“This was all Democratic when I was born,” said Cynthia Bhagat, an 80-year-old Pennsylvania resident, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “and it’s now Trump country and I don’t understand it.” Neither, it would seem, does the Los Angeles Times.
The paper’s dispatch on evolving attitudes in this key swing state reads like an anthropologist’s report on a newly discovered aboriginal tribe, whose cultural practices defy reason.
These voters are responding to “Trump’s racially loaded calls for ‘law and order’ in the face of mostly peaceful protests,” claims the paper. The president’s “appeals to the grievances of white supporters,” “including his recent order to purge the federal government of racial sensitivity training,” are having an almost mesmeric effect, even “despite a flailing economy and a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 190,000 Americans and continues to spread.”
Crafting these sentences requires a tireless commitment to missing the point.
As Christine Rosen documented in great detail, what the LA Times calls “racial sensitivity training” is, in fact, a campaign that forced America’s public employees to acknowledge that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” and their “unconscious bias, White privilege, and White fragility.” These are your tax dollars at work compelling Americans to implicate themselves in antisocial behavior with real professional consequences, all as a result of the color of their skin.
If the ongoing episodes of riotous violence in America’s large cities are beginning to resonate with voters, it is only because they have spilled out into smaller cities and suburbs. As Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray told the paper, Trump’s antagonistic rhetoric toward violent demonstrators “actually play better with voters that are far away from the unrest.” And yet, as is now clear from this weekend’s violence in sleepy Lancaster, PA (population: 60,000), after police shot and killed a knife-wielding black man during a domestic disturbance call, no one is especially “far away from the unrest.”
And if all this is compelling some voters to look past “a failing economy and a coronavirus outbreak” that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, Democrats have no one to blame but themselves.
Last week, Pennsylvania voters were offered some relief from the onerous restrictions on social and economic life imposed on them by the state in the effort to arrest the spread of COVID-19. Beginning on September 21, bars and restaurants will be able to self-certify that they are capable of operating indoor service at 50 percent capacity. But there was a terrible catch: alcohol can only be served with a meal and not at all after 10 p.m.
Why? The answer, according to state Health Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, is college students. “We don’t want people starting to congregate together,” she said, “especially in college areas.” The threat to public health posed by reckless college students is a real but localized problem. So why apply this draconian measure to the entire state? And why choose September 21 if the matter is so urgent? And why 10 p.m.? The answer to these questions is no mystery to Pennsylvania’s bar and restaurant industry. As Greg Hunsinger, the owner of a beer-and-wings joint in Wilkes-Barre, said, it’s to help “upscale restaurants” and “hurt bars and restaurants like ours.”
And this will hurt. Alcohol sales, by far the highest margin revenue-generators, can constitute up to 60 percent of a restaurant’s business. Many restaurants in the state had been looking ahead to the start of football season to help make up the profits lost in 2020 to COVID-related restrictions. Now, however, that prospect looks bleak. “Sunday night football, Monday night football, Thursday night football, those games start at 8:25 or so, so what does that mean now?” said Fran Volpe, owner of Volpe’s Sports Bar in Emmaus. “You’re not even going to make it to halftime.”
In Pennsylvania, there is nowhere to escape. You cannot feel safe anymore, even in the sleepiest of bucolic settings. You cannot go to a bar and drink your cares away because, somewhere, there is a college kid who cannot be trusted. And even if you could, half of the time you get to spend watching professional sports you’re also being treated to lectures on anti-racism.
America’s tastemakers on the coasts cannot comprehend how anyone could pull the lever for Donald Trump. But in their zeal to oppose the president, Democrats are not allowing for ambivalence. You are not allowed to tune out. And the unintended consequences of this binary now threaten to undermine their political position.
It is they who are committed to a blurred distinction between peaceful protests and riotous violence—a distinction that is obvious to all but the most blinkered dogmatist. It is they who advocate coronavirus-related restrictions that are so capricious they flirt with outright unconstitutionality. And it is they who have ceded opposition to all this to Trump, somehow rendering support for the incumbent president an act of protest against truly intolerable conditions. In Pennsylvania, in particular, the cumulative effect of all this is measurable. Today, four of the last six statewide polls have shown the presidential race narrowing to within the margin of error.
In 2016, Donald Trump managed to win the state of Pennsylvania by only 44,000 votes—the narrowest margin of victory in a presidential election in that state since 1840. It won’t be easy for Democrats to lose this state again in 2020. Fortunately for Republicans, though, Democrats seem up to the challenge.