Well, it’s over. Truly, finally over. It was an election night that surprised (disappointed?) most pundits who thought for sure this thing was going to drag on forever and ever. And, though the night itself did — did you also stay up until after the President’s speech, around 2 a.m. here on the east coast — the fact that those who went to bed at a sensible hour woke up to results is a relief, to say the least.
One of the most immediate responses I’ve been hearing from the non-stop punditry, and particularly from Romney supporters, is that this election means more of the same — the phrase “status-quo” has been tossed around a lot these last couple days.
But it’s not just Romney supporters. Minutes after Jon Stewart announced that the president was projected to win, he fumed (in that jokingly fuming way he has) that “Two years, $3 billion dollars, and we are clearly in the same place as where we started.”
So this has been a running refrain. It’s as if the elections were for naught. As if we could’ve skipped the whole circus, saved tons of time and money, and been just as well off. Now, I, like everybody else in the country, would love it if our campaign season was shorter and far less expensive, so to the extent that these “status quo” claims are lamenting that, I’m right there with them. I think this is what Jon Stewart was on about.
But there’s another way in which these claims can be understood, and that is that the American public was somehow duped, that we wanted change but we got nothing. This is a serious misreading. First, democracy worked. We had the opportunity to change course and decided to give the current administration more time. And, in doing so with such a narrow margin, we also let the administration know that we expect them to work hard for us. The president’s acceptance speech early Wednesday morning acknowledged this.
But, just as importantly, we learned a lot about our changing country through this election cycle, and I predict that years down the line we will look back at 2012 as the year in which a number of subterranean shifts in the US populous broke through to the surface. We can no longer deny, for example, that the white male majority in this country is on its last leg, that Americans’ values are shifting toward greater openness and acceptance, and that religion, though still important, is a lot more difficult to track with a few check boxes.
I want to stay, for just a moment, with the shift in Americans’ values. Much to the surprise of observers on all sides, each of the four states that had some kind of gay marriage referendum on the ballot all came out in favor of gay marriage. The Religion News Service is calling this a “sea change.”
Though there are some (well, maybe many depending on where you live) who would not call this a shift or a sea change so much as a wholesale abandonment of traditional American morality, what we are seeing is absolutely good, and not just for progressives. This shift in American values, to the extent that it is grounded in extending the same rights and privileges to all citizens, is good for the entire country.
I know I’m not even remotely close to the first person to make this argument, but at this moment it is important to remind ourselves that what we’re talking about here is a mass movement of people who want to be allowed to be in committed, monogamous relationships.
Contrast this with the institution of no-fault divorce, the previous front-runner in the drastic changes to marriage category. Though there was also a moral argument for no-fault divorce, advocates ultimately had to make the case for the value of dissolving marriages, breaking apart families. But in the case of gay marriage, millions of people are asking to take the country in the opposite direction, they’re asking to be allowed to participate in the most fundamental core element of traditional American morality, the family.
Yes, Americans’ values are shifting. It’s a sea change. Traditional morality, that is your mother’s morals (obligatory and shameless book plug!), will be a casualty. But it’s okay, because in this case traditional morality was exclusive, and it cut a significant portion of the population out of an institution that advocates of traditional morality would argue is unequivocally good. Certainly there are some elements of traditional morality that will always be worth fighting to uphold, but excluding people from a fundamental right for their differences is not one of them.
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