The presidential election on Nov. 6 was more than just the United States choosing a new leader; in a way, it was a referendum on American society.
Despite close races and post-election threats to secede from the country over an Obama victory, the election showed that Americans prefer a progressive society and want to keep the country a social democracy.
Though the election ended in an electoral landslide for President Barack Obama, the popular vote was relatively close. Beyond that, however, many progressive voting measures won out, particularly some of the highest-profile ones.
Maine, Maryland and Washington all voted to legalize same-sex marriages. Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use. Both Montana and Colorado voted to reject Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions. Exit polls also showed that almost half of voters are in favor of raising taxes on Americans who make more than $250,000 per year, according to Politico.
All of these changes fly in the face of the last 30 years of political rhetoric. Since 1980, the political narrative that has characterized the United States as a “center-right” country. During that decade, former president Ronald Reagan called for a vast reduction in government and taxes, deeming such concepts wasteful and urging a return to a deregulated economy. The conservative movement ran with this, mythologizing it into a grand story of the country. It’s this idea that campaign videos and speeches have hammered into the public mindset, beginning in the Reagan era and continuing through the 2012 election. And yet, the results of this election demonstrate that the idea of American government as conservative and laissez-faire is a myth, not reality.
In reality, the United States is a social democracy — one where the government provides some universal public services — and has been for years.
Progressive policies in the early 20th century gave American citizens weekends, 40-hour work weeks, child labor laws and regulations that, among other pesky details, try to make sure that our food and water aren’t toxic. The United States tried laissez-faire capitalism once during the 1920s, and it didn’t work. Without social safety nets, thousands were left with no one to turn to during the Great Depression.
So the progressive policies that politicians like Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan might espouse today as evil government measures aren’t some rarity. They’re part of the core of modern American society, and we need them in order to have a functioning democracy.
The myth of a conservative, Norman Rockwell-esque United States is also closely tied to the concept of the American Dream, which in and of itself tends to be overused as a go-to talking point by politicians. But including progressive ideals in the American Dream bolsters the concept that anyone, no matter where they come from, can work hard and succeed in the United States; that anyone, no matter where they come from, will be given a fair playing field to do so, and they won’t be punished for failing.
That isn’t socialism. It certainly isn’t communism. And it in no way means that freedoms are in danger from government tyranny. That’s a progressive society that boasts a mixed market and social programs, but also respects civil rights and liberties.
The 2012 election showed that these ideas matter, with a rejection of Tea Party politics and a renewed commitment to fighting corporate influence, protecting social programs and promoting forward-thinking policies.
The United States is a much more liberal and progressive society than many think. Is it a socialist state? No — but it’s a social democracy that has grown more inclusive over the years. Despite attempts to spin the country’s narrative to a more austere and conservative track, last week’s election is a strong sign that the United States doesn’t want to give into that rhetoric, but rather challenge it.
Nicholas Slayton is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and is the Daily Trojan’s Multimedia Director.