(The Root) — The 2012 presidential election was historic, not just because of the re-election of the nation's first black president but also because it became the first "meme" election. Over the course of the excruciatingly long campaign, the Internet responded to every noteworthy gaffe and unintentional revelation the candidates made by creating viral memes that poked fun of and spoke back to the candidates. We had Big Bird, binders full of women, horses and bayonets, "Paul Ryan Gosling" and much more. Even with the election over, the fun with memes hasn't stopped.
The latest is a Tumblr site dedicated to collecting photos and screenshots of white people reacting to the news of President Barack Obama's re-election and Gov. Mitt Romney's loss, aptly titled "White People Mourning Romney." There are dozens of pictures of profoundly distraught white Romney supporters sobbing and otherwise looking forlorn. There is one picture of a storefront window with a handmade sign that says: "Closed to Mourn the Loss of the America That Our Forefathers Endowed to Us." Another is of a yard where a flag bearing the GOP's elephant mascot is flying at half-mast.
It's funny, but it also serves as a sad snapshot of just how far we haven't come. Granted, had Obama lost, there would also have been legions of people crying across the country. But the people featured here aren't crying about a lost election. They truly appear to be mourning the death of a country, or at least the idea of the country they've long held to be true.
Obviously, America isn't dead. But the right-wing echo chamber has so deluded its members into believing that the man currently occupying the White House has a secret socialist agenda — one that he inherited from his Kenyan anti-colonialist father and has been waiting to unleash — that they have concluded that his re-election spells the end of America.
In one sense, it is the end of, as Fox News host Bill O'Reilly put it, "traditional America." The white vote doesn't decide elections anymore. One can't simply appeal to white racial angst and expect to be victorious. Future presidential candidates will have to be able to communicate ideas to people of a variety of complex identities and not alienate any of them in the process through a visible hostility.
That has been the GOP game for years, but in the last two presidential elections it has cost them big. Obama has walked away with historic levels of support among African Americans, Latinos, women and young people, and he posted clear Electoral College and popular-vote wins.
But no, Obama's re-election is not the death of America — it's a signal that a new America is emerging. For the mourning white people in those photos, however, the two are one and the same. This new America, in which a majority-white vote doesn't rule the day, is foreign and unappealing to those whose privilege comes under greater scrutiny with each passing moment.
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.