Yesterday, Ted Busiek, a Republican candidate for the Massachusetts state senate, went on twitter and said this:
It seemed unlikely that a legitimate candidate for the Massachusetts legislature would use a homophobic slur in public, but this is not a parody account. An hour after the initial tweet, Jamie Eldridge, the incumbent senator for the district in which Busiek is running, responded:
Eldridge here is deploying a slightly more garrulous version of #DeleteYourAccount, and the dynamic ought to be familiar to anyone paying attention to the national political repartee. Busiek's web presence is telling. The landing page of his campaign website has platitudes meant to reach voters feeling left out of politics, while his detailed policy platform is a hybrid of trade protectionism, regressive taxation, and the punishment of poor people. He even has a plan to create a state bank that issues its own currency, backed by specie, an idea that would be more than comfortable in the nineteenth century. If you dig deeper into Busiek's social media presence you'll find transphobia, racism, anti-immigration sentiments, and paeans to "western nationalism."
Busiek's candidacy is important to understand for three reasons. First, he's walking proof that there is no need to decide whether the 2016 mood into which Trump taps is either about "socioeconomic insecurity" or "racism and xenophobia." Folks like twitter's Propane Jane have done an heroic job of cataloguing the various ways in which these two things are not mutually exclusive, but rather interrelated. It's too easy to say that the racism and nationalism are a cheap ploy to grab attention; if the hate were really so distasteful to the folks for whom socioeconomic anxiety is a problem, candidates like Trump would get less traction.
Speaking of Trump, the second reason it's important to grapple with Busiek's existence is that having a figure at the top of a national ticket who is willing to say hateful things makes his party a safe place for hate. Trump is the font from which rightwing hate speech trickles down. Busiek has been working in Republican politics for almost a decade, including on Congressional campaigns in North Carolina, which means that the Trump infection is spreading. The presidency is the most visible political position in the country, and the folks that run for the job are ostensibly the most talented and polished politicians. The further down the chain, the worse it gets. In Busiek's candidacy we see the kind of unsophisticated hate that will undoubtedly become a trend in local and municipal politics, as folks realize that they can get both media attention and votes through peddling fear. (NB: I realize that I risk playing into that exact strategy by writing this, but silence is a more detestable option.)
Finally, it is easy to repudiate hate, and pillory its dispensers, particularly when that hate is deployed in such an unsophisticated manner. Trump is crude, and his minion Busiek is cruder still. That said, by the next election cycle, we are bound to see a thousand little hate flowers blooming, as the electoral benefits of adopting hate speech as political strategy become more apparent to those with aspirations to lead. Other newly christened politicians will understand that a more polished, elegant version of Trump's chicanery could muster a majority of the electoral college. Trump and Busiek are wolves in wolves clothing; I wonder whether there will be a run on sheep costumes in 2018 and 2020.
Busiek is free to say what he wants in order to collect votes, but the use of homophobic slurs verges on incitement in this time of heightened fear and instability. One of the great things about free speech is that while Busiek is free to say what he wants in the pursuit of political power, we also are free to marginalize and ridicule him for being trapped in a small world of hate.