Several days ago, one of my Facebook friends, a woman, sent a post proclaiming that she liked Paul Ryan. She even provided a link so that people in her network could find out more about the ideologically conservative and physically fit congressman from Wisconsin. She will be voting for Romney-Ryan.
My immediate reaction was: how could any woman vote for the GOP whose policy initiatives and platform proposals suggest extreme misogyny? Indeed, what would life be like for women in Mr. Romney's America? More generally, how would GOP budget and education proposals, which in Newt Gingrich's pithy assessment, amounts to social engineering, affect poor people, middle class people, minorities and immigrants?
I wonder how many of our voters have thought about these questions. Polls suggest that there is widespread support for Romney-Ryan--even from people, like my Facebook friend, whose lives would be drastically changed--for the worse--in Mr. Romney's America.
Here's a snapshot of what the texture of social life might be like in Mr. Romney's America.
1. Social inequality: In Mr. Romney's America, tax "reforms" would accelerate an already widening gap between the rich and an increasing population of poor people. Such a trend would create rigid class divisions and decrease substantially the possibility for social mobility--back to the future of The Gilded Age.
2. Education: In Mr. Romney's America, Pell grants would be reduced or eliminated, and the federal education budget would be substantially cut shifting the educational burden to the states, many of which, given the aversion to new taxes, have slashed their support of public education. Such policies would mean that many of my most gifted students, who come from modest means, would no longer be able to take my classes. Such policies would also result in a reduction of the student to teacher ratios, which means that poorly paid and over-worked teachers would have to work in over-crowded and under-equipped classrooms. The decline of public education would, in turn, reinforce class division and bolster the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.
3. Immigration: In Mr. Romney's America GOP attitudes toward immigrants and immigration (fence and militarize the border and find and deport millions of undocumented aliens) would, if the economic impact of such policies in Arizona and Alabama are indicative, result in billions of dollars of economic loss.
4. Women. In Mr. Romney's America, women would be put in their place. If we can believe the GOP Platform, abortion would be banned even in cases of rape or incest. In the view of Representative Ryan, who not only tried to legislatively redefine rape, but also co-sponsored with Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin a "personhood" bill that would give rights to the fetus from the moment of his or her conception. Such a bill would sharply curtail if not render illegal most forms of contraception. If that's not bad enough, Planned Parenthood, which is a leading provider for women's health care screening, would be, in the words of Mr. Romney, "gotten rid of."
5. Health Care: In Mr. Romney's America the Affordable Care Act would be repealed. Such an action would leave the 50 million Americans who don't have any kind of health care insurance to fend for themselves. Romney-Ryan have offered, as far as I can tell, no alternative except to punish the poor--for being poor-by cutting Medicare and Medicaid.
6. Voter Suppression. In Mr. Romney's America, it will become increasingly difficult to vote. If you legislate restrictive voting regulations in the name of illusory voter fraud, the increasing population of poor people, Latinos and African Americans will not be able to vote you out of office to prompt a change of policy or a redistribution of resources Such strategically partisan legislation ensures the transfer of wealth and power to a small number of increasingly rich and powerful plutocrats.
In short in Mr. Romney's America, which is not very different from the idea of Tea Party America, the United States would become a maze of mean streets in which more and more people would feel the need to pack concealed weapons. In Mr. Romney's America more and more people would also elect to hide behind the secure walls of their gated communities, fearing the outraged anger of the increasingly impoverished and frustrated masses. You never know when you'll have to defend yourself from angry women, indignant immigrants, "dangerous" African Americans, or "crazy Muslims." Indeed, this combination of voter suppression, gender and minority oppression, and extreme social inequality reminds me of the texture of social life of some of the Third World countries I have lived in as a anthropological researcher.
So the question is: why would any woman, working class person, middle class person, old person, vote for the presumptive GOP ticket of Romney-Ryan?
I would suggest two sociological explanations.
First, given the sad state of public education and literacy in America, the "low information" voter can be easily deceived by billion dollar add campaigns that are full of misinformation, deceptions and lies. The plutocrats are not investing billions of dollars in the GOP campaign for purely ideological reasons; rather, they see in Mitt Romney a person who would quickly facilitate and augment the already extensive transfer of wealth into their bank accounts--at the expense of middle class and working class people.
Second, millions of middle class, working class and old people, will vote Romney-Ryan simply because Barack Obama is a black man and they find it intolerable that an African American family lives in the White House. Sadly, racism is alive and well in contemporary America.
We don't like to talk about race, ignorance and social class in America. Such talk violates many of our myths about the "quality" of our "exceptional" social life. And yet the hidden force of class division and discrimination based upon race, religion and ethnicity is so strong in contemporary America that people are willing to make choices that would undermine the quality of their lives--choices that would obliterate the social contract and ravage our society.
On the eve of the GOP convention, let's hope that we will walk forward with our eyes open and our heads pointed straight ahead. If not, we will race toward the future with our heads turned back and crash into the wall of the "perfect" past--a site of needless suffering and pain.