On Monday, just days ahead of Virginia’s hotly contested gubernatorial election, the Latino Victory Fund released an ad opposing Republican Ed Gillespie. The ad is uniquely horrifying. It features four minority children — Latino, Asian, Muslim, African American — running for their lives from a white man driving a pick-up truck. The truck is festooned with a giant Confederate Flag, a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate, and a prominent “Gillespie for Governor” bumper sticker. It runs the children into a dead end, its lights washing out their terrified faces. The children wake up in their beds. We then flash to video of the Charlottesville white-supremacist march, as a voice asks, “Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by the American dream?”
This sort of thing is insane, and it divides the country beyond any reconciliation. Alexander Hamilton recognized the danger of impugning the motives of political opponents in Federalist No. 1:“In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution. . . . And yet . . . a torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”
The founding generation was able to stifle those passions long enough to unify over the creation of the Constitution. We have no such moderate tendencies. Reactionary politics is driven by the knowledge that, as Hamilton also recognized, demagoguery provides an easier ascent to power than reason. The Left has known this for decades, which is why they labeled conservatives bigots in the 1960s, even as the Democratic party provided the base of support for segregation. But Americans quickly tired of the slander, and moved beyond it — until the Obama era, when it seemed to rise anew, in more virulent form. Hillary Clinton wasn’t speaking in the heat of passion when she declared half of her opponents’ supporters “deplorables” — she was drawing on a deep recent history of such nasty falsehoods. The Gillespie ad — the worst in political history — is merely the apotheosis of the trend.
Conservatives will respond in kind. Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush went out of their way to attribute kind motives to their political enemies; Donald Trump does no such thing. And why should he? After all, Reagan and Bush both met with left-wing opponents who excoriated them for their supposed “lies,” calling them war criminals and maniacs. So did candidates the Left pretended to tolerate, from John McCain to Mitt Romney. Trump has no moral opposition to trashing his opponents — in fact, he’s made a career out of it. His knee-jerk tendency to demonize his adversaries fits perfectly with the conservative desire to strike back at the Left.
All of which means that things are likely to get worse, not better. The Left’s decision to attack the intentions of conservatives — to treat them as enemies rather than misinformed friends — was bound to lead conservatives to do the same, with relish. Expect to see ads of similar brutality from the right against Democrats in upcoming elections. After all, you’re far more likely to win if you attack someone’s intentions than if you attack their policy prescriptions alone.
The larger question still looms: Can the country survive such ongoing, bipartisan hatred? Hamilton thought not. And indeed, history shows that America can survive any internal strife so long as we see each other as friends rather than enemies. Hence Lincoln’s lament in his first inaugural: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Despite his best efforts, the bonds of affection were broken — and civil war ensued.
Either we will remember that we have something in common, or we will not. If we do not, we’re bound for something much uglier than a rash of inflammatory, dishonest attack ads.
— Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire.