The big­gest loser in the midterms? The Amer­i­can peo­ple

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - OPINION - JARED YATES SEX­TON

As­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Ge­or­gia South­ern Univer­sity. He is the author of The Peo­ple Are Go­ing to Rise Like the Wa­ters Upon Your Shore: A Story of Amer­i­can Rage.

The ac­count­ing be­gins as soon as the polls close, and with ev­ery elec­tion, there’s a whole host of win­ners and losers to be named, goats to be sad­dled with de­feats and no end to the heroes claim­ing the vic­to­ries. Be­fore the night’s over, the races of the fu­ture are be­ing dreamed of and ca­reers are eu­lo­gized, but cer­tainly, in the wake of the 2018 midterms, there’s a fact that must be reck­oned with and puz­zled over: In this elec­tion, the Amer­i­can peo­ple lost.

In­evitably, the dis­cus­sion of win­ners and losers set­tles on what cam­paign moves paid off and which strate­gies fell short, but in this par­tic­u­lar case, there’s no de­bat­ing the re­sults. The 2018 midterms, long her­alded as a ref­er­en­dum on Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency, were a fail­ing en­ter­prise for the United States of Amer­ica as prej­u­dice and fear ruled the day.

In the weeks lead­ing up to the vote, Mr. Trump ped­dled a truly re­pug­nant and fac­tu­ally un­true nar­ra­tive re­volv­ing around a car­a­van of mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica who may or may not be plan­ning on cross­ing the U.S. bor­der in the fu­ture. He called them dan­ger­ous while his al­lies in the me­dia ques­tioned whether they might carry dis­eases or bring crime in with them. To thwart this imag­ined threat, Mr. Trump or­dered thou­sands of troops to the bor­der, wast­ing their time and our money. It was a dis­gust­ing tech­nique, one that should have earned a long-her­alded re­buke, but Mr. Trump has shown there’s lit­tle con­se­quence in this coun­try for lies or racist be­hav­iour.

That cer­tainly ap­pears to be the case in my state of Ge­or­gia, where Sec­re­tary of State Brian Kemp seems to have won a close vic­tory over Demo­crat Stacey Abrams af­ter purg­ing the state’s vot­ing rolls of thou­sands of African-Amer­i­cans. That was bad enough, but Mr. Kemp’s di­rec­tion of the elec­tion saw a mis­han­dling of polling places, par­tic­u­larly in mi­nor­ity-heavy areas, as well as a last-sec­ond warn­ing that the New Black Pan­ther Party was plan­ning on in­tim­i­dat­ing his vot­ers. From the mo­ment this race was set, the racism at its heart has been in full view of the world, and yet it’s like- ly that Mr. Kemp will pre­vail.

Th­ese are not iso­lated in­ci­dents. Around the coun­try, Repub­li­can can­di­dates re­lied on bla­tant racism as a cam­paign tool, some of them go­ing so far as to ques­tion their Demo­cratic op­po­nents’ loy­alty to the coun­try, em­ploy­ing prej­u­diced ad­ver­tis­ing, and, in the case of Iowa con­gress­man Steve King, win­ning a race af­ter giv­ing an ex­plic­itly in­tol­er­ant in­ter­view to a white su­prem­a­cist group founded by a for­mer SS of­fi­cer. For Mr. King, that’s noth­ing new. The most bla­tant white su­prem­a­cist in Congress, he’s ques­tioned what other ra­cial groups have con­tributed to cul­ture and reg­u­larly es­pouses opin­ions that seem to re­flect the the­ory of “White Geno­cide” that holds sway with ex­trem­ist groups around the world. And yet, he’ll re­turn to Wash­ing­ton for his ninth term in Congress.

It would be in­ac­cu­rate to call Mr. King an aber­ra­tion in the mod­ern Repub­li­can Party. In fact, it might be closer to the truth to call him some­thing of a pi­o­neer. He’s ex­plored the far realms of iden­tity and ra­cial pol­i­tics in Amer­ica and has shown his party just how ex­treme and big­oted a Repub­li­can can be with­out con­se­quence. As a white su­prem­a­cist in the­ory and ac­tion, Mr. King was one of the men to lay the ground­work for Pres­i­dent Trump’s vic­tory and con­tin­ued war on mi­nori­ties.

Repub­li­cans have con­tin­ued to ben­e­fit wildly for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, in­clud­ing their base’s will­ing­ness to buy into their racist world­view and the con­tin­ued as­sis­tance of their pro­pa­ganda arms in cable news and syn­di­cated ra­dio.

But largely the blame can be placed at the feet of Amer­ica’s in­abil­ity to come to terms with its prob­lem­atic his­tory and present, and its in­sis­tence on main­tain­ing a san­i­tized myth in which prej­u­dice has been largely over­come. It’s this myth that has pow­ered the cur­rent age of par­ti­san­ship and made it pos­si­ble for the GOP to po­si­tion it­self as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of vot­ers who would rather over­look their own in­her­ent priv­i­lege and con­tin­ued in­tol­er­ance.

Though Democrats made in­roads on Tues­day and re­cap­tured the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, it’s un­de­ni­able that the United States of Amer­ica is sharply di­vided be­tween two re­al­i­ties. Some will call it par­ti­san­ship or trib­al­ism, but it’s a sep­a­ra­tion of worlds that hinges on a dis­agree­ment as to the role of racism in so­ci­ety. On one hand, vot­ers con­tinue to cast their bal­lots with the hope that we may bet­ter our union by rec­og­niz­ing our de­fi­cien­cies and work­ing to re­pair the sys­temic dam­ages of the past, and on the other is a con­glom­er­a­tion of the damned that is in­tent on deny­ing the ex­is­tence of prej­u­dice while con­tin­u­ing to hide be­hind it and of­fer it power.

The 2018 elec­tion was de­fined by that divi­sion as much as, if not more than, the con­test that saw Don­ald Trump win the White House. Re­gard­less of how you count the votes or as­sign the blame, it’s hard to imag­ine the United States of Amer­ica won’t con­tinue to lose elec­tions as a col­lec­tive un­til it does the hard and nec­es­sary work of con­fronting its past, re­ject­ing the in­flu­ence of big­ots, and thus en­sur­ing its fu­ture.

Around the coun­try, Repub­li­can can­di­dates re­lied on bla­tant racism as a cam­paign tool, some of them go­ing so far as to ques­tion their Demo­cratic op­po­nents’ loy­alty to the coun­try, em­ploy­ing prej­u­diced ad­ver­tis­ing

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