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Here in the United States, we’re gearing up for another midterm election. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 seats in the Senate will be determined, 36 out of 50 states will elect Governors, plus races for attorneys general, treasurers, auditors, and county positions in states nationwide will be decided. It’ll be a busy evening—and could be a hectic few weeks depending on how close the elections are.

According to Morning Consult, the issues motivating voters include the economy, abortion, Ukraine, guns, immigration, Covid-19, education and crime. Not surprisingly, these issues track closely with what’s dominated headlines this past year—as well as the issues voters see President Biden prioritizing. News coverage has played a significant role in shaping what voters care about; as Morning Consult writes, “As issues such as Russia’s war or the pandemic faded from the front pages, voters became more likely to see Biden as focused on abortion and gun policy – which were propelled to prominence after the Supreme Court’s ruling and the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.”

But as media literate information consumers, we know that news coverage is not a neutral creation. Media coverage does not solely respond to events; coverage can also be manufactured by political consultants, party insiders, communications strategists, pundits, editors, activists, advertisers and journalists. And there has been a lot of manufacturing this election cycle; AdImpact reported that by July, election spending had already outpaced 2020 by nearly $700 million. CNBC reported this week that these will be the most expensive midterms ever, with more than $16 billion spent in national and state races.

That $16 billion has kept certain issues at the tops of voters’ minds. Democrats have warned about what Republicans will take away if they are elected (social security, abortion access, democracy itself). Republicans have warned what Democrats will do if they are elected (release all prisoners, defund the police, throw open the U.S. southern border). Whom you wish to believe and which candidates you wish to support are your decisions. However, there are some additional issues facing Americans as we vote this November that have not received as much media coverage but are as fundamental to our democracy. They are issues with long histories, and, crucially, they implicate both parties. As a result, they’re less likely to appear on candidate websites, political ads, or in the nightly punditry.

So, regardless of which party you support, or which candidates you prefer, when you cast your vote this year, consider where a given candidate stands on the following:

1. Antisemitism

Kanye West’s abhorrent antisemitic tirade and his subsequent cancellation by major brands has received extensive media coverage. Kyrie Irving’s horrific promotion of an antisemitic film that calls the Holocaust a falsehood has also been covered by sports journalists. But the phenomenon of rising hate against Jews in America did not suddenly emerge within the past month. Antisemitism has a long history in America, but specifically in the past 10 years it has swelled to epidemic proportions.

According to FBI statistics, violence against Jews has comprised 50 to 60 percent of all religious hate crimes in the U.S. each year since 2012. Antisemitic incidents have tripled in the past few years according to the Anti-Defamation League, reaching an all-time high in the United States in 2021. Incidents included a van driving through Boca Raton, Florida, saying “Hitler was right,” and CNN firing a freelancer for tweeting the “world today needs a Hitler.” In 2020, NFL wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted antisemitic quotes to his Instagram feed, and the leader of the NAACP in Philadelphia posted an antisemitic meme on his Facebook feed. The Buffalo gunman in 2022 subscribed to antisemitic replacement theories, similar to the Neo Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us!” In the past five years there has been a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a hostage situation at a synagogue in Texas, and so much antisemitism on the social media app Clubhouse that the Anti-Defamation League had to get involved. Banners unfurled in major American cities have been blaming Jews for 9/11.

Meanwhile, on American college campuses an antisemitic missive was left at the Hillel of Brown University; a neo-Nazi group put up stickers at the University of Albany; and a sukkah was purposefully destroyed at Miami University—and that was just in October! It is not solely college campuses, either. At a high school in Arizona, one Jewish student was harassed for months with death threats, Nazi salutes, and antisemitic insults—so much so that her parents withdrew her from school and decided to home-school her. What did teachers and administrators do when they learned of this? Not much, according to the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, which in August found the entire district in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. (You can read the case here.)

In Congress, there has been talk about this rising antisemitism, but not a lot of action. The House and Senate have both created Bipartisan Task Forces for Combating Antisemitism, and a Congressional Black-Jewish Relations Caucus has formed. Each has made statements after selected events. Yet still, in 2021, Congress could not pass a resolution that condemned antisemitism alone, held up by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers—with the added insult of the loyalty of Jewish Americans to the U.S. questioned by Representative Ilhan Omar. In 2020, Congress passed the Never Again Education Act that authorized $2 million to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in each of the following 5 fiscal years to expand Holocaust education programs. Yet the bill noted that only 12 states require that schools teach about the Holocaust, and $2 million per year to counter a massive epidemic of hate will be insufficient. Congress has not gotten much assistance from the Executive Branch, despite a Jewish First Man in The White House. During a 2021 hearing on Capitol Hill, Representative Glenn Grothman cited a letter regarding rising antisemitism on college campuses that he and 18 colleagues sent to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Cardona stated that he would be “looking into it.”

