In many ways, Obama has been too American. So much of his presidency should appeal directly to these disenchanted white voters: His administration still carries on drone strikes, the legally dubious and immoral shadow war that has seemingly become a permanent fixture of U.S. foreign policy. And though it has dropped the tough-on-crime rhetoric, his administration has aggressively prosecuted the war on drugs.
Wall Street has also seen recovery and record highs. Corporate profits have rebounded, while more and more low-wage jobs without benefits have been created. More than a million undocumented immigrants have been rounded up and deported. All of the markers of America — for better and for worse — have remained in place.
But Obama’s great sin in the eyes of many of his detractors has been to allow for more people — those who have a history of being discriminated against — to see themselves as having a stake in the American story. It’s not something that will show up in his legislative achievements, but it is one of Obama’s great accomplishments nonetheless. His presence alone helps, but he has often gone to great lengths to weave into the traditional American narrative the stories of those who came to this country against their will, or who came willingly and found themselves castigated and demonized.
People who once needed a constitutional amendment to declare their freedom can now pick the president. People who have lurked in the shadows for fear they might be told they don’t belong now have crucial electoral power. People whose only crime was being born with a vagina or being attracted to others of the same sex can now stand up proudly and decisively allow their voices to be heard. And it means something.
White People Mourning Romney shows that there are still people who would rather deny those voices. They want their country back, the one that was promised to them by virtue of their being born white. They’re not interested in sharing. And while the impulse is to dismiss them as relics, they still hold sway in the modern Republican Party. Also note that there are children in many of those photos, so these ideas are being passed on to a new generation.
The president was correct on election night when he said that progress is not linear. It doesn’t happen in one speech or one march or one stroke of a pen. A clear lesson from this election cycle has been that progress is something we work at constantly to achieve and then maintain. Those pictures show us just how much work is ahead.