Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Closing Thoughts on the American Presidential Election

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

Thankfully, the American election is finally over, and the good news is that Barack Obama won. But what a task he faces.

In the United States today, income for most people has stagnated while the exceptionally wealthy have been making out like bandits, some Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers earning more than a billion dollars a year.

Forty million people are without health care, while others who get laid off from their jobs find themselves suddenly losing their health insurance. Infrastructure – roads, bridges, hospitals – is in drastic need of repair. Public education and transportation are a mess.

And Americans are fighting in a war that has taken some five thousand American lives, for no particular end – Iraq will probably be plunged into internal conflict almost as soon as they leave.

For years, Washington turned a blind eye to the shenanigans of a financial “industry” that has now led to the economy crashing down around our ears. “Deep recession” is the new euphemism for what was once called a “depression.”

Yet what we got from John McCain was hectoring about Obama’s so-called “socialism,” because he wanted to raise taxes on millionaires!

What offended many most of all was the selection of Sarah Palin for the vice-presidential position. This was an affront to anyone who values learning, education, and knowledge, and isn’t simply an anti-intellectual philistine. It was a slap in the face. She probably hasn’t read a single book since college.

African-Americans and Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama, because most non-white and non-evangelical groups have begun to see the Republican Party as a “white fundamentalist” party.

McCain on November 4 won little more than the reactionary states of the old Confederacy and the thinly-populated great plains states. He lost every major state except Texas. Just about every major city and college town – the places where American industry and brainpower resides – voted for Obama.

The Republican Party has been reduced to a rabble of bigots, racists and nativists. They now resemble the so-called Know-Nothings of the 19th century.

The Know-Nothings, whose actual name was the American Party, gained traction in the United States in the 1850s. The party was organized to oppose the great wave of immigrants, mainly Catholic Irish and Italians, who had begun immigrating to the United States.

Know-Nothings claimed that the immigrants threatened to destroy the American experiment, as the new groups would be subservient to a foreign power – the Roman Catholic Church, led by the Pope in Rome.

The Know-Nothings wanted to preserve their vision of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant society. Their state and national platforms demanded that immigration be limited and that a 21-year wait be imposed before an immigrant could become a citizen and vote. They also sought to have the Protestant version of the Bible read daily in classrooms.

Since the 1980s, a once relatively secular, big-business party, centered in the northeast and Midwest, has been taken over by such small-town, rural evangelicals. People like Sarah Palin of Alaska, truly a know-nothing in every sense of the word, are the reductio ad absurdum of this politics.

In her speeches, she divided the citizens of America into “real patriotic” Americans, and others – by which she meant, like her 19th century political ancestors, non-Protestant “foreigners” and “terrorists.”

Unless the Republican Party frees itself from such people, it will be doomed to irrelevance. America becomes day by day a more diverse society. Demography is not on the side of intolerance.