Real fear and fake fear in Ten­nessee’s elec­tions

The Commercial Appeal - - Viewpoint - David Wa­ters

How did Ten­nessee turn from a re­li­ably pur­ple state into a solid red one?

This is a state that voted for Carter then Rea­gan, Clin­ton then Bush.

A state where Democrats and Repub­li­cans had taken turns as gover­nor seven times in a row — un­til this year.

A state that gave Phil Bre­desen, a moder­ate Demo­crat from Nash­ville, 68 per­cent of the vote a dozen years ago and 44 per­cent of the vote this year.

A state where Harold Ford Jr., a black Demo­crat from Mem­phis, won 24 coun­ties in his los­ing bid for U.S. Se­nate a dozen years ago. Bre­desen won only three coun­ties this year. What hap­pened? Fear hap­pened. Real fear and fake fear.

Real fears of un­af­ford­able or un­ob­tain­able health care, shift­ing and shrink­ing job mar­kets, chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, mass shoot­ings and drug epi­demics.

Fake fears of im­mi­grants, refugees, Mus­lims and peo­ple of color.

Real fears our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are un­able or un­will­ing to ad­dress. Fake fears our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are ea­ger to ex­ploit.

“Real power is — I don’t even want to use the word — fear,” can­di­date Don­ald Trump told Bob Woodward in 2016.

Fear was the theme of Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2016. It has been the theme of his pres­i­dency.

He all but ig­nores our real fears of Amer­i­cans who be­come mass shoot­ers. He dis­tracts us with fake fears of “for­eign in­vaders” by round­ing up “il­le­gals,” clos­ing borders, de­ploy­ing troops, threat­en­ing “birthright cit­i­zen­ship.”

“If you want more im­mi­grant car­a­vans, if you want more crime, vote Demo­crat,” Trump said at a Ge­or­gia rally. Psy­chol­o­gists call it scape­goat­ing. We vs. They. “The search for a scape­goat is the eas­i­est of all hunt­ing ex­pe­di­tions,” said Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower.

Fear and scape­goat­ing was the theme of Repub­li­can Mar­sha Black­burn’s win­ning cam­paign for the U.S. Se­nate.

She warned that Bre­desen “lured il­le­gal im­mi­grants” to Ten­nessee as gover­nor. She de­scribed a car­a­van of im­mi­grants as an “in­vad­ing force.”

“If my op­po­nent had his way, he would be down there at the bor­der wel­com­ing them, giv­ing them driv­ing cer­tifi­cates, which is what he did when he was gover­nor of Ten­nessee,” Black­burn said. “We have seen video of his cam­paign spokesper­son en­cour­ag­ing il­le­gal aliens to sign up to work in his cam­paign. (He will) prob­a­bly be try­ing to get them to vote.” Them vs. Us. “The best way to avoid be­com­ing a scape­goat is to find one,” wrote the nov­el­ist War­ren Eys­ter.

Fear and scape­goat­ing was the theme in lo­cal elec­tions as well. State Sen. Brian Kelsey’s cam­paign at­tacked his Bo­li­vian-born op­po­nent, Gabby Sali­nas, as a rad­i­cal, us­ing images of masked men rep­re­sent­ing crim­i­nal im­mi­grants.

“Brian Kelsey’s fam­ily has called Shelby County home for seven gen­er­a­tions,” a Kelsey cam­paign mailer said. “He’s from here. He’s one of us.” Us vs. Them. It’s how seg­re­ga­tion­ist Democrats held power in the South. It’s how na­tivist Repub­li­cans are do­ing it now.

It will keep hap­pen­ing un­til we re­ject all can­di­dates who ex­ploit our fears.

Colum­nist Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – TENN.

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