Those nasty cam­paign ads will be even worse in 2020

The Arizona Republic - - Opinions - Jon Gabriel Colum­nist Spe­cial to Ari­zona Repub­lic

After what feels like the long­est cam­paign sea­son ever, the votes have been counted (mostly) and we know who will hold the reins of gov­ern­ment for the next four years (mostly).

But ev­ery Ari­zo­nan will agree 2018 was the ugli­est, mean­est and most neg­a­tive elec­tion year in re­cent mem­ory.

When­ever we turned on the TV, opened Face­book or watched a vi­ral cat video on YouTube, we were buf­feted with at­tack ads. If you be­lieved the mes­sages, any­one choos­ing to run for of­fice at any level was ei­ther cor­rupt, racist, a traitor, a liar or their own fam­ily mem­bers de­spise them.

Surely, 2020 will be bet­ter, right?

Don’t count on it.

Many com­men­ta­tors have claimed that modern Amer­i­can pol­i­tics are a post-truth en­vi­ron­ment. That’s de­bat­able, but we’re cer­tainly in a post-pol­icy era.

De­spite Repub­li­cans hold­ing onto the Oval Of­fice and both houses of Congress for the past two years, leg­is­la­tion was as rare as it was dur­ing Obama’s six years of di­vided gov­ern­ment.

Our crum­bling health­care sys­tem con­tin­ued to crum­ble, im­mi­gra­tion was ig­nored out­side of ill-con­sid­ered ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, and the na­tional debt con­tin­ued to soar.

As much as vot­ers claim to want so­lu­tions from the po­lit­i­cal class, most of their eyes glaze over when a can­di­date lays out pol­icy de­tails. So, to get their at­ten­tion, cam­paign ad-mak­ers paste to­gether scary vi­su­als and omi­nous voiceovers.

The Amer­i­can elec­torate has changed. They are less likely to praise their own party or can­di­date, but rather de­mo­nize the op­po­si­tion. Vot­ers are mo­ti­vated by who and what they hate, not what they love.

Emory Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor Alan Abramowitz calls this phe­nom­e­non “neg­a­tive par­ti­san­ship.”

“Over the past few decades, Amer­i­can pol­i­tics has be­come like a bit­ter sports ri­valry, in which the par­ties hang to­gether mainly out of sheer ha­tred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of pur­pose,” Abramowitz writes.

“Repub­li­cans might not love the pres­i­dent, but they ab­so­lutely loathe his Demo­cratic ad­ver­saries,” he con­tin­ues. “And it’s also true of Democrats, who might be con­sumed by their in­ter­nal feuds over for­eign pol­icy and the proper role of gov­ern­ment were it not for Trump.”

Most of us didn’t need an aca­demic to tell us this; we see it every­where. From cam­paign ads to late-night comics, the fo­cus is on how stupid or evil the other side is. When a Re­pub­li­can or Demo­crat

re­leases an im­mi­gra­tion plan, pun­dits fo­cus on how much worse it will make our cur­rent bro­ken sys­tem.

The Wall is mean and The Car­a­van is an in­va­sion.

Ask your neigh­bor or co-worker about pol­i­tics and she’ll likely rat­tle off every­one she hates, not dis­cuss the in­no­va­tive jobs pro­gram pro­posed by can­di­date X.

Neg­a­tive par­ti­san­ship also ex­plains how half the coun­try takes Pres­i­dent Trump’s side in his bat­tle with CNN’s Jim Acosta. When they wit­ness a left­lean­ing re­porter hec­tor­ing the chief ex­ec­u­tive, they think, “at least he has the right en­e­mies.”

This hap­pens in the other di­rec­tion as well. Re­porter Jonathan Swan of up­start news out­fit Ax­ios pre­viewed a POTUS in­ter­view in which Swan smiled at some­thing Trump said.

Pro­gres­sives were out­raged at what they said re­vealed too cozy a re­la­tion­ship be­tween a so-called ob­jec­tive jour­nal­ist and a hated Re­pub­li­can pres­i­dent.

As many com­plaints as we hear about neg­a­tive ads, they are used be­cause they work. And ex­pect them to be more in­tense in the next cy­cle as Trump faces down likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Each politi­cian will be viewed as the boogey­man by the other side, sure to de­stroy Amer­ica as we know it if they pre­vail.

Jon Gabriel, a Mesa res­i­dent, is ed­i­tor-in-chief of Ric­o­chet.com and a con­trib­u­tor to az­cen­tral.com and The Repub­lic. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @exjon.

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