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US: Blue and White or Inclusive Nation?

Last updated on: November 11, 2020 22:06 IST

Biden and Harris are the leaders we need at this time to do the painful but necessary work of creating a more inclusive -- and united -- nation, points out Murali Kamma.

IMAGE: US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris take the stage at the Chase Center to address the nation in Wilmington, Delaware, November 8. Photograph: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images
 

"She maybe didn't quite imagine this moment," Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said on November 7, 2020, referring to her late immigrant mother.

Harris, though, did break the barrier against great odds, making her historic achievement a proud moment for women and people of color, including South Asian Americans.

It was an extraordinary moment for President-elect Joe Biden as well.

An incumbent President was defeated after a gap 28 years ago -- and Biden, now 77, won the presidency on his third attempt.

'Joe is a healer,' Harris added. 'A uniter. A tested and steady hand.'

Those attributes will be so important, because the sobering reality is that over 71 million, mostly white Americans voted for a demagogue -- Trump -- in 2020.

Despite a dishonest and dysfunctional presidency, which culminated in a disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic, Trumpism remains alive, even if he's headed for the exit after four tumultuous years.

Of course, many Trump supporters are not uncritical admirers, but why were they willing to overlook his faults?

Why, in other words, did they elect a malignant charlatan twice, not just once, when he is thuggish, uninformed, crooked, and incompetent?

And then there's the racism and narcissism.

Did our precious democracy not matter to his followers?

Various reasons -- tribalism, inequality, disinformation, lower taxes, cultism, pro-life concerns, conspiracy theories, populism, second amendment, nativism, right-wing and social media, deregulation, masculine insecurity, Supreme Court, liberal condescension, and reality TV -- have been trotted out for the rise of Trumpism.

They are all valid, in varying degrees.

Underpinning it is the great anxiety -- cultural, racial, and economic -- over the rapid demographic shifts under way.

Biden beat Trump by over four and a half million votes -- the highest margin ever.

That doesn't change the fact that the US today remains a deeply polarized country.

'There are no red states or blue states, just the United States,' Biden said, quoting Obama.

But what we have is a Blue and White Nation.

While 'Blue' encompasses a diverse coalition and is Democratic, 'White' -- no explanation needed -- is predominantly Republican.

University of Michigan researchers Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov have studied the 'ethnicization' of political parties.

'As the share of whites among self-identified Democrats is rapidly decreasing (outpacing demographic changes in the country as a whole), the Republican Party remains overwhelmingly white,' they write.

'Our conjecture is that it is these changes in race and ethnicity that drive most of the affective polarization we have witnessed over the last 30 years.'

For decades, almost nine out of every ten voters were white.

Even in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of voters were non-Hispanic whites.

Then came swift change, and by 2018-2019 that share of the electorate dropped to 69 percent.

In 2016, even when it became clear that Trump was dangerously unfit for the nation's highest office, he got elected.

How? White insecurity played a key role.

And now, there's no better explanation for why roughly half the electorate apparently had no qualms about tipping their nation into an autocracy.

'The strongest predictor by far of these antidemocratic attitudes is ethnic antagonism -- especially concerns about the political power and claims on government resources of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos,' notes Vanderbilt political scientist Larry Bartels.

'The strong tendency of ethnocentric Republicans to countenance violence and lawlessness, even prospectively and hypothetically, underlines the significance of ethnic conflict in contemporary US politics'

Nevertheless, Biden was absolutely right to quote Obama and strike a conciliatory note.

There's no other way, really, in such a divided country.

Biden and Harris are the leaders we need at this time to do the painful but necessary work of creating a more inclusive -- and united -- nation.

Murali Kamma is an Atlanta-based writer and managing editor of Khabar magazine.
His debut book, Not Native: Short Stories of Immigrant Life in an In-Between World, won a 2020 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) for multicultural fiction.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

MURALI KAMMA