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A Big Night For Racism

Democratic candidate for Georgia Governor Stacey Abrams, left, speaks as her Republican opponent Sec. State Brian Kemp looks on during a debate Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Democratic candidate for Georgia Governor Stacey Abrams, left, speaks as her Republican opponent Sec. State Brian Kemp looks on during a debate Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

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Racism had a pretty good night on Tuesday.

In Georgia, a white supremacist group launched robocalls on behalf of Republican Brian Kemp, describing Stacey Abrams, the Yale-educated black Democrat in the still-undecided race for governor, as a “Negress” and “a poor man’s Aunt Jemima.”

The new Republican Senator from Indiana, Mike Braun, defeated the incumbent Democrat, Joe Donnelly, labeling him “Mexico Joe” and sending mariachi bands to disrupt his campaign events because he owned stock in a family business that had a factory in Mexico.

The new Republican Senator from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, defeated Phil Bredesen, running ads falsely claiming the former governor "lured illegal immigrants to Tennessee" by offering them driver’s certificates.

The successful race-baiting Republican candidate for governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, defeated Andrew Gillum, arguing that electing the black mayor of Tallahassee would undermine economic progress in the state. “The last thing we need is to monkey this up,” he said.

Republican Representative Duncan Hunter of California won re-election, despite being under federal indictment for stealing campaign funds, running ads accusing his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, of being an Islamic terrorist sympathizer.

Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York also retained his seat, despite his indictment on federal insider trading charges, targeting his Democrat opponent with a xenophobic ad that implied an ability to speak Korean is somehow un-American.

Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa is also going back to Capitol Hill despite his affinity for white supremacists, Nazi sympathizers and ethnic nationalists.

There was no “blue wave” on Tuesday. Barely flipping the House Democratic while the Republicans widened their hold on the Senate was no midterm repudiation of the presidency of Donald Trump. It was, however, evidence that his vile brand of racist invective resonates with far too many Americans.

Yes, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia handily defeated Corey Stewart, the Republican white nationalist, and Kris Kobach, the Trumpian purveyor of phony tales of rampant illegal voting in the U.S., handed the governorship to Democrat Laura Kelly in usually reliably red Kansas. But it was naked racial animus — liberated by Trump from the dark shadows in which it once dwelled — that set the tone for too many of these midterm races.

Abetted by a political press corps that amplified the president’s paranoid delusions about an “invasion” of Central American refugees, Trump turned the midterms into a referendum on race. Imagine the president deploying thousands of troops to Vermont with orders to shoot any rock-throwing migrant attempting to enter the U.S. illegally, though such crossings are on the rise. His fear-mongering about families fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras and Guatemala was not about protecting the U.S. border or reforming a broken immigration system; it was about demonizing non-white people, too many of whom he and his supporters think are here already.

For all the talk of “resistance” ... [Trump’s] cramped view of a white nation under siege from “the other” has had remarkable staying power over the last two years.

For all the talk of “resistance” to Trump’s apocalyptic vision of America, his cramped view of a white nation under siege from “the other” has had remarkable staying power over the last two years. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report has noted that, in 2016, 54 percent of white voters backed Trump and the same number still do, despite the loss of some college educated, suburban women on Tuesday.

These midterms have turned the late House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr.’s maxim that “all politics is local” on its head. In Tennessee, Blackburn ran a terror-inducing ad echoing his description of the migrants as "gang members, known criminals, people from the Middle East, possibly even terrorists," despite the president’s acknowledgment that he had no evidence to support that claim, despite the fact that the migrants are hundreds of miles from the southern border of the U.S. which is, itself, hundreds of miles from Tennessee.

The truth was beside the point. The point was to stoke the racial resentment that fueled the rise of Trump. The midterms made clear that those fires are still burning white hot.

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Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
A Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The Boston Globe, Eileen McNamara is the author of "Eunice, The Kennedy Who Changed the World."

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