Exploiting the racial and cultural divide

by | Nov 1, 2017 | Ads, Editor's Blog | 3 comments

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.


  1. Mary P. Jones

    The hard thing is, from what I understand, in politics, if your opponent goes negative and you take the high road and don’t answer back, you lose. You really need two opposing candidates who agree to keep it positive, an absolute rarity these days.

  2. Rick Gunter

    Thank you for highlighting the Virginia gubernatorial race. I, a native Tar Heel, who have lived and worked in Virginia for a quarter of a century am following the Northam-Gillespie race closely. The last straw for me was the ad you referred to that Gillespie ran. i know the Northam folks countered with a vile ad. Frankly, I was almost glad they did, in one of my angrier moments. Northam is a pediatric neurologist and the state’s lieutenant governor. If there is a more decent man in state government (despite that ad you referenced) I have yet to meet him or her. My weekly newspaper in rural Southside Virginia endorsed Northam, although many local voters may go to Gillespie. Obama only lost Nottoway County (my home county) by a handful of votes in 2012. But if Northam fails to won, Virginia may turn out to be a clone of what North Carolina has become in recent years. The nation is watching our election this coming Tuesday night. I have my fingers crossed.

  3. walt de vries, ph.d.

    Many of us may not remember this, but not so long ago political consultants avoided ads like this. The presidential campaigns of 2016 and state and local campaigns of 2017 have changed campaigning at every governmental level with long-term devastating effects on our democracy.
    We have also seemed to forget that there is no separation between campaigning and governing–witness the current Trump administration and the dysfunction and mischief wrought by the U.S. Congress and our state legislature. This is one area where there is evidence of bipartisanship–with both parties doing the dirty work.
    “As you campaign…so shall you govern.”

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