Germ of an idea: How to disinfect dirty politics

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John Adams and Mark Herring. Courtesy photos John Adams and Mark Herring. Courtesy photos

False equivalence makes me sick. Likely it does the same to you, too, even if you don’t recognize the symptoms. It’s rhetorical MRSA, an indestructible super-bug that infects the mind and body politic. And as has been widely reported, a new strain of contagion took hold on August 15 when the 2016 Electoral College Winner declared that yes, Virginia, Nazi-resisters are as bad as Nazis. With his toxic words about the “very fine people” standing up for white supremacy, Trump attacked civic decency, democratic values and American history.

Sadly, it was a familiar pain. Last time I felt it this bad was when members down at the Church of Privileged Self-Righteousness declared there was “no difference” between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Way back then, such folks had the media to lean on for some of their claims.

Plenty of so-called liberal-leaning pundits equated the computing issues and defensive personality of one candidate with the vulgarities and incompetence of the other, a known sexual predator, racist, liar and cheat who was entirely unqualified to run a local street cleaning crew, let alone the United States. Chanting “they’re all the same,” a critical number of true believers sat out the election, leaving the rest of us, but especially the nation’s most vulnerable, with a raging staph infection.

If, after all that has happened since, you still think skipping out on Election Day is inconsequential, you’re not paying attention. And yet, a recent study from the Washington, D.C.-based research firm Lake Research Partners, released by the Voter Participation Center, predicts that about 40 million fewer people will vote in 2018 compared to 2016. The biggest drop-off is projected to be among millennials and unmarried women, crucial members of what’s called the “rising American electorate,” which also includes blacks and Latinos.

In Virginia, the center projects, roughly 1.1 million of those voters will stay away from the polls next year. The study, based on census data, does not sample why non-voters and non-registered voters would choose to stay home. We can only guess.

But you had to travel only as far as the MLK Performing Arts Center for the August 27 “recovery” town hall and the August 21 Charlottesville City Council meeting before that to understand how little trust Virginians have in government these days—and why.

And yet, local voting is the best way to throw the bums out, if that’s your goal.

Leading up the federal elections in 2018, here’s another reason to get in practice and vote on November 7: the race for state attorney general. Democratic incumbent Mark Herring is running against Republican John Adams, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who opposes reproductive choice and marriage equality and vows to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations. Herring, among other things, supports Obama’s Clean Power Plan and has the endorsement of gay rights groups. Perhaps even more crucially at this moment, Herring is inclined to let localities manage their own statuary and Adams is not.

No doubt, false equivalence is toxic. The same can be true for malaise. Maybe you can’t do anything about the sputum coming out of Trump’s mouth. But you can beat back the spread of malaise. The center that commissioned the voting study noted it’s likely more effective to register new voters than to try to persuade disaffected registered voters to give a damn. When left unchecked, no difference-ism can be as harmful as false equivalence.

So get your rest, Virginia, and then take your medicine: Register two voters and call me in the morning.

Yes, Virginia is a monthly op-ed column.

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