Hate may have lost the war for the presidency, but it may yet win the forthcoming battle for America. Barack Obama faces a second term in a country where almost half of the people not only oppose him but often fear and loath him, while his political adversaries are determined to undermine his every move as they’ve done for the past four years.
At the same time, many of the President’s supporters are deeply disillusioned, backing him largely to keep the Republicans out. Their 2008 Obama is no more. They see a new Mr. Obama, a stranger, a man they feel they know little about. Yeats knew: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
The consequences are plain. Barack Obama may be the most powerful man in the world, but his real capacity to act will be seriously constrained. Of course we know little about how he might wish to act. His woeful campaign gave little sense of future intentions, while the list of areas where the president already betrayed so many hopes is long and disheartening – justice, drones, torture, police brutality, inequality, prisons, African Americans, poverty, education, Africa, gun control, war on drugs, whistleblowing, climate change, the Middle East.
But even modest and essential steps will be rejected by those whose only interest remains to sabotage the President, whatever the consequences for the country. Forget the guff about Republican soul-searching. Watch how close the Republican-controlled House of Representatives comes to propelling the country over the “fiscal cliff” rather than co-operate with the President.
Even if the Democrats have hung on to the Senate, Mr. Obama faces a vast array of implacable foes: a Republican House dominated by the Tea Party; a flagrantly partisan Supreme Court; ultra-conservative judges across the U.S. methodically appointed for life through 12 years of Reagan and Bush Sr. and 8 years of Bush Jr.; hard-right Republican governors in 60 per cent of the states; the enormous power of America’s corporate elite (even though the plutocracy thrived greatly under the Obama administration) and their billion-dollar lobbying efforts; and of course the inflammatory right-wing media that never accepted Barack Obama as a legitimate American citizen let alone the legitimate president of the country.
Is this what the President meant in his acceptance speech when he conjured up his fantasy of a United States of America? It would surely be more accurate to invoke Canada’s own Lord Durham and his famous phrase: “two warring nations within the bosom of a single state.”
Yet these are not two mutually hostile nations. Both parties are not at all equally responsible for the present governance dysfunction. Even a faint memory of the bizarre and terrifying debates for the Republican presidential nomination attests to that truth. The Republican party has been captured by ideological radicals so extreme that Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s 2008 campaign director, calls them the “whack-a-doodle fringe.”
Such people share two characteristics. They have quite remarkable views on such issues as violence against women. And they really hate the President, whom they regard as an outsider, an alien, a Kenyan, a Muslim, not a real American.
These are people who accuse Mr. Obama, as Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan did last weekend, of compromising “those Judeo-Christian, Western-civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.” These are the people who, over the past four years, have routinely and gleefully competed to see who can hurl the most scurrilous insult against a man they have variously slandered as a communist, Marxist, pro-Islamist, among others.
The fact that virtually every fear they’ve expressed has been disproved – al-Qaeda will be dancing in the streets, the economy will collapse, freedom of speech for opponents would be eliminated – is a matter of supreme indifference. As far as they’re concerned, this strategy won almost half the country’s votes on Tuesday. So do not expect them to rest from their labours now, not for a single second.
Some day the Republican Party may return to the American mainstream, which has actually become far more conservative over the years. But not yet. There are no moderates of influence left in the Republican Party; Mitt Romney, whatever his actual views, is already a non-person. The party now belongs to its extreme fringe in every sphere of public policy – social, economic and international.
When Republican House Speaker John Boehner announces he wants to work together with the President so long as there are no tax hikes for the 1 per cent, you know the reality of Barack Obama’s mythical United States of America.