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Fear and Hope on the Campaign Trail

If the current president and the rest of the Nationalist--I mean Republican--Party think they are going to scare me this campaign season -- well, they’re right.

I’m finding it harder to read the news as we get closer to Election Day on November 6. But my concerns are different from the ones that the Republicans are trying to instill. Based on their rhetoric, the things we should fear are:

  • Hordes of black and brown immigrants pouring over our border, including bad people “from the Middle East”

  • Countless fraudulent votes on Election Day

  • White men being accused by mobs of aggrieved women

  • Lying media outlets such as “fake” CNN and the “failing” New York Times

We are all entitled to our specific fears. Here are mine:

  • Everything on the above list is a proven exaggeration or falsehood

  • It doesn’t matter that everything on the above list is a proven exaggeration or falsehood, because the people who support the current president rally around him no matter what he does or says

  • Meanwhile much of the media, and many voters, decry the destructive conflict in political life today, thus equating lies and distortions on one side with the actual facts. You can’t call it a conflict and blame both sides if one side goes does nothing but falsehoods about immigrant hordes, illegal voters, angry female mobs, and the lying media.

Here is what else I’m really concerned about:

The upcoming midterm election appears to be really close in many states, and people will tell you, “Every vote counts.” Well, does it? Not if Republicans have their say. When their only legislative accomplishment is a tax cut that benefited a small slice of the population and that no one else really likes, and when their main voting demographic is a shrinking slice of the population, then maybe their strategy to diminish the vote makes sense--especially as they appear to be deliberately targeting voters who are not receptive to their message.

My great fear is that all of this will work. As Bret Stephens pointed out in his Saturday New York Times column, Democrats haven’t figured out how to best to respond to this president, who has a kind of “feral” intelligence and who “knows where to sink the fang into the vein.” Naked white supremacist appeals by the current president and his cronies will drive up the angry white vote. Racist voter suppression strategies will reduce the minority vote. I have a nightmare vision of the aftermath of November 6th, in which Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum lose the governors’ races in Georgia and Florida to proven racists, in which Republicans gain seats in the Senate, and in which Democrats fail to take the House. In this scenario, the current president will get to gloat, racist voter suppressionists will have reason to feel that their strategies work, and people seeking progressive, egalitarian policies will feel further discouraged.

Given all this, it’s a wonder I get out of bed every morning. Yet I do, between 5 and 6 am every day, opening my iPad to The New York Times. What keeps me going?

Some hope. Maybe this will happen--

  • Galvanized by voter suppression against them, minority voters in Georgia and other states turn out in record force. Even if they are turned away at the polls, they submit provisional ballots.

  • Native Americans in North Dakota are motivated to vote and organize to use GPS coordinates that come up with actual addresses to prove their residences.

  • Women in states around the country, inspired by the Me Too movement, show up in force and vote against entrenched white male privilege.

  • Voters in Florida approve an amendment that would restore the vote to 1.5 million ex-felons who have completed their sentences. This would be one of the greatest voter expansion efforts in recent years, in a state that is a regular battleground in national elections.

American history has looked back favorably on those figures who conveyed hope rather than fear. Our greatest heroes are Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, Martin Luther King, and others who looked to the future optimistically. The racists and fear-mongers, on the other hand, have been consigned to the historical dustbin. Unfortunately, we’re in somewhat uncharted territory these days: our record of hope over fear is running into a president with greater powers than any racist and nationalist has ever possessed in our history.

My hope is that the power of democracy is greater. In that vein, we all need to vote and encourage others to do so, continue to read and support a free press, and speak out against the racists and haters. Can our combined force prevail?

Let’s hope. And let's vote!

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