|Washington Mormon Temple|
Throughout the campaign, most prospective voters, as well as outside observers, didn’t believe a Mormon could be chosen by one of the two major parties as a presidential candidate. In recent past, they also didn’t believe that would be possible for a Catholic, or Irish, or black and still they were chosen and then elected.
Prejudices and myths permeate the elections in the US, like in every other country, whether they relate to ethnicity, religion, gender, or anything else that makes a candidate different from the beliefs or background of a nation’s majority population. To be elected, ambiguity is the name of the game, go with the tide, never say anything controversial, dodge any position on widely held prejudices, do not antagonize any major possible constituency.
During the 2008 presidential campaign and still during the present one, Barack Obama was covertly dismissed or overtly demeaned, particularly in the southern states, for being black. There were conspiracy theories at work insinuating that he was actually born outside the United States and rumors spread by Evangelical and Baptist sects accusing him of being in fact a crypto-Muslim.
Likewise, in the not so distant past, there were prejudices against new immigrants arriving in large numbers, for being Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish or whatever. Every new wave usually arrived destitute and under duress, pushed by war and famine. It was received with suspicion, fear of competition for wages and general hostility.
Gender is still a gap to fill. Time has not come yet for the fist woman president, although it came very near the last time around, the choice between Obama and Hilary Clinton was a close call. In general, women do not reach the highest political echelons in sufficient numbers.
Sex, or hypocrisy about sex, is a major prejudice that destroyed several candidates accused of indiscretions or caught with mistresses on their laps. Still, the Kennedys and Bill Clinton were famously guilty of womanizing, without any major long-term side effects. Inconsistencies.
However, the most pervasive of prejudices concerns what should be the role of religion, if any at all, in public life. The Founding fathers were both the product of the Enlightenment and a group of assorted members of the Freemasonry and protestant persuasions. They understood the importance of congregations as social cement but still believed that the laws of man should be inspired by reason and not by the delusions of warring religious beliefs.
Since then, however, the increase of rural electors brought up by the new states joining the Union, changed the cultural make up of the population to a majority who equated the fear of God with goodness and religion with moral values. They did not understand how a secular person could muster the necessary moral fiber without the fear of eventually roasting in hell.
Therefore, any candidate to public office has to declare faith in some almighty God and one of his prophets. To the increasingly secular middle class it is a sign of irrationality, but they understand that an electorate also largely irrational makes necessary a declaration of piety. However, being a Mormon, a Scientologist or any other farfetched contraption not related to the long held western traditions, is seen for that purpose as a sure sign of an eccentric unfit to govern the most powerful nation on earth.
Kennedy vowed to keep separated church and state, something now accepted as obvious in Europe but then forgotten in America since the independence days. He was the first Catholic president, but while a candidate, an electorate mostly protestant was afraid he would take orders from the Pope. His vow was heard and believed.
Leave all prejudices out of the public place; it is still the only policy to follow in a civilized society.