Antisemitism is on the ballot this November. We need elected officials at the national and state levels who recognize the scale of the issue and are willing to act. Officials who will make Holocaust education compulsory, who will act aggressively against antisemitism in schools, and who will commit more resources to combatting hate online and in our communities. When you vote, consider voting for candidates from either party who believe that American Jews deserve to live free of violence, harassment, intimidation and discrimination—and who are ready to back up those beliefs with actions.

2. Hatred Against Asian Americans

Antisemitism is not the only epidemic of hate spreading across America. Readers may remember in March 2021 when a gunman murdered Asian Americans in Atlanta. The crimes sparked a heightened awareness of anti-Asian hate crimes and a swell of support to “Stop Asian Hate.” While the media coverage has largely gone away, the attacks have not. The assaults have included a 13-year-old having basketballs thrown at his head while being told to “Go back to China”; Asian women being sprayed with pepper spray and being told to “go back where you came from!”; an Asian American man being head-butted and told he was “Chinese scum”; or a man kicking an Asian woman and telling her to “get out of this country.” All four of those events happened in New York City—to say nothing of the rest of the country.

Compounding the issues facing Asian Americans has been the rising geopolitical tensions between the United States and China. The anti-China rhetoric emanating from leaders of both parties has caught Asian Americans in the crosshairs. There has been an alarming trend of Asian Americans—and specifically Chinese Americans—targeted and harassed by officials within our own government. Meteorologist Sherry Chen was arrested in her office in 2014 by government officials and threatened with imprisonment and a fine of $1 million on faulty charges of espionage, only to have the case dropped by the government five months later with no explanation or apology. She has since filed multiple lawsuits to try and regain her job. FBI special agents fabricated evidence of espionage against Temple University professor Xiaoxing Xi, arriving at his home with weapons and a battering ram to arrest him in 2015. They later dropped all charges; Xi is still seeking damages against the government. A Senate investigation in 2021 revealed that agents within the Department of Commerce had been spying, harassing, surveilling, and discriminating against their Asian American employees for more than a decade, illegally using a “slush fund” to do so. And a review of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases brought by Asian Americans against the federal government finds many examples of abuse, discrimination and racism by federal employees against their AAPI colleagues, including one where an Asian American employee was told by a supervisor that no one wanted her type of people there.

Like antisemitism, discrimination against AAPI have long histories in the United States, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 to Japanese Internment during WWII, to the murder of Vincent Chen in the 1980s and the harassment of South Asians after 9/11. In recent years, as tensions with China have grown in Washington, the situation for Chinese Americans in the U.S. has deteriorated so much that some worry they will be the next to be interned by their own government. Meanwhile, Congress has done little. Statements of condemnation have been introduced, culminating in Public Law 117-13, the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, which allows for the U.S. Attorney General to make grants and subgrants to states to collect and report hate crime statistics. But it does not authorize new funding or initiatives to tackle AAPI hate head-on. A bill to improve diversity and inclusion in national security has been introduced in multiple Congresses but has never made it out of committee. Meanwhile, lawmakers have approved billions of dollars in funding to counter the Chinese government.

Hatred against Americans of Asian descent is on the ballot this November. When you vote, consider voting for candidates who believe that Americans of Asian heritage are as deserving as other Americans to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Vote for candidates who will stand up for Asian Americans and be willing to pass legislation to make their protection a priority.

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3. Political violence

In July of this year, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated in broad daylight. The assassination shocked many around the world, yet the harsh reality is that it should not have come as a surprise. In the previous year, 2021, a British lawmaker was stabbed to death, the Haitian president was murdered at home by gunmen, and the president of Chad was killed by rebels after being declared the winner of an election.

