Election 2014  
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America: Love It Or Be Left Behind

Obama can only do so much: Angry older whites have to decide if they want to secede from our multiracial future.

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I think whites like Buchanan are a small minority, but there are more of them than I thought. The Next America Project does a lot of great polling on racial issues and found that whites who fear racial change favored Romney 2-1; whites who welcomed it went for Obama 3-2. And for those who think the GOP can solve its demographic issues with a little immigration reform: a later poll found that whites who fear immigrants went for Romney 9-1. (So good luck making a little nip and tuck to your immigration policies, GOP.)

These are the people who back in the 1960s became the self-appointed guardians of American identity, the definers of American exceptionalism, whose tribalism was captured by the old snarl: “America: Love it or Leave It,” one of the signs carried by the Hard Hat Rioters of 1970 as they beat up anti-war activists (which I write about it my book.) But maybe it’s time to say to them: “America: Love it or be left behind.”

I love this country, but would never say “love it or leave it.” It’s not in the liberal nature to issue ultimatums like that, or to define American identity unilaterally. But I think the people who are so angry about the Obama years, who want to take their country back (as if it belonged only to them) do have to face reality: if they don’t love the America that’s being born, that’s reflected in the Obama coalition, they’re going to be left behind. They don’t have to get out, but they’ll be increasingly unhappy living here. That’s their choice. I’ll go on looking for ways to reach out to people who seem genuinely not to understand that there’s a place for them here, to help shepherd them to our common future. The hundreds of Ole Miss kids who burned Obama-Biden signs and spewed racial epithets election night? They’re on their own.

I was moved by Jonathan Capehart’s column Friday, where he featured an African-American reader trying to fight the media’s lazy generalizations about “white voters” as a bloc united against the president.

“I really worry about not recognizing the ‘white guys’ who did vote for Obama and made a difference in the election,” the self-described middle-age, upper-income, highly curious and vocal African American woman from Colorado wrote. “I know tons of them of all ages, income levels, political persuasions and sexual orientations. Just think it is short-sighted if we don’t acknowledge [them], starting with the campaign team.”

I agree with her; there are millions of those guys. There are millions more, however, who disagree. They’re exiling themselves from their own country. How sad for them.

Joan Walsh is Salon's editor-at-large, and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." Read more of her work at Salon.

 
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