Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Election Mindsets

Beloit College publishes, every year, a sketch of the mindset the newest college students bring to their colleges. Abby, who became famous when she expressed some impatience with the presidential election but now is fine, and her class of 2030 will know that American presidents can be African-American and, very likely, women. That will appear in the 2026 Mindset List, or possibly before.

The Obama girls were lovely on election night. Their mindset lists will will be different from Abby’s. And they will be voting in the next presidential election, or the one after that. So will a lot of other young people for whom segregated water fountains have never existed and the Soviet Union has always been in the past; for whom gay marriage is a possibility and women, some of whom are veterans, are taking a larger place in Congress.

The world keeps changing. It shocked me when the Mindset List said that Elvis has always been dead, he who was so alive for my adolescence. Dial phones, tape recorders, cameras that produce photos you can’t see immediately – all long gone! And not just gone, but are no part whatsoever of many citizens’ existence.

John Cassidy gives a partial accounting from the election:

For now, let’s take the measure of what has happened, which is historic enough. For the fifth time in the past six Presidential elections, the Democrats have won the popular vote. For the second time in succession, Americans have elected a black man as President. Throughout the country, Republican extremists like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock have been repudiated. Residents of Maryland and Maine (and probably Washington state, too) have voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.

More women in Congress. An openly gay Senator. A Buddhist Representative. The acceptance of sexualities different from missionary-position white men.

Cassidy again:

The exit polls largely told the story. In the nineteen-to-twenty-nine age group, Obama won sixty per cent of the vote. He got ninety-three per cent of the black vote, seventy per cent of the Hispanic vote, and seventy-five per cent of the Asian vote. Fifty-six per cent of women voted for him, as did sixty-three per cent of unmarried people, two-thirds of secular voters, and about four-fifths of gays and lesbians. Romney carried fifty-nine per cent of white voters (male and female), a majority of all Americans aged forty-five or over, and fifty-seven per cent of married people. In ideological terms, Obama forged a liberal-moderate course to victory. Despite his post-Convention lurch to the center, Romney couldn’t win over enough self-identified moderates. In that group, Obama took fifty-seven per cent of the vote.

So this Congress will be more diverse, which will make that diversity seem more normal to children growing up, and as they become voters, they are likely to vote for that kind of diversity and more. They won’t even see it as diversity, just the way things are.

I keep wondering how it is to have grown up in a world so different from the one I grew up in. The Soviet Union was a big part of my childhood, but some of the social things were normalized for me early. Lud and Bill, living in the big old Victorian house on the corner, were our neighbors – and everyone was fine with that. In Sunday School, we sang “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and this picture was up on the wall (source – autoplay music). I really believed that when I sang. Yes, the words and picture are a bit stereotyped. But Google also gives us this.

So I think I can share a little of the younger mindsets, although Elvis will be alive forever for me.

So Malia and Sasha and Abby will pocket many things that seemed unachievable to us in the fifties and sixties. That will give them room to think about what else could be better. Some of those things are already obvious: income equity, infrastructure to suit an advanced country, normalizing relations with a number of countries, ending Guantanamo and some of the other mistakes from overreaction to 9/11. And they will see others. There is the tiniest bit of beginning to think that war isn’t worth it.

All that, of course, could be derailed by any number of things, but the record of the last half-century and the last decade is pretty good. One of the things we’ll have to do is to make sure we bring along those who are having a hard time adapting to this pace of change.

And I’m sure that Malia and Sasha and Abby, and their brothers and friends and cousins, will be up to it.

Cross-posted at The Agonist.

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