Hegemony is a concept derived from the Greek word eghémonia, which means leader or ruler. Usually employed to signify military power, or the political predominance of one state over another, Antonio Gramsci, arguably the most important Marxist thinker of the 20th century, suggested the term hegemony is often used to mean the broader process of moral and intellectual leadership through which the dominant class and ruling elite exercises its domination.
Domination is not only based purely on coercion but it is a moral, intellectual and even cultural drive imposing a clear and certain cultural direction. Moreover, the basic argument that Gramsci makes is that socially subordinate sectors accept the hegemonic domination of elites even though this implies that they will follow economic, cultural, and political principles working against their own interests.
The tumultuous nature of this presidential campaign teaches us many things about hegemony in the United States. The country, split into two different political persuasions representing two different views of the world, includes unique understandings of capitalism and the role of government. To see evidence of hegemony, however, one need only look to the Republican Party, whose campaign discourse and idea of democracy is a perfect storm of overwhelmingly male centric, class centric, and ethnocentric policies.
The Romney/Ryan philosophy is straightforward old school male-centric. When Romney shared that he had asked for a "binder full of women" while governor of Massachusetts, to purportedly identify and appoint a few women to his administration, it was a small but telling gaffe reflective of a larger personal and social disposition: that males are natural rulers in every sphere, most especially in politics. It's not a big leap from there to suggest that women should return home to fix dinner for their man once they have finished working all day outside the home. For Romney, it is obviously irrelevant that there are many households with just one head of the household, most of whom are women. In political life, women would only play a role when they embody and represent, like many businesswomen and some politicians, "hegemonic masculinities." That is, they share with men and particularly the elites their desire to control and suppress counter-hegemonic principles, values, alternatives, and practices. Women's bodies, which have long been a matter of public policy, are placed at the center of a "war against women," where Republican anti-abortion policies are sustained and cuts to Planned Parenthood are proposed.
The Romney/Ryan philosophy is also conspicuously class-centric, given the platform of the Republican Party runs on the principle that we, Americans, live as "possessive individuals." Hence, we are measured by our ability to show our possessions as symbols of success. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist and political economist Max Weber showed that people often equate the idea of material success as proof that some individuals have been 'chosen' by God to rule. Evidence of this abounds. Between 1980 and 2008, the bottom 90 percent of wage earners -- the non-ruling class -- saw a rise of $300 in income, or less than 1 percent, while the top 1 percent of the socio-political stratum saw their income double to $1.1 million, and the top .01 percent quadrupled to almost $4 million. The one percent at the top has the approval of God to rule, and they even get this approval religiously certified by a number of churches and denominations.
The Republican Party's immaculate choreography of faces during their convention shows a U.S. society that is conspicuously homogeneous and racially white. To Republicans, it doesn't matter that poverty affects ethnic minorities disproportionately more often than whites. Republican millionaires and billionaires are feeling victimized by the press given their practices overwhelmingly favor whites. Unfortunately, the discourse on diversity in this country is wholly absent in the Republican model, and it's not likely to find a voice any time soon.
What's most important for Americans to decide in the 2012 presidential election is if they want the hegemony articulated by the Republican Party to be the guiding light for this country in years to come. Will a representative of the hyper-rich who is interested in serving the public as president but who does not believe in serving 47 percent of the population, or in the need to make public his tax returns, bring about a perfect storm of male-centric, class-centric, and ethnocentric hegemony? Will the country be able to accept and live with this model? We will know in the aftermath of Nov. 6, 2012.