t see people getting involved to make a difference. I see and hear complaining and finger-pointing. Are there Republicrat candidates who will ignore big business and focus on the people’s needs? No doubt there are, But people don’t do enough, IMO, to get them to the forefront.

              I hope that’s a bit more clear.

              Reply
  3. David says:

    Here’s the great “change” we got after Warmonger-in-Chief Bush:

    (All of the following articles were written by LEFT-wing, progressive journalists.)

    Obama’s War on medical marijuana
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/obamas-war-on-pot-20120216

    “But over the past year, the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multi¬agency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush.”

    Obama’s War on whistleblowers
    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/06/obamas-whistleblowers-stuxnet-leaks-drones

    Obama’s Drone War on innocent civilians in Asia
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/public-editor/questions-on-drones-unanswered-still.html

    “The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain has estimated that, in the first three years after President Obama took office, between 282 and 535 civilians were credibly reported killed by drone strikes — including more than 60 children.”

    http://droneswatch.org/2013/01/20/list-of-children-killed-by-drone-strikes-in-pakistan-and-yemen/

    http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/22/dirty_wars_jeremy_scahill_and_rick

    “We’re looking right now at a reality that President Obama has essentially extended the very [drone war] policies that many of his supporters once opposed under President Bush,” says Scahill.”

    Obama’s War on civil liberties
    http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/26/drones-yemen-fbi-occupy-terrorism

    http://www.salon.com/2010/05/13/citizens_2/

    Obama protects Wall Street bankers from going to jail
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/23/untouchables-wall-street-prosecutions-obama

    Obama still hasn’t closed Gitmo
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/21/AR2009052104045.html

    Obama’s War on U.S. citizens with drone attacks
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/21/coming-drone-attack-america?INTCMP=SRCH

    Reply
  4. jm says:

    The author of this article is very wrong and needs to do there research!

    He thinks the Republican Party playing social conservatism is a losing weak ass game? Well if you go on the Pew Research Center you’ll find out that a lot of the blacks and Hispanics in the Democratic party are highly religious social conservatives! Most black and Hispanic Democrats are moderates. Some are even conservative on most issues but place there vote based on just a couple issues and on those couple issues they favor the Democrats stance while being conservative on all others.

    I see this as being bad for the Democratic Party and good for the Republicans! Why? Because if the Republicans could find out what is attracting a lot of these religious socially conservative blacks and Hispanics into the Democratic Party then Republicans could adjust there positions and steal them from the Democratic Party! I’m going to guess a majority of blacks vote Democratic due to welfare, blacks were strongly Republican back in the day and left the party for FDR’s New Deal welfare state. I’m going to guess a lot of Hispanics favor welfare and lighter immigration laws. A lot of blacks and Hispanics do live in lower income.

    Reply
    • makeinu says:

      I’m going to guess a majority of blacks vote Democratic due to welfare

      Argument full stop. Played the racist card, ignore anything he says.

      Also, the word you’re looking for is “their”. Not “there” Quit relying on spell check and learn the damn language.

      Reply
      • David says:

        “Also, the word you’re looking for is “their”. Not “there” Quit relying on spell check and learn the damn language. Quit relying on spell check and learn the damn language.” It’s even worse than that. JM should have written; “The author of this article is very wrong and needs to do his research!”

        But that doesn’t take away from his point that there are socially conservative Democrats too.

        Reply
    • David says:

      You’re 100% correct. Obama was voted for 2–1 over McCain in 2008 in California at the same time that Proposition 8 was voted for. (That’s the law mandating that only men and women can marry.)

      Many Democrat Blacks are also Southern Baptists. Many Democrat Latinos are Roman Catholics. There religion says that homosexual is a no-no.

      Also, did you know that about 30% of Democrats are pro-life?

      Reply
  5. Ken says:

    Last night, it mattered just enough to overcome the calcified political calculations of men who think that 47 percent will vote against them because they are victims, or that 53 percent are with them because the rest of us vote only from self-interest and without regard for the republic as a whole.

    When white people act purely in their self interest, they are following the philosophy of Ayn Rand. When minorities vote without regard for the republic, it’s heresy.

    Got that?

    Reply

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