If the candidates can be accused of being reductive then so too are the elections. Twenty-four hour news channels, desperate for a narrative to craft a script around, are all too complicit assigning a theme, usually one with over-wrought graphics and dramatic music, to their coverage. Last general election, the economy featured prominently. During the mid-term elections, Ebola was the crowned prom queen. In 2008 we all remember the monosyllabic mantra, ‘Hope’. With racial strife, gender inequality, and overt classicism all too in vogue, the only message that will have any positive resonance with voters in 2016 will be one of unity.
Unfortunately, ‘Unity’ doesn’t feature much in the Republican primary race, not when you’re appealing to the densest of your base, in a mad dash to toe the line of any donor or conglomerate of donors that will have them. It is not a coincidence that days after signing an anti-abortion bill, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, saw a twenty-three million dollar uptick in donor contributions. The proposed bill would make it illegal for abortions after the twentieth week. Of the 6,500 abortions performed in Wisconsin in 2013 only 1% were past the twenty week mark, making the bill effectively toothless while the same time appealing to a hesitant base that is currently lousy with suitors. With the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists claiming that fetuses are incapable of feeling pain until the twenty-seventh week, this bill serves only to carve Walker’s place among the Right. Sasha Bruce of NARAL Pro-choice America was quoted in the Associated Press, “In an effort the win the votes of the extreme base of the Republican party, Walker has traded the health and wellbeing of women and families to score cheap political points.”
These empty gestures, even the well-intentioned ones, aren’t just ad campaigns; they’re policies that have social repercussions. After the national tragedy in Charleston, only the blind and deaf in Washington were on the other side of the Confederate flag debate, with even ‘good ‘ol boy’ Lindsey, Graham, coming around in the end. Taken from a larger context, the change means very little. When our nation’s perennial cretins, the Klu Klux Klan, held a rally in Charleston they did so draped in Confederate flags, staking claim to a side of the debate. They may not be the flag’s chosen representatives but for the moment they are the most notable, and that is the deeper, much more complicated issue that none of the candidates are willing to address. Calling for a piece of cloth to lower does not begin to address the decades of violent racism known throughout the south but it does stoke its smoldering flames. When this simmering tension spilled over to the KKK rally and subsequent counter-protests it threatened to devolve to civil rioting, which would have led to more confrontations with law enforcement and colored protesters like we saw in Ferguson. The same politicians who were crawling over themselves to disown Ol’ Dixie were nowhere to be found within Charleston city limits once the whole ugly mess went down.