As expected, Democrat Barack Obama, the change candidate, trounced Republican John McCain, the other change candidate, and by all rights, today should be a day of celebration, elation, and optimism. Hopes should soar, as Americans of every color and class lay hands "on the arc of history," to bend it away from cynicism and despair.
But contrary to what you'll read elsewhere on the Internet, this isn't a "Morning in America" moment. And it's not an FDR moment either. This is Barack Obama's moment to take the helm of a hobbled, embattled country that is broke, broken, and still deeply divided.
McCain's concession speech may have been earnest and conciliatory, but his audience didn't seem to be buying any of it. His bitterly divisive campaign strategy reinforced at every turn the Bushist idea that some Americans are fundamentally more American than others. It was a theme that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, McCain's unvetted running mate, vigorously and disastrously embraced.
After 9/11 turned America into a nation of trembling sheep, Karl Rove and Bill Kristol's bellicose band of neoconservatives infected the national discourse with an idea that only good conservatives can love this country, even if they hate half the natural population. Right-wing radio and Fox news reimagined the Land of the Free as a land of terrifying extremes, where God-fearing pro-life moderates are constantly threatened by radical, troop-hating leftists who want to eradicate God, round up the guns, and turn the children of honest farm-folks gay.
So what happens when the real patriotic America-loving Americans are made exiles in their own land by the anti-American Americans who've elected this Socialist half-black secret Muslim and/or radical Christian? Maybe they'll come to understand that Democrats aren't so bad after all. Maybe unity will happen. But that seems unlikely at this point.
In the closing weeks of his campaign, McCain told his supporters that America was once again on the brink of war. The old soldier, who sacrificed so much for his country, appealed to the most extreme elements of his party, suggesting that, if elected, Obama would start a war with Real Americans.
"The whole premise behind Senator Obama's [economic] plans is class warfare," McCain said during the final Presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York. That same night, he seconded Palin's claim that Obama had been "pallin' around with terrorists."
He said he wanted to know more about his opponent's tangential relationship with Bill Ayers, a University of Chicago professor and former 1960s radical whose bombing days were over decades before he ever served on a board with Obama.
To accuse a fellow American of "pallin' around with terrorists is a serious charge, but it's nothing compared to the threat of a class war. War means somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose. One class will be brought low so that another can be elevated. That's what war means. In this case, the McCain camp played into fears that hard-working white folks will be robbed so that shiftless blacks can benefit from Obama's great socialist redistribution of America's wealth. By telling "real Americans" that a real war was coming, McCain gave Real Americans permission to take measures to defend themselves.
Even the propagandists at Fox news started taking note of the nasty vibe radiating from the crowds at McCain/Palin rallies. Fox anchor Shepard Smith was openly contemptuous when Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, the bald white paranoiac doofus handpicked by the McCain campaign as a straight-talking emissary from Real America, repeated baseless statements about how the election of Obama meant death to Israel.
By election day, the McCain campaign had witnessed the defection of many prominent conservatives, like columnist Christopher Buckley and former Secretary of State Colin Powell who, after reflecting on McCain's troubling campaign choices, decided to endorse the Democrat.
McCain was clearly playing with fire by pandering to the most volatile segment of his electorate. But even if McCain's talk of a false America was nothing but empty campaign lip-service, there are dark places in America where those ideas are likely to take root and grow.
Only a week ago, a pair of Real Americans from the Mid-South was arrested after their plot to assassinate Obama surfaced. The plan was insane, involving fast cars and white tuxedos, but the men, who both identified with a white supremist philosophy, were entirely serious. The social extremists that President Bush has coddled for the last eight years, that John McCain has protected throughout his career, are about to be cut off, cold turkey, and it's impossible to know how this potentially volatile minority will respond.
Maybe it is morning in America. If so, it's a terrible hangover morning in America, where all the excesses of the long night before may come back to haunt the revelers. Maybe Obama is the antidote for the problems we face at the moment, but what about the ones that lie ahead? In the 1960s, domestic terrorism was a leftist phenomenon. That was then. In the new century it will come from Real America. Yes, it will.