America’s Essence Is On The Ballot This November

Do we want to be a nation that buys into Trump’s vision of hate and division?

The Trump campaign has launched a new theme on social media that makes the Willie Horton ad of 1988 look like child’s play. Here are a couple of examples.

That is a good indication of what we can expect from Trump over the next few months. I am reminded of something one of the president’s advisors told Maggie Haberman: “The president, whose own approval ratings have stayed upside down, needs voters to feel negatively not just about his opponents but about longstanding institutions.” Neither the president nor his advisors are interested in raising Trump’s approval ratings. They simply want to gin up fear and hatred for their opponents.

As Philip Bump documented, that strategy worked in 2016.

As it turns out, while people who liked Trump and didn’t like Clinton voted heavily for Trump (as you’d expect), the current president also had an edge among people who disliked both him and Clinton. He won those voters by 17 points nationally — and by margins in the closest states that were likely enough to hand him the electoral college victory he needed…

By the numbers, exit polls had Trump leading Clinton among those who didn’t like either candidate by 37 points in Wisconsin, 25 points in Pennsylvania and 21 points in Michigan.

Of course, Trump got a huge assist with those voters from former FBI Director James Comey, Russia, Sanders supporters, and the media in painting Clinton as “corrupt.” There has been a concerted effort to do the same thing with Biden by linking him to his son Hunter Biden’s activities, but that hasn’t taken hold the way the smears against Clinton did in 2016. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, Biden leads Trump among voters who dislike both candidates by 32 percent.

Jon Favreau once said that “every election is a competition between two stories about America.” Trump’s story this year will be similar to the one he told in 2016.

He is a celebrity strongman who will single-handedly save the country from an establishment that is too weak, stupid, corrupt, and politically correct to let us blame the real source of our problems—Muslims and Mexicans and Black Lives Matter protesters; the media, business, and political elites from both parties.

While it is important for Democrats to point out the overwhelming failures of the Trump administration and call out their lies, it is also important to tell a competing story of America. Joe Biden is doing that by talking about the need to reclaim the soul of America. Telling a compelling story always starts with identifying the challenge.

It then links the current struggle to those we have overcome in the past.

Finally, it identifies our strength to overcome.

Especially at this moment in our country’s history, it feels like it could be a risk to put our faith in the American people. But I am reminded of something Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote shortly after Barack Obama’s election.

Here is where Barack Obama and the civil rights leaders of old are joined — in a shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity, something that subsequent generations lost. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion’s share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King’s belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.

The truth is that an America that buys into Trump’s vision of hate and division might not be worth saving. But if there is a soul of America that is still dedicated to the struggle to perfect our union, it will be on the ballot this November.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.