I’ve become curious about the way that Romney and those in support of his campaign have been accusing Obama of “hatred” and “division.” Is it just a throw it out and see what sticks tactic to assault his character, or is there something deeper going on?
Here’s my best guess. Obama, both by policy and by the mere fact of his existence, violates the world-view of the most privileged. Because white people have traditionally held the vast majority of the power in this country, we are raised with an assumption that white people in power is “normal.” A Black man in the Oval Office violates that deep-rooted sense of “how things are.” It’s “divisive” in the sense that it puts a wedge between the more rational side of the white psyche that articulates that of course we don’t have an issue with Black people and the gut-level sense that things we have always been able to count on are shifting, and so the world is somehow threatening or unsafe.
Similarly, Obama’s stand in favor of gay marriage is “divisive” in that it forces those opposed to same-sex marriage to acknowledge that their point of view is not necessarily “normal,” that the heteronormative society in which we were all raised might not be the society in which our children come of age. Same-sex marriage is in fact a threat to society as we know it—in the sense that it demands of us the flexibility to embrace a society that is slightly different than what we had assumed it to be.
Of course, if you are Black or gay then you have no choice whether to grapple with that division. You can either decide that you are “not normal” or you can decide that society needs to change to make a place for you at the table. But if you have gone through your whole life assuming that the people who are already at the table are the ones who deserve to be there, then a President who wants to bring up some more chairs to let others in is crashing the party.
If you are extremely wealthy and someone says that you aren’t contributing your fair share to society, it’s easier to believe that the person issuing that call is filled with jealousy and hatred than to deeply examine what you owe to the common good, or what compassion and justice demands of each of us.
Which is why I’m talking here about religion and not just politics. Because, really, it is the job of religion to call us beyond our assumptions, beyond our privileges, beyond our narrow worlds to something far bolder. Because it is the job of religion to divide us from our prejudices and sense of entitlement and push us toward the rigorous work of loving our neighbors as ourselves.