If you want to get an idea of what the 2018 election cycle will look like, check out the races in Virginia. It’s not pretty. Both sides are using ugly racial and cultural stereotypes to gin up their base voters. Republicans imply that Hispanic gangs are infiltrating the state. Democrats insinuate that local rednecks want to harm immigrant children. The ads just widen the cultural divide that’s given us Donald Trump.
On the Republican side, GOP nominee Ed Gillespie has been running ads that say Democratic nominee Ralph Northam supports sanctuary cities that will become havens for the violent Latino gang, MS-13, whose motto, ads claim, is “Kill, Rape, Control.” Of course, Northam doesn’t support allowing criminals to take over his state, but Gillespie’s ads are aimed at Trump supporters who might otherwise sit the election out. Establishment Republicans, of whom Gillespie is one, are looking the other way, just hoping Gillespie can eke out a win in a state that has been trending Democratic for the past decade.
The Democratic response came this week with an ad that shows a white guy in a pickup truck with a Confederate flag on the back chasing and intimidating immigrant kids who are otherwise just minding their own business. The truck has a Gillespie bumper sticker on the back. While the ad might be trying to juice non-white voters in the state, it’s probably targeted more toward white liberals in cities who already have negative views of Trump supporters from rural areas.
The ads have a tit-for-tat feel to them. It’s almost like the two sides are saying, “If you’re going to portray our supporters like that, we’re going to portray yours like this.” It’s more a battle of ad makers giving their allies something to cheer about in a “Take that!” sort of way than an appeal to people who either need persuading or motivating. I suspect Gillespie’s ads have more impact on their targeted audience, though.
As a guy who grew up driving pickups and who now lives in a town with a substantial Hispanic population, I find both sides disturbing. They epitomize the zero-sum mentality of politics today, appealing to cultural biases and disregarding the strength of our diversity. Regardless of their political persuasion, most rural white men don’t support the Ku Klux Klan or white supremacist organizations. Most Hispanic residents, whether here legally or not, are hard-working, law abiding people who just want better lives for their children. Pitting the two sides against each other as political foils damages our country by exploiting the racial and cultural divides that need to heal if we hope to function better as a society in the future.