The nation state as an ‘imagined political community’ (Benedict Anderson, 1991: p. 6) is helpful in comprehending the presidential election in the United States of America.
It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion (p. 6).
It is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship (p. 7).
This imagined community is essentially a collective emotional phenomenon. Emotions were social phenomena long before they were considered the exclusive preserve of individuals. A nation comprises emotions about itself, its neighbours, its enemies, and its friends.
At the core of the imagined community of the United States is the ‘The American Dream’: a belief that anyone—regardless of creed or colour—can succeed in life if they work hard enough; a belief that the US is a leading light of freedom towards which all other nation-states will ‘transition’.
Americans are socialized into believing in this collective Dream. It is this they swear allegiance to. It is this that members of its armed forces are willing to kill and die for. They see nothing self-righteous about being the judge of human rights in other nation-states and publishing an annual assessment.
There can be no working class in this narrative, for that would imply conflicting interests, only an all-encompassing middle. Those Americans who are not part of the official narrative, the poor, the sick and the elderly, are invisible to the American state. It takes an occasional shock of the real, such as Hurricane Katrina, to bring them into view, to reveal the dark underside of America.
This ‘dream’ is the backcloth to political discourse, talk shows, movies, sitcoms, professional sports and the news media in the United States. Its official spokesperson, keeping it all together, is the Head of State, the president himself. A master of ceremonies, the president interprets events in terms of this narrative, weaving it into a symbolic order. The president is the narrator and the conscience of this imagined political community.
Presidential elections are exercises in emotional marketing or branding. They decide which candidate can best embody this imagined political community, be its standard bearer, resonate with these collective emotions.
This is what is going on between Obama and Romney. Their task is to weave a narrative, present an auto-biography, that is consistent with the American Dream. These are not debates about real life problems at all. These are scripted and stage managed reality shows. Voters are props, their questions are hooks on which to hang over-rehearsed, market-tested sound bites.
This is why hardly anyone noticed until the other day that—a couple of weeks before the election—Obama had not gotten around to declaring his manifesto or platform, i.e., what he wanted to achieve in ‘four more years’. Not one of America’s journalists thought to ask.
As with people, we judge nations not just by what they think of themselves or say, but also by what they do and how they behave. Outside of the United States, people tend not to share America’s high opinion of itself. An American traveling to Europe post-Iraq, for example, discovers this quickly. America’s largest creditor, the People’s Republic of China, now publishes an annual review of human rights in the United States. It makes sobering reading. See Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010.
Back to the show:
It’s coming down to Obama’s use of fear vs. Romney’s anger.
Look for a security ‘event’ to decide it.