Monday, November 5, 2018

Ten Years On

Last night was the tenth anniversary of the 2008 election. I have been thinking a lot about that night.  I had recently moved to Nacogdoches, a small town in the piney woods of East Texas that was just about as conservative as you would expect. My friends and I went to the one local bar that wasn't student-oriented to have beers and watch the returns. On this historic night none of the many TVs were tuned in, except for a small TV in the corner with the sound turned off.

When Obama crossed the threshold for an electoral voter majority, we cheered. It quickly became obvious that the other people in the space were incredibly unhappy. At that moment we took the hint and left. There was an acrid stench of hateful anger in the air, like the smell of gunpowder after shooting off fireworks.

We watched the returns and Obama's speech at my friends' house. The next day at the university I noticed something odd. Many of my students were very happy about the election, but they carried on with their celebration very quietly. I soon realized why. That same smell of hateful resentment was in the air. I noticed it especially when I went to teach my afternoon upper-level class, and a normally mild-mannered older student was ranting to his peers about how horrible the election of Barack Obama was. He was complaining about the need to purge "Republicans in Name Only." I realized in that moment that Obama was not to get an inch of respect or cooperation from Republicans. Later in April this town of 30,000 would draw 10,000 to the first big Tea Party rally.

The anger I was seeing directly contradicted the dominant media narrative of the time of a "post-racial nation." Ten years on it's obvious that the election or Barack Obama saw the creation of a mainstream and very successful version of white identity politics. Trump in the White House is the logical end point. Nowadays the anger I saw after Obama's election is the driving force in American politics.

Ten years after the Obama win the new president is making fear-mongering about immigrants the centerpiece of his campaign. The old prohibitions against open racism have fallen away. This all feels like a second Redemption, similar to when southern white conservatives terrorized their opponents to bring about the end of Reconstruction. Powerful and deadly forces have been unleashed on our country, I have no clue when it will stop.

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