Fear beats communication in election

Too much of this recent election was about fear. The campaign messages you saw, on TV and social media, were designed to ramp up your anxiety beyond the boiling point. Too many of us, I suspect, voted not so much in favor of what we support but against what we fear the most.

This was on vivid display in the vicious advertising war in New Mexico’s Congressional District 2 and, to a lesser extent, in the conflicting claims by our candidates for the U.S. Senate.

The ads against Republican Yvette Herrell, now the winner, did not talk about her policy positions but were entirely directed at her alleged corruption. Herrell did part of the Democrats’ advertising for them by declaring that she supported President Trump. Many Democrats are not just opposed to Trump but terrified of him. When she said she supported Trump, what Democrats heard – correctly or not — was that she fully endorses his worst excesses.

The advertising against Democrat Xochitl Torres Small attempted to paint her as a radical socialist out to destroy New Mexico’s oil and gas industry and take away everybody’s guns. Some ads pictured her with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while others added New York Congress member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who has become the symbol of a so-called socialist agenda. Republican advertising described Torres Small as if she shared held the most extreme progressive positions. She tried vainly to say she doesn’t.

This was a very expensive election. According to Ballotpedia, the Herrell campaign spent $2.5 million and the Torres Small campaign spent $7.5 million. But these sums were dwarfed by outside organizations, which spent more than $10 million against Herrell and $11 million against Torres Small, roughly 10 times as much as they spent on positive advertising supporting their candidate.

In the Ben Ray Lujan vs. Mark Ronchetti race for the Senate, Lujan ads scared voters by showing the former TV weatherman, in his very familiar voice, saying he supported President Trump, and linked that with the threat to the Affordable Care Act. It was all Democrats needed to hear. When Ronchetti said he would never support removing coverage for pre-existing healthcare conditions, it fell on deaf ears – just like Torres Small’s support for oil and gas.

Republican ads linked Lujan with Pelosi and “San Francisco values,” but in his case it didn’t stick.

Here is a bit of very oversimplified speculation on what may underlie all this fear:

We are living through wrenching change. The climate is in trouble and we must make difficult changes or suffer dire consequences. The ethnic and cultural makeup of our country is changing, with long-neglected issues of poverty and injustice rising to the surface. Technology is forcing us to change our everyday habits. And the pandemic has caused major disruptions on top of all that. It’s stressing us all out, but we react differently to it.

We have not yet figured out how to talk to each other across our contradictory opinions. We have to start.

Whichever side of this you are on, please understand that the other side thinks you are either deliberately selling out your country or ignorantly being the dupe of those who are doing just that. Your neighbors are afraid of you.

We are all listening to networks and commentators that make exorbitant amounts of money profiting off our fear, turning us into loyal viewers by poking at our vulnerabilities, inducing us to listen for the next outrage committed by the other guys, and influencing us all to take sides.

If we are going to save our republic, this is going to take a lot of work to unravel. Meanwhile, I wonder if we could try this: If you want to find out what Democrats believe, first ask a Democrat. To find out what Republicans believe, first ask a Republican.

And remember that both Democrats and Republicans are individuals with their own individual viewpoints.






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