Skip to content

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

My congressional district was a top headline in the New York Times the Sunday after the Virginia governor election: “Democrats Thought They Bottomed Out in Rural, White America. It Wasn’t the Bottom.” Reporters Astead W. Herndon and Shane Goldmacher travelled to Bath county (which along with Rockbridge and about a dozen other neighboring counties is Virginia’s Sixth congressional district) and interviewed “a dozen white, rural voters who backed Mr. Youngkin” to understand what drove the red wave. Their responses reveal a lot about not just my state but the state of the political divide widening across the U.S.

First up, look at Charles Hamilton. He’s a Vietnam vet who said “his vote for Mr. Youngkin was really a proxy vote for Mr. Trump,” because “the best thing that can happen is to get [Biden] and that woman out of there.”

I’m not sure who “that woman” is (Jill Biden maybe, or did he mean House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?), but his point is clear: the Virginia governor election wasn’t about the Virginia governor election; it was about Trump and Biden. Youngkin and McAuliffe didn’t matter. Though it would be nice if non-presidential elections weren’t always referendums on the White House, Hamilton’s political reflex is probably the norm for both Republicans and Democrats. The takeaway is clear too: Biden’s approval rating determines other election outcomes. That’s been pretty much the driving logic behind every election I’ve witnessed in my political lifetime, so I’d call that business as usual.

Now look at the second Bath voter. Karen Williams says she’s angry at Virginia’s current Democratic governor because he supports “critical race theory” which she says is responsible for removing Confederate statues and for “treating [white children] like little monsters.”

I don’t want to leap down the CRT rabbit hole, so I’ll just say that teaching white kids that they’re little monsters is definitely not critical race theory. Neither is removing Confederate statues—though at least in that case there’s some connecting thread to reality since Confederate statues often reflect systemic racism and CRT was developed in 1980s legal studies as a way to combat systemic racism. But I suspect Williams doesn’t know that. I’m guessing she heard conservative media pundits repeating claims that progressives had infiltrated public education to promote the belief that white people are born evil. Not only is that idea not CRT, it’s not even an actual belief since no progressive educational policies promote anything like it. So the takeaway: voters such as Williams think Democrats are indoctrinating children with offensive ideas that Democrats don’t actually believe let alone promote. The rebranding of CRT has provided Republicans a fictional but powerful target to channel their anger about Black Lives Matter.

The fictional leap of CRT is nothing compared to Bath voter number three. Elaine Neff displays “images of Mr. Trump as Rambo and the Terminator” in her hardware store, and she attended Trump’s January 6th rally—though she didn’t tell the Times reporters whether she participated in the riot.

So now we have a voter who believes the unsupported and repeatedly debunked claim that the 2020 presidential election was somehow rigged and that Trump was somehow the actual winner. Last month, the Public Religion Research Institute found that two-thirds of Republicans hold this belief. Last May, a PRRI-IFYC survey also found that 28% of Republicans believe “true American patriots may have to resort to violence” to save the country. The new survey puts the number at 30%.

This is Neff’s crowd. She is beyond Hamilton’s merely partisan approach to voting or even Williams’ warped but based-on-a-true-story CRT distortions. Neff celebrates Trump as an iconic action hero embodied by actors Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger (who, ironically, don’t support Trump). But it gets worse. Neff also believes the FDA-approved coronavirus vaccine is a “poison.” Worse yet: She is “worried that Democrats were planning extermination camps of Mr. Trump’s supporters.”

Wait. What?!

If it sounds like the New York Times concocted a parody article to ridicule Republican voters, consider that the survey mentioned above also found that a sixth of Americans (meaning a third of Republicans) believe the currently Democratic-dominated federal government is controlled by Satan-worshipping, sex-trafficking pedophiles.

How is it possible for anyone, literally anyone, to believe any of these extremist fabrications?

That brings us to Bath voter number four. John Wright said he listens exclusively to “pro-Trump programming” because: “If the media said it, I won’t believe it.”

Wright is far from alone. Though two-thirds of Republicans think Biden somehow rigged the election, the number rises to 82% for those who watch Fox News, and 97% for One America News Network and Newsmax. While 30% of Republicans are okay with violence in the service of conservatives retaking America, the number rises to 40% for those watching Wright’s “pro-Trump programming.” As the Times reports: Bath “voters, fueled by a conservative media bubble that speaks in apocalyptic terms, were convinced that America had been brought to the brink.” Bottom line: many rural Republicans in Virginia believe whatever they want to believe and insulate themselves from hearing anything that might challenge those beliefs.

The reporters spin that by quoting the Democratic former governor of Montana, Steven Bullock, and retiring Illinois Representative Cheri Bustos. Bullock says, “We’ve got a branding problem,” and Bustos says, “Folks don’t feel like we’re offering them anything, or hearing or listening to them.”

Both of those statements are true, but neither comes close to touching the bottom of the Republican deep end. The problem in Bath wasn’t “branding” or not “listening.” Bath voters are evidence that conservative national media stokes and insulates Republican outrage by branding Democrats with insanely offensive lies: Democrats overthrew the last presidential election? Democrats are distributing poisonous vaccines? Democrats think white children are monsters? Democrats are pedophiles? Democrats are Satanists? Democrats are planning extermination camps for Trump supporters?

But when asked Youngkin’s top strategists Jeff Roe and Kristin Davison how Youngkin won, they answered: “I think it was a textbook example of the theory that candidate quality matters. We started with a once-in-a-generation talent in Glenn. He’s a genuine guy with a positive, upbeat attitude all the time who really wanted to focus on a positive, unifying campaign.”

%d bloggers like this: