This week America formalized a transformation that hopefully will define its politics for decennia to come. The Supreme Court upheld the Fair Housing Act, salvaged the Affordable Care Act, and made gay marriage a reality nationwide. Simultaneously, in the wake of the Charleston massacre, racist symbols like the Confederate flag started coming down in southern states. It was a great week to be an American citizen, but it is good to remember that these things don’t happen by accident. After all, this is a Supreme Court that also gutted the Voting Rights Act and deregulated campaign finance, to the point where the Koch brothers can buy every politician they want to add to their vast collection. The changes therefore don’t root in a sudden change of attitude of SCOTUS, but in a gradual change of attitudes and convictions of the American people. The fact that they were institutionalized by the Supreme Court and not by the federal legislature shows the strength of the American democracy, where in spite of gerrymandering, voter suppression and super PACs eventually the will of the people prevails, even if Congress fails to be part of that process.
The four important developments of this week, however different in appearance, have in common that they all deal with protections for minorities, whether racial, sexual or economically disadvantaged. The national mood change with regards to gay marriage and racist symbols is revolutionary, but with regards to Obamacare the mood is also changing, now that the law is working and here to stay. States that so far have refused to expand Medicaid, and thus are denying their poorest citizens access to quality health care, will be under increased pressure to reverse course. Some national surveys still show a small majority of the respondents disapproving of Obamacare, but when asked about separate aspects of the new healthcare regulations without the name Obama attached to them the approval rate goes up dramatically, which shows that the fight against racism and the fight for Obamacare is indeed the same fight. The level of wisdom of negative respondents is similar to that of retirees who demand that the government keep its hands off Social Security, not realizing that they’re talking about a government program.
Truth be told, for a short while I was worried that the changes were a form of window dressing, and that we were witnessing a 21st century version of what Herbert Marcuse once called ‘repressive tolerance.’ The logic of the one percent would then be ‘let them take down the Confederate flag, as long as we can continue gerrymandering and suppressing the African-American vote, let them have health care, as long as we can continue making extravagant profits without contributing anything to the care, and let the gays get married, as long as we can undermine Wall Street regulation and increase income inequality.’
But I don’t worry about that anymore. With the force of the American public opinion culminating in the changes of this week, I believe there is no limit to changes that are still to come. It’s hard to predict what’s next on the public’s agenda, but it might very well be gerrymandering, voter suppression and income inequality.
And in the meantime all the Republican candidates are running in an opposite direction from the American people. Without exception, they are ‘reactionaries,’ literally meaning that they want to act backwards and try to restore what is forever gone. It will be a pleasure to watch them hang themselves.