Skip to main content

President Barack Obama's re-election was a victory for diversity in a changing America and a changing world.

His narrower victory than the one he obtained in 2008 belies an enormous victory for what propels diversity in America and indeed in the whole world. But the Obama re-election also points to the fact that the triumph of diversity often is accompanied by deep divisions in American and other heterogeneous societies.

Those who have analysed the voting patterns have pointed out to the fact that what kept Mr. Obama in the White House, despite unemployment at historic levels and the barrage of attack ads by the billionaire adversaries and the relentless – sometimes overt – racist commentaries of the right-wing media, is the coming of age of the American diversity coalition.

That coalition comprised of African, Hispanic and Asian-Americans teaming up progressive urban white voters along the millions of women who stood guard on their reproductive rights and the need for a more caring compassionate society. The coalition was joined by the battalions of youth who resisted a disillusioned sense that the first Obama presidency had not done enough on their issues, especially on the environment and social justice. Those fighting against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation also joined the coalition for Mr. Obama.

Lined up against this rainbow coalition were the less diverse rural parts of America that cover much of the American landmass. However, the increasing number of the urban dwellers from the diversity coalition, especially from the rapidly increasing Hispanic population, has reduced the electoral impact of these regions.

This coalition often found common ground with working-class white Americans. The attempt by Mr. Obama to save their jobs through the massive stimulus program in an economic situation that edged closer to the Great Depression brought some of those working families into the Democratic diversity coalition – at least in the heavily industrialised swing states of the Midwest.

Members of the right-wing establishment who had a visceral antipathy to President Obama that bordered on outright bigotry, such as Donald Trump, tried to rally the less diverse coalition into a majority to elect Mitt Romney. They failed, in part, because the millions in the diversity coalition were galvanised because they feared what consequences a Tea Party-driven Republican presidency would unleash. Their fears were probably not calmed by Mr. Romney's pivot to the moderate centre during the three presidential debates.

The great challenge that President Obama as the leader of the diversity coalition now faces is to bridge the divide between those who elected him and the entrenched opposition that he faces from the old establishment coalition. The economic security of the United States depends on finding that common ground, as Obama stated in his inclusive victory speech.

One key point that President Obama must keep on reminding the old establishment coalition that their numbers are diminishing as the minority groups, especially the Hispanic population, moves towards becoming the majority coalition. If they desire to ensure any of their central concerns and values are sustainable into the future, it is they who must show common cause with the growing diversity coalition or face marginalization and ultimately irrelevance.

Canada should be aware that our version of the diversity coalition is growing in this country and may well end the Harper Conservatives hold on power, if the opposition can only manage to galvanise our version of that coalition the way President Obama did in the country to the south.

Errol Patrick Mendes, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, also served as the senior advisor on diversity in the Privy Council of Canada in 2005 during the tenure of prime minister Paul Martin.