The Danger of Running an Election on Fear

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

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Some elections are about hope. Some elections are about change. And some elections are about fear.

I started the day watching the sun rise over the ocean in Miami, thinking that’s what I’d write you all today — how candidates from both sides had turned to scare tactics in the final weeks of the election.

Well, it turns out that if you stoke enough fake fears, they can become real.

Today, pipe bombs were discovered in packages sent to public officials all over the country, including former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CNN offices in New York.

While officials haven’t yet announced a suspect or motive, all of the intended recipients are favorite targets of right-wing politicians and media.

Politicians from all sides denounced the bombs as “cowardly” and having “no place in our democracy.”

But they’ve also created a political climate with such heightened rhetoric that, for people exposed to the constant drumbeat of fear, real danger can feel like an inevitable outcome.

Voters have spent months hearing about imagined threats — a caravan of criminals about to storm the border, the total demise of government, riots over immigration and an epidemic of false sexual assault allegations.

I’ve seen some of it myself during my trip to Florida this week.

Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for governor, stood alongside a group of sheriffs on Tuesday and warned that the migrant caravan moving north through Central America is “effectively a wet kiss to the drug cartels.”

“The caravan can’t just be allowed to overrun our border,” he said. “When you see that developing, obviously that is orchestrated.”

As my colleagues wrote this week, President Trump has turned to fear as a campaign tactic, invoking “an angry left-wing mob,” and Republican candidates have latched onto the message.

But Democrats haven’t been mincing their words in response. In fact, as Election Day has neared, they’ve grown more aggressive in their remarks, too.

On Monday, former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned across the state with Andrew Gillum and Senator Bill Nelson, warning that the country was in a “battle for America’s soul” from a president who was “shredding American values.”

“For God’s sake, pick your heads up,” he told a crowd in Jacksonville. “Take this country back.”

At a fund-raiser in Coral Gables this afternoon, Mrs. Clinton addressed the news of the bombs.

“It’s a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together,” she told a crowd of 200 donors.

But it’s worth noting how she talked about this election just 15 days ago.

“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she told CNN.

Obviously, there’s a difference between political protests and actual violence. But as politicians in this heated election encourage their supporters to fear the other side, it’s not hard to imagine that for some, that line can start to look a little bit blurry.

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