Election Fallout

The growing sectionalism which threatens to split apart America is evident in Europe as well

With the US elections now a distant memory, some are taking stock of the future -- and don't like very much what they see. It's not only the next four years under Bush that worries many Americans, but the general direction the country appears to be heading in. If Bush is able to exploit the power he now has, with support at all levels of government and the judiciary -- the Congress, the Senate, and the Supreme Court -- then it's not only the next four year which will prove hard to take, but maybe even the next forty.

Already, some are thinking of making their way to that traditional refuge in times of crisis -- Canada. Americans have been queuing up to settle down in the Great White North; since the election, five times more people have made inquiries about going north and becoming a resident. Canadians, for their part, although pulling for Kerry quite openly and now having to sweeten up to Bush, are amused at the plight of some of their neighbours to the south. As one newspaper columnist from Montreal wrote:

Fret not, all our American brothers and sisters, so dismayed and disenchanted by the result of your presidential election. Help is on the way. No sooner was Dubya confirmed for a second term than an anxious friend from Burlington, Boston and even Burbank called. They wanted to come to Canada -- immediately. They wanted to know how to expedite the immigration process. Could they marry in a jiff? Marriage notwithstanding, would Canada accept a native of Pittsburgh as a political refugee, an inquiring American mind wanted to know. And does Canada need any more skilled slackers or workers from the fields of comedy and/or law?

Now all those of you in the liberal Northeast, West Coast and faraway Hawaii have to do is simply secede and join Canada. Ok, maybe Dubya`s boy Dick Cheney would be only too willing to dropkick Vermont into Canada -- Cheney and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy did have harsh words after all. Or even Kennedy/Kerry-infested Massachusetts. But no way Dubya lets all the other Democrat states go. It just might work. And if Dubya decides to play hardball in negotiations, it would bite but we could be tempted to toss Ontario into the trade in a pinch.

Jokes aside, there are many who feel that the path the US is on could eventually lead to a huge domestic crisis. Although most would concede that this time Bush won the presidential elections legitimately, the nature of his victory nevertheless attests to the fact that the country is split, and could even be split apart in due course.

For this reason, as soon as Bush was confirmed the winner, the American media immediately pounced on the issue of Bush having a "mandate". Vice President Dick Cheney gave the cue when he noted in his victory speech that "President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future, and the nation responded by giving him a mandate." Most pundits followed suit, and were of the opinion that on taxes, on the war on terror, and on values especially, Bush has a clear mandate. What is more, they reasoned, the vote was a massive repudiation by middle and rural America of the contemptuous attitude of the liberal elite.

While Bush and his supporters claim that he has a mandate, it's quite clear that he doesn't have one. Not only is the country more divided now than ever before, but the notion that the Bush victory was a massive repudiation of liberalist values is equally fallacious. Moreover, the set of conservative "moral values" that the Republicans campaigned on is very narrowly defined on sexual identity and opposition to abortion. Other issues simply don't exist. The protection of pensions as a moral issue, for instance, and the lies that corporate America has constructed in order to evade pension responsibilities, was completely avoided.

While nearly everyone focused on how Bush would use Iraq and the war on terror in his campaign, it was actually the issues of gay rights and abortion which determined the US elections in 2004, and not foreign policy or domestic economic issues. Indeed, some feel that just as the Supreme Court gave Bush his first term, the Massachusetts Supreme Court handed him his second by putting gay marriage on the political map and letting the Republicans exploit it for all its worth. As one observer put it, "you take gay marriage off the ballot and Kerry would be president. It's as simple as that."

For the majorityof conservative Americans, the top criterion in choosing a president in 2004 was "moral values". Twenty-two percent of all voters voted this way, and of these 80 percent voted for Bush, which translates into some 21 million voters who voted primarily on values and voted for Bush. Yet the so-called "values" they were voting for was limited. One of these was the value of traditional marriage between a woman and a man. Bush's proposed same-sex marriage ban amendment to the US Constitution, which was rejected four months ago by the Senate, struck at the very heart of the evangelical Christian community. For these people, same-sex marriage represents the end of the world as they know it.

Another such value was that of abortion. As with same sex marriage, it was done in such a way that Bush strategists concentrated on one area of moral concern to the exclusion of the rest. Thus, all other moral issues were simply buried under the abortion issue. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that it was the issue that brought out more voters than any other. And the way it was done was quite Machiavellian: Karl Rove got Bush to sign off on a constitutional amendment, then he got the House to vote for it, then he let the Senate vote against it. This, in turn, elevated it to such a state that it became a key platform for the Bush campaign.

