Replica of the United States Bill of Rights, documenting the 10 amendments to the US Constitution (Getty Images).
(*This commentary was updated at 9:04 a.m. on Sunday, 11/13/22 to add Andrew Goretsky as a co-author)
By Shira Goodman and Andrew Goretsky
Elections are civic activities that bring us together, reminding us that we all have collective responsibilities that accompany our rights.
Or at least they should be.
We are living in times where this important tradition – exercising our rights and responsibilities – is itself endangered. Elections have always been fiercely fought, inspiring deep passions. But it’s different now, and the divisiveness we are seeing is fueled by dangerous rhetoric and is itself being weaponized.
This year, Pennsylvania was home to some of the most observed elections this cycle, and the show was not easy to watch.
We witnessed hate-filled attacks by candidates and messaging that didn’t shy away from the theme that some Pennsylvanians are more “American”— and therefore more welcome and more deserving of rights — than others.
We saw candidates parrot conspiracy theories and extremist rhetoric, the purpose of which are to foster division in our communities. We saw avowed antisemites embrace major candidates – and we saw candidates unabashedly accept that support. We heard antisemitism, anti-LGBTQ hate, racism and blatant “us vs them” narratives from major party candidates.
In addition, we suffered efforts to sow distrust in the electoral process itself – through rhetoric, charges of fraud and worse, and continued litigation. Conspiracy theories aimed at undermining faith in the electoral process – and by natural result, participation in that process – were campaign fodder well before any vote was cast.
Across the nation, many candidates with extremist ties and who directly supported or embraced extremist ideologies were elected.
The good news is that in high profile electoral contests, Pennsylvanians rejected candidates powering their campaigns with hate, conspiracy theories and extremist rhetoric. Candidates who sought to divide Pennsylvanians into “us” and “them,” based on religion, race, geography, and other factors were thwarted by voters who recognized the false dichotomy they offered.
More good news: Pennsylvanians once again found a way to believe in the process and in their neighbors. They found ways to ensure that people whose ballots might be challenged because of late breaking court cases about undated mail-in votes could cure any defects. They showed up to vote and stayed in line to make sure they could.
We must do all we can to continue to push back against the mainstreaming of hate and extremism. Antisemitism, anti-immigrant bias, racism, classism, hatred against LGBTQ communities must not be allowed to become commonplace in our political discourse. We cannot become numb to it, nor can we tolerate it as “just politics.” The further we allow the line of acceptable campaign rhetoric to shift, the more dangerous it is.
Giving platforms to those who traffic in hate and conspiracy theories – about groups of people or the electoral process – must become unacceptable. We can and should judge candidates by the company they keep – who supports them, where are they showing up to speak, what are the messages their surrogates and supporters are spouting as reasons for their support? All of this matters.
There are things each of us can do as we fight against the mainstreaming of hate and extremism:
- Make voting a habit; always have a plan to vote
- Question the narratives you hear from candidates, their surrogates and supporters – challenge hate-fueled rhetoric and extremism
- Pay attention to what happens in your local elections – school board and municipal races are the proving grounds for future races for higher offices
- Become empowered consumers of media who are diligent about recognizing misinformation and disinformation – and be determined to stop the spread of both
- Share accurate information about the electoral process and how it works
- Work hard to maintain trust and elevate accurate information from credible sources
Pennsylvanians proved again that we are resilient, that our diversity is our strength, and that we don’t take kindly to hateful efforts to divide us. But as we continue to analyze the data from the midterms, we must recognize that campaigns rooted in hatred and based on lies take a toll, even if they don’t achieve their ultimate aims.
Those who traffic in hatred and extremism can play a long game – if they go unchecked, the seeds they sought to plant will take root.
Hate and fear did not win this time around. But battles leave scars. Hopefully, those scars will serve as reminders of the need to keep fighting and of the unacceptable cost of failure.
Opinion contributor Shira Goodman is the director of campaigns and outreach for the Anti-Defamation League. She writes from Philadelphia. Her work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. *Andrew Goretsky is the Philadelphia Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League
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