Real fear and fake fear in Tennessee’s elections
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.