In the end, it should come as no surprise that Bush thinks he has a mandate. In the 2000 election, when he had only forty-nine percent of the vote, he then thought he had a mandate, so this time he's definitely going to behave as if he's got one.

Splitting Apart America

The mandate talk thrown about by the corporate media and politicians alike isn't only ridiculous but also misleading. The picture of Bush winning a stunning victory is likewise illusory; Bush only received fifty-one percent of the vote, which means forty-nine percent of the population didn't want him as president for a second term.

While some more level-headed Republican supporters may concede that Bush doesn't really have a mandate, they nevertheless feel that he should act like he has one. Their reasoning is that he won a clear-cut victory in hard times, thus he can interpret this victory in itself as a mandate. Contrary to four years ago, when the talk was of bringing the country together after a divisive election, most believe that Bush should go ahead and not be deterred by all those who say that he's got to reach out to the other side.

Unfortunately, while approximately 55 million voters didn't give Bush a blank check to do whatever he wants, the people who voted for him did; they thus gave him their complete trust to do whatever he wants. However, this may be more difficult than many believe, as the government is essentially bankrupt.

Aside from this, the big problem the country now faces, which is going to produce a serious discussion of secession over the next 20 years, is that the segment of the country that pays for the federal government is now being governed by the people who don't pay for the federal government. Ninety percent of the "red" (i.e., Republican) states are welfare client states of the federal government, that is, they collect more from the federal government than they send in. New York, California, Connecticut, and other states that are "blue" (i.e., Democrat), are all the states that are paying for the bulk of everything the government does, and the people in those states don't like what the government is doing.

Generally, most taxpayers in New York and California who earn good incomes (i.e., over $50,000), vote Republican (ironically, the highest-income voters voted for Kerry). Still, the majority of taxpayers in total -- who don't make good incomes -- vote Democrat, which explains why those states are predominantly blue, with the exception of suburbs and rural areas where the rich and politically ignorant respectively usually live in America.

In terms of geography, therefore, there's a clear split between the wealthiest and most populous cities along the West Coast and in the northeast, which are blue states, and those of the midwest and south, which are poorer and red states. Looking at this map, it's clear that there is a growing sectionalism in American society, and that this growing sectionalism has already led to open contempt between some regions of the country and others. Not only is there a geographical division, but there are also a lot of different demographic groups pitted against one other.

These divisions can be clearly seen in the political makeup of the two parties. The Republican party has support from primarily white men, married women, a large portion of Hispanics, rural voters, and the religious right. The Democratic party, on the other hand, has single women, minorities, and young people.

This growing sectionalism in the US have led many to warn of a looming crisis unless it's dealt with appropriately. Sectionalism in the United States led to the Civil War; it was a conflict not just over slavery. Yet most Republicans deny that there are deep regional differences in the US. They see the issue of sectionalism as nothing more than the talk of a few sore losers.

In God We Trust?

There are real fears now, apart from the increased sectionalism and intense political partisanship, that the presidency is being turned over to evangelists. While the religious right has always had an influence in American politics, their grip on political power now seems total. Others are not so pessimistic, however, speculating that the evangelists have served their purpose. In other words, they are dispensable.

Still, there is no doubt that the evangelists are expecting something in return for putting Bush back into the White House. In particular, they expect the appointment of strict constructionists and conservatives to the Supreme Court to eventually overturn Roe vs Wade, the ruling which made abortion legal in the US for over three decades. Failure to do so would send a sense of despair among evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics -- one that would be total.

On all sides of the political divide, there seems to be general agreement that within the next four years a Bush-appointed court will overturn Roe vs Wade. If so, what this will do is even further deepen the social divide in the US. The blue and red map will simply reflect where abortion is legal and where it's not as overturning Roe vs Wade merely sends the issue back to individual states. This, in turn, will further alienate states from one another, to the extent that places like California and Texas will find that they have almost nothing in common.

It's this sense of having something in common which lies at the very heart of any kind of political organisation or union, from political parties to nation states, including intra-national organisations like the European Union. Indeed, the European Union perhaps can learn from the mistakes being made in the US in order to prevent a breakup of the pan European project. The sectionalism which threatens to split apart America is evident in Europe as well.

As in the US, there are an increasing number of those who draw from EU coffers as opposed to those who put in. In fact, during the run-up to EU expansion in May, most then candidate countries sold the idea of membership to their citizens on the basis that they would be net recipients of EU funding, and not net donors to the EU.

No doubt someone will be disappointed: either Eurocrats in Brussels who have to deal with a growing sectionalism that could eventually break apart the EU, or frustrated citizens from member states who suddenly realise that the promises of EU membership have not been met. In either case, it's going to be a hard and bumpy road to the future -- both in Europe and America. (John Horvath)