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Opinion | The politics of deflection, distraction

By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

With everything going on in Washington, D.C., it’s difficult to predict the result of the midterm 2018 elections.

All indications are that Democrats will have a good year, perhaps even taking over the House of Representatives or the Senate or both.

Let’s learn our lesson, though. Predictions during this Donald Trump era are not certain. Few people thought so-called Republican Trump would defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump did, at least through the Electoral College.

And look at the string of scandals that surround Trump. The most serious: Possible collusion with the Russians to help Trump win that election, to be sure. And from the outside, it looks as if Trump simply continues to dig that s—hole deeper. If not collusion, obstruction of justice, right?

But looks can be deceiving.

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Trump, touting himself as the ultimate businessman and deal-closer, ran his businesses about as sloppy as a tycoon can. Multiple bankruptcies. Scams ranging from a university to meat. In this era of #me-too, many women have come forward accusing Trump of sexual harassment and even rape. Grab ‘em by the you-know-what, right?

Reports claim Trump had an affair with a porn star shortly after his third wife gave birth to his youngest son. Then Trump paid to have that relationship covered up.

During his campaign, Trump mocked a disabled news reporter. His Twitter feed is full of self-congratulations on any number of misdeeds, attacks against perceived enemies, white-power slogans, racist comments, divisive rhetoric.

Trump endorsed an accused child-molester in Alabama for the U.S. Senate.

Any one of these calamities, verified, would be the downfall of most national leaders.

Not Trump. Ronald Reagan was once described as a “Teflon president.” What does that make Trump? Something a lot less stick-free than Teflon.

But you see, Trump’s appeal to a certain base (mainly, racists, white nationalists, Angry White Men, immigration cowards, hypocritical Evangelicals) and against women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and others, is working.

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Until it stops working, we’ll continue to see the same sad results. We’ve been saying this for years.

Trump’s deplorable behavior is a winner, for now. Whether it’ll continue the win streak in the 2018 midterms, who knows? We’ll see. But I’m making no predictions.

Democrats and independents will have to develop a counter-message that appeals to reasonable people who will be motivated to go out and vote. They haven’t really shown yet they have that message, other than: “Donald Trump is dangerous,” or “Donald Trump is a traitor,” or “Donald Trump is orange.”

Probably no state in the nation has elected officials who have been as successful by using the so-called hot-button issues than Alabama.

Our politicians are masters of this “dark art.”

That pertains as much to Democrats who controlled the Alabama Legislature before 2010 as much as it does Republicans who control the Legislature now.

Making the state’s African-American people the button worked for decades with white Alabama. African-Americans are still targeted today, but the menu of hot-buttons being used by Republicans now a full buffet: Immigrants, of course; don’t forget gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens; the good people who want reasonable and common-sense gun laws are targeted; those damned independent women who want the right to choose what they will do with their own bodies . . .

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None of these red-meat issues are brought up to make life better in Alabama, one of the most poorly performing states in most any quality-of-life category. They’re brought up to keep voters distracted; to make them feel, no matter how low their self-esteem, that somebody else is below them.

It’s the crime of deflection.

While some voters are worried about immigrants taking their jobs (a nonissue), Republicans are quietly working to dismantle the state’s ethics laws. While some voters can’t stand to respect that any couple who loves should be allowed to marry, Republicans are quietly working to undermine government accountability. While some voters fear independent women, Republicans are quietly working to suppress the vote of so many in our state. While some (white) voters fear the truth that it’ll be them in the minority soon, Republicans are quietly working to make sure the laws they pass now primarily benefit them and their financial supporters, not the voters who put them in office.

For me, all bets are off for the 2018 midterms, nationally and in Alabama. For so long, our elected officials have used this same, ugly playbook, and it works.

Maybe voters will truly be motivated to vote this year, and get out in numbers that overcome voter suppression and gerrymandering and those divisive hot buttons.

They haven’t so far, though. That’s what’s scary.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].

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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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