Columnist John Sheirer: Fear and hope in 2018

  • Central American migrants arrive in Tepotzotlan, Mexico, as they resume their journey north after leaving a temporary shelter in Mexico City, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Thousands of Central American migrants were back on the move toward the U.S. border Saturday, after dedicated Mexico City metro trains whisked them to the outskirts of the capital and drivers began offering rides north. AP PHOTO/Marco Ugarte

Published: 11/12/2018 8:12:25 AM

There’s a reason Election Day closely follows Halloween. Halloween is the day we indulge our fears. Election Day is the day we indulge our hopes. Unfortunately, Republican politicians have tried to extend the pretend fear of Halloween into a real-life fright-fest on Election Day.

As the 2018 midterms approached, Republicans stoked the fear of what they call a “mob” marching on our southern border to “invade” our country. Trump said he would deploy up to 15,000 active-duty troops to the border (more than the number of soldiers currently stationed in Afghanistan), despite the fact that the military officially deemed the “caravan” no criminal or terrorist threat.

Trump’s border deployment scheme is a shameful political stunt exploiting our troops at taxpayers’ expense. Every reputable fact-checker has noted that Republican claims about the caravan are absurd. In reality, these are refugees fleeing violence in their own countries, drawn by hope for asylum and a better life in the United States.

Just a week before the election, Trump released a fearful ad reminiscent of the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of 1988. Trump’s ad blamed Democrats for allowing a leering “illegal immigrant” who killed two police officers to stay in the country. The ad was so offensive that even Trump’s favorite network, Fox News, stopped airing it the day before the election.

In reality, this particular criminal entered the country illegally and was deported during both the Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations. He was even released from jail by Republican sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Trump pardon recipient. Despite these facts, Trump still paints a picture of murderous “illegal immigrants” out to get innocent Americans. In reality, multiple studies show that native-born Americans murder and commit crimes at a higher rate than immigrants, legal or “illegal.”

Trump and his Republican enablers want their fear campaign to distract from recent horrific crimes connected to right-wing propaganda. The “MAGA bomber,” a radicalized white Trump supporter, sent explosives to Democrats that Trump constantly attacks in speeches and social media. Another radicalized white man who believed that Jewish people were financing Trump’s made-up “caravan invasion” murdered 11 Jewish worshippers at temple. These horrible criminals were propelled by the Trump Train, not the caravan.

Another way that Republicans promote fear is their campaign against so-called “voter fraud,” which actual research shows is an infinitesimal problem that doesn’t influence election results. Trump claims (with no evidence) that he only lost the popular vote in 2016 because of millions of “illegal votes.” That’s complete nonsense, of course.

Wherever Republicans are in charge of elections, they exploit fear of voter fraud to restrict voting by Americans they don’t like. They study the voting behaviors of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native-Americans, immigrants, women and students, and then they try to keep their votes from counting.

During this election cycle, Republicans moved or eliminated polling places in areas with a large percentage of Democratic voters, rejected registrations and absentee ballots for inconsequential discrepancies, demanded previously unrequired documentation for voting, provided faulty voting machines and limited early voting options in many states with pivotal elections, including Georgia, Kansas, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and North Dakota.

Add to these voter suppression tactics the Republican-led gerrymandering, which, along with the Electoral College, functions as an affirmative-action program for less qualified Republicans. Top it off with Republican denial about continuing Russian attacks on our elections, and, by any reasonable measure, Republicans cling to power by cheating.

Yet another fear-based lie pushed by Republicans before the midterms was that Democrats are endangering health care reform protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Republicans must think Americans have the shortest memories in the animal kingdom because Democrats actually passed those protections over the strenuous objections of Republicans in 2011. Those same Republicans are still trying to cut those protections even as they claim to be protecting them. The absurdity of this lie is mind-boggling, even by Republican standards for dishonesty.

So what’s the alternative to Republican-stoked fear of goblins, monsters, immigrants and Democrats? The other option, of course, is voting with hope. Thankfully, that’s exactly what the majority of Americans did in last week’s election.

Many in the media downplayed the results, but hope soundly defeated fear by millions of votes around the country. Progressive ballot measures passed in many states. Democrats flipped a significant number of state legislatures and governorships. The Senate is still close even after Democrats had to defend nearly three times as many seats as Republicans. And, best of all, Democrats will control the House of Representatives by a solid margin.

A Democratic House means that Trump’s fear-mongering can’t be weaponized into federal law or financed in the federal budget. It means Democrats will control House committees and set the agenda for legislative proposals to help all Americans, not just their wealthy corporate donors. And it means the Speaker of the House, third in line to the presidency, won’t be a Trump enabler.

The 2018 election gives us hope for America’s future, particularly leading into the 2020 presidential election. A great start would be newly elected Democratic governors and legislators enacting state-level reforms to combat Republican attacks on health care and voting. Even better, by next Halloween, the new Democratic majority in the House can bring hopeful oversight to the fear-based abuses of the Trump administration.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. His most recent book is the satire, “Donald Trump’s Top Secret Concession Speech.” Find him at

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