“We can’t go back.” It’s pretty ironic that this is the phrase splattered all over the Republican midterm adverts; adverts which precisely oppose that message as they hark back to Bush’s infamous 1988 attack ad. Bush’s advert revolved around Willie Horton, a black immigrant convicted of raping a white woman and stabbing her partner during “weekend passes”, to use Bush’s patronising phrase. These were temporary releases granted to criminals through a Massachusetts programme put in place while Dukakis, Bush’s presidential opponent, was governor of state. The ad has gone down in history as notoriously divisive and racist, and relies entirely on fear-mongering and unjustified racial stereotypes. Sound familiar? Perhaps you’re thinking of the Republican Twitter advert released during the 2018 midterm campaigns which was obnoxiously pinned to the top of President Trump’s own infamous account. The Republicans might be telling us they don’t want to “go back”, but their use of extremist rhetoric in political campaigns is a mighty step back to far less tolerant times.
This ad centres around illegal immigrant and convicted murderer Luis Bracamontes, as he boasts about murdering two police officers. Meanwhile, vague text bulletins appear telling us that “Democrats let him into our country” and “Democrats let him stay” without any factual support of these wild claims. And if the ad wasn’t ridiculous enough, a closer analysis of the situation exposes the extent to which Republicans are clutching at straws. The Democrats had no involvement in Bracamontes’ last illegal entry into the States: it happened under Bush, and from 2001 to 2008 that same administration failed to deport him. Then, from 2009 to 2014, Obama’s Democratic administration also failed to find and deport him. Both parties were then at fault in Bracamontes’ case, if we can put the blame on political parties at all, and neither was proactive in keeping him in the States. There is thus no truth to the claims plastered all over this 2-minute caricature of white fear. It is little more than dangerous theatrics, harnessing the emotive power of performance as Republican authorities cross their fingers and hope they are playing to an audience sufficiently blinded by ignorance and fear.
The Republican party have also released a far more cinematic television ad which pokes at a different wound, ripping into the Democrats’ legacy and drawing on so-called statistics to support itself. But it appears the advert not only misrepresents unemployment rates; it actually highlights the success of the last Democratic administration in recovering from the economic crash. A flashback montage of anti-Democrat news coverage includes a supposedly terrifying reminder of the 9.7% unemployment rate, which Trump often boasts about having reduced to under 4%. However, this 9.7% stat was actually the rate handed to Obama at the beginning of his presidency, a fraction of the fallout from the 2007-8 economic crash under Bush’s administration. By the end of Obama’s presidency, the rate had dropped to 4.7%. Trump can spit on “fake news” as much as he likes, but when a promotional product of his own party is seen to be falsely manipulating statistics which actually support the Democrats’ recovery of a Republican disaster, he continues to dig himself a hypocrite’s grave.
It’s easy to criticise the Republicans who have created these ads, but the most unsettling part is the feedback from Trump’s supporters. President Trump’s official campaign YouTube channel uploaded the TV ad, and the comments section is filled to the brim with remarks which show how far the minds of impressionable citizens are being thwarted by modern politics. In response to Republican attitudes on immigration, one subscriber left this remark: “WE CAN’T GO BACK! The illegals have to go back though.” Another left the comment, “God bless America and death to all her enemies”, and one had the audacity to write “Vote Democrat. We don’t need jobs, we need to make sure medically modified men can pee next to a little girl in the bathroom!” These are the attitudes that the current Republican party is breeding in its supporters. So perhaps the Republicans should reconsider their questionable political trajectory and endeavour not to foster the medieval opinions currently associated with their party, if they really are so afraid of ‘going back’.