Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
There’s a school of thought which holds that Donald Trump’s unhinged rhetoric about women, immigrants and people of color is simply an escalation of the grievance politics that have animated the conservative movement since the civil rights era, and that in the long run, it may not be a bad to get this nasty stuff out in the open, for all to see. It’s clarifying, and there’s reason to believe it turns off younger voters in a big way.
The counterargument is that by eschewing subtler dog-whistles, Trump has given bigots license to express their true feelings toward marginalized groups in hostile and sometimes violent ways. The Center for Investigative reporting compiled a database of 150 reports of incidents in the first 18 months after the 2016 election in which an attacker explicitly cited Trump. “Sometimes the perpetrators quoted the president’s words nearly verbatim,” wrote Will Carless. “Other times, they signaled that as far as they’re concerned, the country has changed in their favor now that Trump is in charge.” It’s safe to say that many similar incidents have gone unreported.
As we approach these crucial midterms, it’s pretty clear that that rot, along with Trump’s reckless disregard for anything even resembling factual accuracy, has spread throughout the GOP. “Attack ads,” wrote Politico’s Rachel Bade, “have always been a staple of campaign season. But Republicans have twisted facts in some ads to an extraordinary degree as they fight to save their House majority.” This week, HuffPo’s Julia Craven compiled a roundup of wildly racist attacks against Democratic candidates of color. And at The Daily Beast, Lachlan Markay reported that a group of defense lobbyists are “accusing a Democratic congressional candidate—a Christian of Mexican and Palestinian descent—of family ties to Islamic terrorism” in order to save Rep. Duncan Hunter, “a California Republican accused of illegally using campaign funds to enrich himself, who, until his indictment, chaired a powerful committee with major influence over U.S. military and defense policy.”
Before Barack Obama’s election in 2008, there was something approaching a consensus among political scientists that politicians had to tread cautiously when appealing to white racial grievances. If they were too obvious about it, voters had a tendency to punish them — they were likely to be rejected as “too divisive.” That effect appears to have weakened with Obama’s election, and Trump’s rise to power upended this bit of conventional wisdom. Now, if it turns out that conservatives can turn out their base with hyper-charged appeals to racial grievance without paying a price, we can expect Trump-like demagoguery to become a fixture of Republican messaging. If, on the other hand, those kinds of candidates face a demonstrable backlash, the calculus will be very different.
There may be a similar dynamic at play with the more egregious attempts to suppress Democratic turnout. Keep an eye on minority turnout in Georgia, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp is pulling out all the stops to rig his gubernatorial race in his favor.
until it drew attention today, #GAgov nominee Brian Kemp’s official Secretary of State website featured an early voting explainer video in which a little white boy casts his ballot, while a black girl gets rebuffed for lacking ID.https://t.co/3KoR4v4VyQ pic.twitter.com/ik1ZUisnDi
— Jesse Lehrich (@JesseLehrich) October 18, 2018
Regardless of how irrational they may seem at times, politicians are rational actors. They respond to incentives. Keep that in mind when you go to the polls in 17 days.
Will our institutions hold? Perhaps.