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The great reckoning

We need to examine the dark side of politics

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When the dust settles from the 2016 election, we are going to need to take a long, hard look at what in the hell just happened. This time around, there is much to learn if we are willing to heed the lesson.

We need to reckon with the destabilizing levels of economic inequality and declining social mobility that have, more than anything else, given rise to the virulent populism expressed in this election cycle. Instead of grappling with economic challenges, our attention has been largely diverted to internal divisions. We are told that immigrants steal our jobs, and we denigrate those who pick our wine grapes. Past police chiefs have told us not to question authority, festering racial wounds across the country. Local politicians have even claimed that Muslims are infiltrating our government, making us more suspicious of our Muslim neighbors.

We must hold all our political leaders to higher standards, including our political parties. Consider the type of deception deployed just last week in this column by local Republican Chairman Al Fonzi. In attacking Democratic Assembly candidate Dawn Ortiz-Legg, Fonzi parrots her opponent Jordan Cunningham, declaring that she represents the “darkest side of politics” because of her leadership in the local anti-war group Code Pink. What actions has Dawn taken to deserve such condemnation? Fonzi can’t say.

Fonzi can’t say that Ortiz-Legg made any personal attacks against soldiers, because Ortiz-Legg never made any such attacks. Fonzi can’t say that Ortiz-Legg used Iraqi propaganda, because Ortiz-Legg never did. Fonzi can’t say that Ortiz-Legg compared soldiers to Nazis, because she never did. Fonzi can’t criticize this woman’s actual choices, so he uses a rhetorical technique, guilt by association. He names all these horrible practices that other Code Pink branches have engaged in, and leaves it to you to associate Dawn’s choices with those actions, rather than her own. Dawn’s actual choices do tell us something about who she is: not just her opposition to the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history, but also her work with veterans groups and her commitment to help returning vets find work after service. Those are informative choices.

While I have been critical of the Democratic Party’s decision to attack Cunningham for his choice to defend abusive husbands and other deplorables, at least they are attacking choices that Cunningham actually made, and choices do matter. Both Fonzi and Cunningham are quick to avoid guilt by association with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and as of this week, they will be the first to tell you that his choices about women do not represent their values. Indeed, local Republicans are now mostly distancing themselves from Trump, but if blame is to be placed with any individuals for getting us this close to electing an impulsive, unstable, misogynist douche to the presidency, it lies with the rank-and-file party members. They have appeased his birtherism, his anti-Mexican slurs, and until recently, his misogyny.

This brings us to the greatest reckoning. America was never destined to have a presidential matchup pitting the first woman nominee against a man who represents the worst in men, but here we are. Donald Trump’s racism and bigotry, while offensive to many, did not touch the self-interest of half of the population, and it is the assaults against women that seem to have finally done him in.

Why? Sexual assault is not rare. Research suggests than one in five women have faced some non-consensual sexual encounter, and rates of assault on college campuses are even higher. If women at Cal Poly, Cuesta College, and Allan Hancock College were catching a virus at the same rate they are assaulted, we would rightly call it an epidemic. And dirty talk is not the problem. Good people regularly trade vulgar exchanges without advocating assault, myself included. The problem is a lingering tolerance of assault as an inevitable outgrowth of masculinity, a lingering acceptance of guys like Trump.

This is as absurd as taking a casual approach to homicide because it is a masculine trait, which it certainly is (80 percent of violent crimes are committed by men). We need this discussion. Something is wrong when 80 percent of Republican women claim that they still support Trump. Would they accept Trump’s behavior in their sons? What about their daughters? Certainly there are lots of reasons that people have for voting for Trump, including sticking with their GOP tribe, otherwise we could not explain his continued level of support. But we must challenge these advocates of “family” values, because they are not American values, they are the “darkest side of politics” emerging in the aftermath of potentially electing our first female president. 

Michael Latner is a political science professor and Master of Public Policy Program director at Cal Poly. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com. 

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