It was not about political ideas at all. It was about identity: about who and what you were in the most visceral and personal sense – about race, about class, about being the kind of person you believed it was necessary to be.
The saddest development is the one that is most counter-intuitive. Mr Obama – who famously ran in 2008 as the post-racial candidate – has polarised the nation racially in a way that it has not been for half a century, reversing what had been the progressive trend toward real social integration and colour blindness in American political life. Ninety-three per cent of black voters – 93 per cent – voted for Obama in this election, as did 71 per cent of Latino voters and 73 per cent of Asian ones. But if non-white ethnic groups are choosing to segregate themselves electorally – quite often with little regard for their actual economic or social interests – white voters are not. Only 59 per cent of them supported Romney: a majority but not an overwhelming one. Some of this was down to the class war issue: blue collar voters were encouraged to see Romney as a rapacious capitalist who would destroy people’s livelihoods if the balance sheet dictated it.
But that was an unfortunate consequence of this particular candidate’s credentials. There is a more historically significant, and possibly more permanent, development too. The United States has now acquired an electorally powerful liberal bourgeoisie who are convinced, as their European counterparts have been for several generations, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that public spending is inherently virtuous, that poverty can be cured by penalising wealth creation, and that government intervention can engineer social “fairness”. But just when some of Europe’s political class has begun to appreciate the dangers of this philosophy – that taken to its logical conclusion, it leads to economic stagnation and social division – America seems to have decided that it is the quintessence of enlightened sophistication.