For decades, the primary divide in American politics was the liberal vs. conservative or the urban secular vs. the religious bible belt. The two Bush elections against Gore and Kerry reflected the competing visions of the United States.
Then in 2008, America elected Barack Obama and stunned the world: a triumph of liberalism and universal human identity over identities based on inherited race or religion. Where else but in America could the son of an African Muslim immigrant get elected as the country's president? And that too was a country that was the world's pre-eminent super power with no one to challenge its ideological, philosophical, commercial and military supremacy?
Can one imagine such an outcome in China or India? Or Indonesia, where Obama spent his childhood, or Pakistan where his mum worked? The thought of a black man leading these countries is not possible.
Some of us in our naivity believed that Obama's 2008 victory would trigger a new era in America, when race would slowly disappear as a factor. We were wrong. This week's election and the victory of Barack Obama for a second term showed that instead of moving forward, Americans have slid back into a new divide where instead of liberalism competing with conservatism for domination of the American political narrative, race and inherited identity have come back with a revenge.
The results of the election show a great number of Americans did not vote based on their political or ideological leanings or their vision of America. Instead, they voted based on their racial identity or hostility towards the dominant white majority in the country.
Exit polls show that over 93% of African-Americans voted for Obama. How did this happen? How could a community that is overwhelmingly against gay marriage vote for a president who endorses gay marriage?
Similarly, 71% of Hispanics and 73% of Asians -- also overwhelmingly social conservatives -- voted for Obama and against Mitt Romney, who was closer to their own social and fiscal conservative values. And among the six to eight million Muslim Americans, almost 70% voted for Obama, with one Ohio Muslim leader tweeting "we delivered Ohio to Obama." Leading up to election day, one Muslim commentator even taunted Romney by writing, "he will certainly miss their millions of votes, especially in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia to name a few." This from a group who, in the 2000 elections, had overwhelmingly backed Bush because of his support for traditional marriage and opposition to gay rights.
Sitting in Canada as a Muslim author and political junkie, it is clear to me that the U.S. has moved from the liberal vs. conservative divide to one that pits the country's blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and other racial minorities in a coalition against whites.
No one, out of fear of being labelled a racist, is talking about this new fissure, but when 93% of a community votes one way based on racial affinity to their choice, then there is no question, race and identity politics are triumphing over ideas and political philosophies.
The bifurcation of America by racial and religious identity is not the fault of minority community leaders alone. A lot has to do with the religious right of the Republican Party and its anti-immigrant posturing. America has taken a step back and slid into a mediocrity it can ill afford.
If I were an American, I would be one of those very few voters who, even inside the voting booth, would have remained undecided and seriously conflicted. Even after a year-round carnival full of saturated political drama, lies, deception, spin doctoring and flip-flopping, I could not have decided whom to vote for.
On one side was Obama, the guy I rooted for in 2008. The great master of the spoken word had given me hope. But after four years, it was only speeches that Obama excelled at. So gifted is the man, even when caught red-handed in the Libya debate, he managed to wriggle out and deliver a verbal cobra clutch slam on his flustered opponent.
However, man can't live on speech alone. Obama walked away from Iraq leaving the country as a gift to the enemy Iran; Egypt and North Africa he handed over to the Muslim Brotherhood; he gave billions to Pakistan, the sly ally of American that is in fact the most hostile anti-American society on earth. And all this while, China kept rising and our allies in Europe faced economic collapse.
The one thing the world expected most from Obama, he simply evaded. I'm talking about the Israel-Palestine dispute. If there was one man who could've delivered nationhood to the Palestinians and eternal sense of security to Israel, it was Obama. However the president brushed off the challenge the way his friend Jay-Z dusts "Dirt Off Your Shoulder."
How could any progressive liberal vote for Obama and validate his defeats as victory? Obviously many did. I don't blame them considering the options. Facing the smooth-talking, arrogant non-achiever president was the flip-flopping gaffe-prone management guru and billionaire businessman, Mitt Romney. For the Republican challenger, Americans are no longer citizens of a republic, but rather customers of a government that is supposed to operate as a business. This, notwithstanding the fact that nine out of 10 businesses fail in their very first year of operation.
So right-wing and archaic were the views of Romney, it would be a sin for someone like me to vote for him. It wasn't as if an actor like Ronald Reagan was performing for the cameras: Romney was absolutely sincere when he suggested that those making over $250,000 as income could not afford to pay more taxes.
He never really came out openly what he wanted to do with the millions of undocumented workers in America. He could not clarify his position on abortion nor was he able to defuse the 47% remark.
And when it came time to deliver a knockout punch to Obama on the Libya question, her was left flat-footed, gasping for air that had been sucked out by a clearly biased moderator Candy Crowley.
The man who still uses "gosh" and "O golly" in conversation, reminded me of my pre-Elvis childhood. He made me think of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with Bullet and Trigger being resurrected to take America back to the future.
Then there was Romney's appearance. It seems even hurricane Sandy would not have ruffled his well-coiffed hairstyle that sat on his head for a year like a crash helmet. One commentator had this to say about Romney's haircut: "Everything about me [i.e., Romney's haircut] is presidential. ... I'm a hybrid of every classic American presidential hairstyle since the 1930s. Roosevelt's fatherly gray temples. Kennedy's insouciant bouffant. Reagan's lethal, revolutionary amalgam of feathering and pomade. Think about it this way: what if you could trade in your shitty, 8-year-old Ford Probe for a car that somehow combined the classic flair of a '59 Cadillac and the raw authority of a '68 Mustang? Now imagine ramming that Caddi-stang right through the front doors of the f-ing White House. Get the picture? That's pretty much exactly what I'll be doing on top of Mitt Romney's face on November 6, 2012."
Faced with these two choices inside the voting booth, I would have spoilt my ballot and walked out. If this is the best Americans are offered as a choice to lead the world, then we better start preparing for the Mayan prophecy to come true.
Follow Tarek Fatah on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TarekFatah