To paraphrase The Root’s editor-in-chief, Danielle Belton, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, rife with xenophobia, sexism and racism, made a cattle call of what previous conservative leaders had merely dog-whistled.
Now, as select state and local races across the country draw to a close this Tuesday (among them, Virginia’s hotly contested gubernatorial race), conservatives around the country have followed Trump’s lead, overtly drawing on the basest fears of the GOP electorate.
Researcher and poller Will Jordan collected some of the worst examples in a recent blog post. The flyers and campaign mail issue warnings on Latinx gangs, undocumented immigrants, gun control and the “anti-military” NFL protests.
Trump opened his presidential campaign with a call to bar immigration from Mexico, falsely claiming that many Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists. He would continue to make anti-immigration the center of his platform, eventually pledging to build a big, “beautiful” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Conservatives in local and state races across the country have employed similar tactics in hopes of getting out the vote.
Tomorrow, many politicians and pundits will be looking to the Virginia governors race as a bellwether for how effective this play toward white racial identity politics is. Even though GOP candidate Ed Gillespie, a former “moderate” Republican, has given Trump the cold shoulder, his campaign has certainly been warm to racist signaling.
Gillespie has threatened to ban “sanctuary cities” in Virginia, although the commonwealth has none; in doing so, he frequently alludes to the threat of gang violence, particularly MS-13, a gang with roots in El Salvador.
Another pro-GOP ad distributed in Prince William and Stafford counties in liberal-leaning northern Virginia criticizes delegate candidate Jennifer Foy for advocating that undocumented students in Virginia be allowed to pay in-state tuition.
“And Virginia students are being denied at our state universities,” the ad reads in bold, over a picture of a forlorn-looking white woman. It would be comical if it weren’t playing to a very real sentiment: that no matter how high achieving, how much quantifiably better an undocumented student is, they should be denied the ability to advance their education in favor of mediocre white students whose only virtue is being born white and Virginian.
Similar examples can be found in an Edison, N.J., school board race, where a flyer implored potential voters to stop two Asian-American candidates from “taking over our school board.”
“The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town!” read the flyer, accompanied by two photos of the candidates with the word “deport” added over their images.
This play toward xenophobia is often coupled with Islamophobia—even if the Muslims in question are American-born. One prime example is a recent tweet from Bo Dietl, a former NYPD detective who is challenging New York City incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On Monday morning, Deitl tweeted out a photo of de Blasio and activist Linda Sarsour with the caption, “Can NYC trust this guy with our homeland security needs?”
This was actually the second version of his tweet and more prominently homed in on Sarsour’s identity and claimed she was “Sharia Law, anti-Israel.” A previous version didn’t name her at all, simply letting the mayor standing next to a woman in a hijab accompany the caption, “This city needs a mayor with values that reflect its citizens.”
Another recurring call to arms is the NFL protests. In Albany, N.Y., one flyer had several images of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem with the caption, “Have you had enough of the disrespect for our veterans, flag and country? Send a message ... vote Republican.”
As Kevin Blackistone noted on his Twitter account, it was a precise mix of sports and politics that the conservative football fans claim to hate.
Other flyers simply alluded to the protests. “Proud to stand for our national anthem,” read one pamphlet sent to voters in Erie County, N.Y. As though that were the most important quality one needed to be a sheriff.
While conservative calls to patriotism are nothing new, the specific focus on national anthem protests is notable. As a recent Washington Post report unpacked, the vitriol against black athletes who choose to protest during the national anthem contains no small amount of resentment about their perceived wealth.
For right-leaning voters in 2017, standing for the national anthem is a stand-in for love of country, for virtue and respect for the military, but also a specific kind of anti-blackness that asks black athletes to be grateful for being well-compensated for their work. In this way, these flyers appeal to white voters’ ethno-nationalism as much as they do their “patriotism.”
Before a gunman opened fire on a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, conservatives were drumming up fears that Democratic candidates would confiscate firearms.
In Virginia, NRA ads applauded Gillespie’s stance on “no background checks.” In Sussex County, N.J., a Republican mailer claimed that Democratic freeholder candidate Dan Perez would would bring “unlimited illegal immigration to the county” and take away “legal firearms”—even though he had absolutely no power to do those things.
Of course, one group whose gun rights conservatives don’t want to see protected? Immigrants.
Read more at Borderline.