4. Barack Obama has successfully conducted a number of wars of hyphenated-Americans against the regressive establishment. When the Obama campaign asked supporters to check off which “constituency groups” they identified with but did not include “whites” or “men” among the options, or when the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who gave the 2009 inaugural benediction, can declare without pushback that white people are going to Hell, or when one totals up the Obama administration’s vocabulary of racial polarization (e.g., “nation of cowards,” “my people,” “punish our enemies,” “put y’all back in chains”) and collates the invective with that of the Black Caucus and the likes of MSNBC, then we are headed for a backlash analogous to that of the 1970s among the white working class. In the new racialist landscape, is it any surprise that Jamie Foxx can joke about killing white people, or that Chris Rock can call the Fourth of July “white people’s independence day,” or that Samuel L. Jackson can brag of voting along strictly racial lines, or that Morgan Freeman can equate opposition to Obama with racism, even as he reminds us that Obama is only half black?
Many of us had hoped that the phenomenal rate of intermarriage and assimilation had made the old racial rubrics anachronistic, if not irrelevant, but Obama has managed in brilliant fashion to resurrect them in terms of minority groups’ having grievances against the assumed white majority that does all sorts of awful things, from arresting children on their way to purchase ice cream to stereotyping people solely on the basis of race.
It was almost surreal to watch the pre–November 6 media and political commentariat daily allege racism and attempts to prevent minorities from voting, only to witness their post–November 6 jubilation that Obama’s reelection had given America a reprieve and proven the power of the Other to express itself at the ballot box. When asking a would-be voter to show his a driver’s license is declared tantamount to voter intimidation, while 59 Philadelphia precincts collectively reporting a margin of 19,605 to 0 against Romney is merely proof of the president’s popularity in minority communities, then we have a growing divide that will not be assuaged by cheap “no more red state/blue state” rhetoric from those who help to foster it.
5. In the new climate of “fat cats,” “corporate jet owners,” “pay your fair share,” “you didn’t build that,” and “1 percent,” the more Americans have, the more they are envious of those who have more. One might have thought that the technological revolution, in combination with the welfare state, had redefined poverty altogether in ways that the fossilized entitlement bureaucracy could hardly grasp. Certainly, a Kia, an iPhone, and a big-screen TV do not disqualify one from the menu of American entitlements. That today’s earner or recipient of $35,000 in wages or entitlements has better appurtenances — in terms of computer power, phone, and car — than the $250,000 earner of 30 years ago means little. The point is not that the modern iPhone gives the poor man access to more knowledge than the entire RAND Corporation had 50 years ago, but that the contemporary RAND Corporation has more access than what an iPhone can provide, leaving its owner in relative terms still poor. That today’s Kia is better in many ways than yesterday’s Mercedes matters little — it is still not today’s Lexus. One of the great lessons in the age of Obama is that wealth and poverty will always remain relative. Happiness is now defined not as having the basics I need, but as ensuring that someone else does not have more. Obama has successfully appealed to the oldest and basest of human emotions — envy and jealousy, masked with the notion of enforced fairness — and for now they trump even the human desire to be free.