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The morning after


Seems like it’s basically over.

The last time I spent a late night biting my nails watching an election, I was in Venezuela observing the referendum. Like the US elections of November 2, the outcome was important not only to the people who voted, but to the whole world. There were, however, some differences.

In Venezuela, the voting machines were the same in every polling station.

In Venezuela, the voting machines had a redundancy: voters used a touchscreen to pick YES or NO. The touchscreen then produced a printed ballot, which the voter could check, before folding the ballot and putting it in the ballot box. The manual counts could then be checked against the computer voting system. A simple, difficult-to-defraud system.

In Venezuela, the side with the most votes won.

But tonight it looks like even if the United States had the simple, elegant voting system of ‘authoritarian’ Venezuela rather than the bizarre labyrinth of the ‘democratic’ Electoral College, George W Bush would still be the winner.

It looks like even if the United States electoral system was capable of expressing the people’s choice, the people would choose George W Bush.

It looks like voters in a dozen states decided to ban gay marriage, by huge margins, deciding to ruin other people’s lives with no benefit to themselves.

That means that it is time to admit something. The greatest divide in the world today is not between the US elite and its people, or the US elite and the people of the world. It is between the US people and the rest of the world. The first time around, George W Bush was not elected. When the United States planted cluster bombs all over Afghanistan, disrupted the aid effort there, killed thousands of people, and occupied the country, it could be interpreted as the actions of a rogue group who had stolen the elections and used terrorism as a pretext to wage war. When the United States invaded Iraq, killing 100,000 at the latest count, it could be argued that no one had really asked the American people about it and that the American people had been lied to. When the United States kidnapped Haiti’s president and installed a paramilitary dictatorship, it could be argued that these were the actions of an unelected group with contempt for democracy.

With this election, all of those actions have been retroactively justified by the majority of the American people.

The first time around the Bush people acted without a mandate. Today, the only constituency that could have stopped them has given them a mandate to go beyond what they have done.

In recent years, elections in every country have created media noise that drowned out radical voices. They were contests between weak liberalism gutted of most of its progressive economic and social content against hard reaction that promised to use every term in office to erode the institutions of liberal government and culture. Presented with such a stark choice, potentially radical progressives don’t have much time for radical arguments. The hole is too deep, the potential losses too great, to gamble on radicalism. It seems that the liberals fought very hard this time. Radicals tried to tell Americans that the world was full of other people who were being devastated by America’s policies. Liberals tried to tell Americans that they were being deceived, bamboozled, swindled, and sacrificed so that a small elite could rule and plunder. The radicals are silenced, the liberals are routed, and the field is clear for the fundamentalists. Who is left but bin Laden? “Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida. No. Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn’t play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.”

When Bush made his response, talking about terrorism and unity and enemies and intimidation, one could dismiss it as a fundamentalist reply to a fundamentalist threat. When Kerry did his own posturing, calling the terrorists barbarians and saying he’d stop at nothing to kill them, it was, perhaps, just cheap electioneering.

But today the American people have answered as well. They lined up behind their killer leaders when they could have rejected them. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for hope, other than about the key questions of how, what it will take, when they will (and whether they’ll get a chance to) change their minds.

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