By Hastings Wyman –
The past several weeks have been wracked by ever more heinous acts of violence, both at home and abroad. Some are terrorist-inspired, others the outcome of racial tensions in this country. While the economy is almost always the overriding issue in presidential elections, the constant massacres affect more than the actual victims and their families. Television now puts these horrifying incidents directly into our living rooms and they affect all of us, creating near-permanent moods of sadness and anger.
As a result, this year’s presidential election is likely to be strongly influenced by how voters perceive Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will cope with jihadist attacks here and abroad and the racial tensions here at home and.
The responses of the two presidential candidates to the latest attack in Nice diverged sharply. When Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly asked Trump if he would declare war against ISIS, Trump said “I would … If you look at it, this is war coming from all different parts.” He added, “We have to be tough.” Clinton, in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, said it “was a different kind of war,” and said she would focus “on the intelligence surge.” She also spoke of maintaining our “egalitarian” values. Like President Obama, to whose policies she closely adheres, she did not advocate any additional military actions. She did, however, use the term “radical jihadism.”
One could argue that the Clinton/Obama approach is better fitted to the war on terror, given that an ideology, not another nation, is the enemy. But in terms of the politics of the issue, Trump’s more emotional and hawkish expressions, even without specifics, come closer to matching the fear and desire for revenge felt by many voters. Indeed, it is not a stretch to say that this issue alone, if on the front burner in November, could win the election for Trump.
The other violence that has major political implications is the death of black men at the hands of police officers and the killing of police officers in retaliation. These incidents affect many whites and blacks differently. African Americans, based on their own experiences as well as the nearly-always available videos of killings, are outraged at the frequency of these occurrences. They see that, despite the protests and public outrage, African Americans continue to be killed, basically because they are black, that similarly situated white men would not be such objects of suspicion and hostile, even fatal, treatment.
Many whites, however, especially conservatives, are suspicions of the black outrage, in part because they see it as an exaggerated and simplistic response to complex situations. Moreover, the resulting protests mesh with the political goals of both the civil rights establishment and the Democratic Party. If black voters feel they are being mistreated, they are more motivated to vote. Thus, the angry black voices on television, coupled with
black protests that frequently get out of hand and revenge killings of police, as in Dallas and now Baton Rouge, can easily provoke white backlash.
Now comes US Sen. Tim Scott, an African American Republican from the conservative state of South Carolina. Scott has served in public office for 21 years, elected mainly by conservative whites. In recent speeches, Scott revealed that on at least seven occasions since he has been an officeholder he has been subjected to negative treatment from police officers “for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood,” as he put it, or entering the US Capitol, where he serves as a lawmaker. “While I thank God I have not endured bodily harm … I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with the feeling that you are being targeted for being nothing more than yourself.”
Thus, Scott’s testimony provides convincing evidence for white conservatives that police mistreatment of African Americans is real – and disturbing.
In sum, the internationally inspired violence, here and abroad, is likely to help Trump. However, the home-grown racial violence, which once motivated some whites to vote Republican, may get a sobering reappraisal from many GOPers, thanks in significant part to Senator Scott.