Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election Angst: "Blood in the Streets"

Okay first of all, full disclosure: I have never been a huge fan of Erica Jong. When I had to read her for a university class back in the 1980s, I managed to horrify and anger the lecturer and my American classmates by pointing out that her "iconic" book was one superficial, self-obsessed diatribe about middle-class angst("wouldn't it be fabulous we had real suffering but we don't, so lets use up half the amazon whinging about all the things we didn't quite suffer from"). For me, and I have had little reason to change my mind, it was also a brazen display of an incredible sense of entitlement.

Needless to say, it was not a nice class and I was sent to coventry by every self-defined feminist on campus. The episode did however teach me the value of choosing where and when one opens one's big mouth. A lesson that I obviously ignore on a regular basis! In the subsequent years however, I have felt vindicated as the self-indulgent, victimology has erupted into our most popular genre.

At least, I have thought, we can look back at Jong as a pioneer of some sort. Until this morning when Jong took on a new role: of a doomsday prophet! Or perhaps in her own mind, of a new Cassandra.

In an interview to the Italian Corriere della Serra, she predicts the second civil war and rivers of blood in America, should Obama lose: "Ne riparleremo mercoledì prossimo quando, se Obama perde, scoppierà la seconda guerra civile americana. Ci sarà il sangue per strada, mi creda, e non è un caso che il presidente Bush abbia richiamato dall' Iraq un contingente di soldati che sotto il comando di Dick Cheney saranno impiegati nelle strade contro cittadini americani qualsiasi."

Now I have no doubts that the past two American elections have been less than exemplary exercises in voting (see last post!) , but "rivers of blood"? A second "civil war"?

What worries me about Jong's statement is that it builds on an implicit racial narrative that has haunted America since the nation's inception. The fact that it emerges not just from nasty Republican campaign ads, but also from a member of the "liberal elite" makes the narrative that much more frightening.

I wish the Corriere journalist had asked Jong some follow-up questions: Would these "rivers of blood" flow if Hillary Clinton were the Democratic candidate? Or are these "rivers of blood" and civil wars reserved for the country's first black presidential candidate? Who would begin the violence that would result in bloodshed? Would Bush's loyal soldiers shoot down immaculately coiffed, designer clothed "liberals" for rioting in the streets?

Already from across America, there have been news reports about towns and cities gearing up for "riots" should Obama lose, based not on any factual consideration but a general "fear" that his "supporters" will revert to violence. Not a day goes by without some mayor, police chief, random city official, declaring that they are "prepared for any eventuality" in case Obama loses. Regardless of whether he loses fairly at the ballot or the election is again "stolen," the unspoken fear is that angry "voters" - a codeword for African Americans - shall take their anger to the streets.

It is the newest spin on an age-old narrative and one that is to be expected from bastions of racial conservatism. But when a self-identified "post-racial" liberal begins to use the same images and words, one begins to wonder just how long before race stops being a weapon of fear.

The fact that this fear-mongering appears to be emanating from a self-defined liberal denizen of the country makes it all the more worrying. And sickening!

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