There have always been dueling American “myths” about who we are as a nation, and those national self-images clashed mightily during this year’s election. On the one hand, we had the “Christian Nation” folks and their enablers, the pundits and politicians whose appeal for our votes could be summed up by the often-intoned promise to “take back” the country.
From whom? They never said, but the implication was clear: from those Others. The non-white, non-native-born, non-Jesus-loving, non “real” Americans.
On the other hand, there were the growing percentages of the electorate who fell into those categories. As Eugene Robinson described in his column this morning:
Nationwide, roughly three of every 10 voters Tuesday were minorities. African-Americans chose Obama by 93 percent, Latinos by 71 percent, and Asian-Americans, the nation’s fastest-growing minority, by 73 percent.
These are astounding margins, and I think they have less to do with specific policies than with broader issues of identity and privilege. I think that when black Americans saw Republicans treat President Obama with open disrespect and try their best to undermine his legitimacy, they were offended. When Latinos heard Republicans insist there should be no compassion for undocumented immigrants, I believe they were angered. When Asian-Americans heard Republicans speak of China in almost “Yellow Peril” terms, I imagine they were insulted.
On Tuesday, the America of today asserted itself. Four years ago, the presidential election was about Barack Obama and history. This time, it was about us — who we are as a nation — and a multihued, multicultural future.
Power doesn’t pass easily. Very few people yield privilege willingly. Change of any sort is disruptive and unsettling. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the ugliness that has emerged during this period of social and political evolution, but it’s hard not to wish for a more graceful, even enthusiastic, acceptance of change. After all, our diversity–and our professed willingness to forge the “many” into “one”–has been a constant point of American pride.
However reluctantly, the nation is in the process of living up to that motto. We’ve chosen our myth.
There are plenty of Americans who aren’t happy with our multi-cultural reality. They’ll need to get over it.