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The 2018 election: Fear on trial


It would be an understatement to say that a lot of very different issues and individuals will impact the outcome of the 2018 election that climaxes next Tuesday. Here in North Carolina, there are more than 200 different congressional, legislative and judicial races, multiple local bond proposals and, of course, a slate of six controversial constitutional amendments to be decided. The decisions voters render will go a long way toward deciding the future of healthcare, the federal and state courts, public education, tax policy, human rights and the very nature of our democracy itself.

All that said, it’s clear that one phenomenon looms larger than any other two years after the election of Donald Trump: fear.

And, no, the fear at issue is not the fear that many Americans confront on a daily basis as they contemplate the reality of having a narcissistic serial liar backed by a delusional and increasingly well-armed army of extremists ensconced in the White House. The fear in this case is the anxiety and dread that have become the stock-in-trade and lingua franca of Trumpism.

Across the country, Trumpist fearmongering is rampant as candidates, officeholders and issue advocates of the Right do their utmost to convince distracted and under-informed voters that some sort of diabolical bogeyman (undoubtedly an immigrant and/or person of color) is out to steal their money, their guns and their vote.

Nowhere is this absurd fearmongering on fuller display than in the effort here in North Carolina to push through the constitutional amendments – most notably the amendment to require photo identification to vote.

Across the state, an opaque group known as the NC Voter ID PAC [2] has been running ads in support of the amendment and selected conservative candidates that push all the traditional right-wing fear buttons.

In the 30-second ad, a dark figure with a flashlight appears to be burglarizing a home as the narrator intones: “You’d never invite criminals into your house to steal your belongings. So why let them steal your vote? In 2016, foreign nationals were caught voting illegally in North Carolina.” The narrator then goes on to distinguish between two candidates, whom she informs us, “oppose voter ID” and support “voter ID,” and to urge us not to let the candidate who supposedly opposes it to “get away with it.”

Never mind that the only meaningful foreign interference in recent U.S. elections came from the president’s pals in Russia – not the people conjured up in the ad.

And then there’s the slick and bizarre video recently produced by North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest [3] in which he fantasizes about how “an organized group” could commit fraud in this fall’s election by somehow “scraping” the names, addresses and voting status of infrequent voters and then sending large numbers of phony voters to the polls to vote in their stead.

Forest’s strange claims were robustly debunked by voting rights advocates, who rightfully dismissed the notion that hundreds or thousands of people could be drawn into a felonious criminal conspiracy as ridiculously unworkable.

But, of course, when you’re marketing fear to provoke human behavior, the facts aren’t terribly important. If they were, North Carolinians wouldn’t be confronting a proposal like the one to establish a constitutional right to hunt and fish and conservative candidates across the country wouldn’t be issuing wild and irresponsible statements about the Central American migrant caravan.

But, of course, the most hideous and worrisome manifestation of conservative fearmongering in recent days has been seen in the incidents of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a would-be pipe bomber and the mad anti-Semitic murderer who attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend. In both incidents, it appears disturbed men whose brains had been polluted by outrageous far Right propaganda took what they saw as the obvious and most logical next step: to kill those whom they perceived as threats.

What’s more, true to form, Trump’s behavior in the aftermath has not been encouraging. On Friday, the President of the United States even tweeted the following [4]:

Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”

Did you really say “this ‘Bomb’ stuff,” Mr. President? What’s next? “This ‘Holocaust’ stuff”? “This ‘Slavery’ stuff”?

Fortunately, for all of the well-financed drivel emanating from the Trumpists, there is good reason to believe that most Americans and North Carolinians do not want to follow the right-wing pols and pundits down the dark path they are on. The latest Gallup presidential job approval poll [5] released yesterday showed a big drop for Trump – with approval falling from 44% to 40% and disapproval rising from 50% to 54% – over just the last week.

Let’s hope fervently that this shift is just the beginning of a long and steady trend in public attitudes toward Trumpsim and the toxic fear and hate it so frequently represents.