Antagonism rigorous

NEW JERSEY - Never was I happier to be wrong. Though Obama gained a second term to the White House only by narrow margins in the so-called battleground states that swing from liberal to conservative and back again-winning sometimes by a hairsbreadth-the important thing is: he won. What a relief. And what a disaster.

Lee Siegel,

11 de novembro de 2012 | 01h00

The relief of course is that now America will not be returned to the 19th century by a Republican party that does not have enough spine to stand up to the extremists who are destroying it. The disaster is that the rage against Obama that fueled the astonishing support for a cipher like Romney will only increase.

Obama piled up a great number of electoral votes, but he carried the popular vote by a margin slimmer than the narrow margins he won by in the battleground states. It is surreal: American is split in fundamental political and cultural values right down the middle. The country has not suffered that kind of division since the Civil War.

That chasm has plenty of consequences, but the one that worries me the most is the corrosive effect it has on public space. Without a consensus on what type of society people want to live in, there is no trust in a common space people can inhabit together. Whatever happens in the political realm over the next four years, the already shrinking public space will contract even more.

The public space in America has been disappearing for years now. Proliferating laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons make public spaces dangerous places to be. A bar, a busy street, a children's baseball game attended by hyper-competitive parents-they all become potential killing fields when people are carrying revolvers under their jackets or strapped to their ankles. The frequent mass murders in schools, workplaces and movie theaters are like one blow after another to the public realm.

Part of the war on public space is the result of the Republican rage for privatization. These people want to turn everything over to private entrepreneurs: schools, public hospitals, the post office, public universities, parks, zoos, even tax collection. The idea that something exists for the sake of the general welfare or happiness, without creating profits for someone, is unbearable for many Republicans. For them, there is no life outside the marketplace. "I would colonize the stars if I could," said the British Cecil Rhodes, that arch-imperialist. Republicans would put price-tags on the stars if they could, and trade them on Wall Street.

Even the seeming rightwing devotion to Christian values is suffused with the urge to privatize. There is nothing Christian about it. The strange Republican obsession with rape, which sank two of their candidates for Senate in this election, reflects this. For true Christians, God expresses His love through the way people surrender their self-interest and care for other people. For American Republicans, God is a CEO who issues direct orders to his employees. The idea, expressed by one hapless Republican candidate for Senate, that pregnancy caused by rape "is something that God intended to happen," utterly ignores a public realm inhabited by people other than God. In this view, people do not live precious, unique lives, die and go to heaven. Rather, the emphasis is on management not labor. People do not die: they are laid off from existence.

Still, for all the Republican desire to structure life like a transaction, privatizing forces seem to be everywhere, on every point of the political and social spectrum. Nothing helps the radical divide between Americans like so-called "social" media, which are in fact the very antithesis of social. More and more, you see groups of friends strolling along the street, each one buried in his or her portable device. The unfathomable private space of the iPod or iPad is as potent a threat to public space as a Glock semi-automatic. (It goes without saying that I could not live without my portable device, while I can live without a Glock.)

But the bitter chasm between the country's two halves will be the death blow to the public space. It will continue to make people despair of the capacity of politics to change their lives, and so the political realm will give way to private initiatives to change society, some of them positive, like benevolent foundations and charitable groups, some of them bitterly negative, like the continued rise of billionaires bent on twisting the political process into competing money-machines bent on destroying each other.

And the radical division will continue to drive people further into cyber-space, where they will seek out the most strident affirmations of their own point of view, and be consoled by communities of anger and paranoia. Never mind meeting someone in a public park and eventually falling in love. Hatred is the quickest kind of intimacy.

Finally, this intractable gulf between "red" and "blue" will make each side resolve to want an America in which there is no place for the other. I confess that after four years of Republican vows to cut taxes on the super-rich, raise taxes on the middle class, repeal Obamacare, and turn life into a business, I have run out of empathy for the other side. If they don't share my idea of public space, I don't want them sharing my public space. I am counting on Obama feeling the same way.

 
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Lee Siegel

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