The Systematic Organization of Hatreds

Last month I mentioned how those cheesy TV commercials once confined to late night were suddenly appearing on early evening local newscasts. Imagine our surprise when this week, the Trump campaign started advertising during those hours also.

“What does he have to gain by running those ads here?” asked The Fabulous Wife. For the most part we’re spared national political ads because the San Francisco Bay Area is so lopsidedly Democratic; using this data from Politico, I calculated that in the nine Bay Area counties, Clinton won over 75% of the vote in 2016, and Trump got less than 20%.

“Maybe he got mad that Biden is advertising in Texas, so this is his way of retaliating,” I speculated. To my everlasting gratitude she didn’t fight me, because I had no way of supporting that argument. “He is illogical,” she granted.

It’s becoming clearer that logic will have nothing to do with the 2020 presidential election. This campaign will be based almost exclusively on what Aristotle called pathos, or emotional appeals.

And wow are the two campaigns’ emotional appeals different.

Here’s a Trump ad. It’s harsher than the one playing during discount television time here in the Bay Area, but gives you an idea what the rest of the country is seeing:

How’s that for scare tactics? I won’t bother unpacking the distortions — that would take several paragraphs and I want to stay focused. But someone in the Trump camp has taken to heart Henry Adams’s cynical observation that “politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, ha[s] always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

Now here’s a sample from Biden, who to my knowledge hasn’t advertised in the Bay Area:

You definitely won’t mistake one candidate’s tone for the other.

I would prefer more logos — logic and reason — in the campaign, but I don’t see that happening. Trump has always been about emotion, specifically fear, anger, and resentment. And Biden appears to have accepted the Lincoln Project formulation of him as “a good man who can help us heal” and decided to let the Lincolnites do the dirty work of organizing the hatreds of the anti-Trump majority. So unless circumstances change dramatically, I suspect these pathetic (in the ancient Greek sense, and maybe in the modern sense too) messages will persist. To the degree issues get addressed, it’s likely Trump will stick with the threat of disorder, which will motivate his authoritarian base to vote, and Biden will stick with the threat of COVID-19, which should become a bigger concern in the months ahead as the infection rate soars.

According to Fivethirtyeight.com, Biden is comfortably leading the crucial swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. So again, unless circumstances change dramatically, over the next hundred-odd days I expect Trump’s tone to grow ever more cartoonishly apocalyptic while Biden’s grows ever more squishily empathetic.

So much for the marketplace of ideas.

Henry Adams. Great-grandson of President John Adams and grandson of President John Quincy Adams, he was a forerunner of the Lincoln Project, a Republican who in 1872 supported Democrat Horace Greeley for president in principled reaction to the Ulysses S. Grant administration’s rampant corruption.

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