For Americans, it is tempting to think that such political violence happens in other countries. However, an article in War on the Rocks outlined our recent history with stark clarity: a Republican member of Congress shot at a baseball game, mail bombs sent to Democratic Party leaders, a Coast Guardsman arrested for plotting to assassinate politicians, a plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan, a retired circuit court judge in Wisconsin murdered for political reasons, an armed man arrested outside Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home, another man arrested outside the home of Representative Pramila Jayapal for trying to kill her, and nearly 10,000 threats against Congressional members just last year, more than double what it was a few years ago. That list does not even include the riot on January 6, 2021, where a violent mob sought to hunt down members of Congress and lynch Vice President Pence.

Researchers who track political violence in America have found that 25% of Republicans and 17% of Democrats now feel that threats against the other party’s leaders are justified. “To put this level of support into context,” writes Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “In 1973 during the most violent period of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, 25% of Catholics and 16% of Protestants agreed that ‘violence is a legitimate way to achieve one’s goals.’ The U.S. is fast approaching these numbers.”

Political violence has a long history in the U.S. Historian Joanne Freeman wrote a very good book in 2018 called The Field Of Blood: Violence In Congress And The Road To Civil War, which documents numerous incidents of political violence during the 19th century. Certainly the 20th century had no shortage of riots and assassinations. Political violence is part of the American past, but we should aspire to remove it from the American future. Justifications within each party to exact violence on political opponents should have no place in our democracy.

Political violence is on the ballot this November. When you vote, consider voting for candidates who are willing to act against political violence, even if that means indicting their own party or supporters. Vote for candidates who will stand up for the right to protest, but not embolden or tolerate domestic terrorists who encourage us to harm our fellow countrymen in order to achieve a political outcome.

4. Corruption

Of all the threats to our democracy, corruption remains one of the gravest. Democracies are meant to give citizens the power to hold their political leaders accountable. Corruption directly undermines that ability. In theory, democratic institutions with greater accountability reduce the abuses of public office for private gains; however, in the U.S. that has not always been the case.

One recent research paper concluded that fractionalization in a democracy leads to more corruption. In other words, as a country splinters into factions and becomes more polarized, politicians in power are incentivized to engage in corrupt activity because (a) their value to their partisan supporters increases and that’s what matters most and, (b) being excessively corrupt disadvantages future elected officials from the opposite party from implementing their policies.

It’s difficult to look at $16 billion spent on midterm elections and not see corruption across our politics. Some of it manifests itself in dark money contributions from donor networks, funneled through super PACs and “taxable nonprofits.” Lawmakers who exit Congress then spin through the revolving door into lobbying, where they lobby their former colleagues on behalf of private companies (even during their mandated cooling off periods, members can still serve as a “strategic adviser.”) Members of Congress repeatedly trade stocks based on inside information, with leaders such as Representative Nancy Pelosi defending the practice as part of a “free market economy.” The 2012 Stock Act was designed to prevent insider trading by Congress, but last year alone Business Insider reported that 54 Members of Congress violated it, including Republicans and Democrats. In Washington, one can find corruption at every level of our federal agencies, with hundreds of millions of dollars squandered on needless contracts, nepotism, favors to senior leadership, and contractors rewarded based on who they know, not their qualifications. At the state level, corruption ranges from welfare funds redirected to political friends in Mississippi, to emergency relief funds embezzled by local politicians in West Virginia.

Corruption is on the ballot this November. When you vote, consider voting for candidates who are willing to act in the public interest in a principled and ethical manner. Vote for candidates who will hold unethical colleagues to account, and who will work to reform our systems to not privilege the few at the expense of the many.

Hate, violence and corruption. When we think about what undermines a democracy, these should be at the top of our lists. In my remarks in New York at A Species Between Worlds, I was asked about whether social media was at the core of our political problems. I argued that while social media certainly contributes, what we also need are ethical and principled elected officials. Our political leaders are meant to embody the best in us, to represent not solely our interests but also our values. The politicians who have used their offices to spread hate, promote violence or enrich themselves and their friends are not what America currently needs. We should elect the opposite; public officials who have the courage not only to say the right things, but to back them with actions.

Of course, none of this will matter unless we deal with the major existential issue facing all of us: planetary climate change. If Earth becomes inhospitable to human life, all other issues will become irrelevant. We need elected officials at the federal, state and local levels willing to act on climate before it is too late. It’s hard to build a democracy if there is no planet.

Ultimately, the party you support, the candidates you vote for, and the issues that matter to you are your decisions. I will not presume to tell you otherwise. But as Americans, we have choices this midterm election. Whether you agree or disagree with my assessments, I hope you’ll vote—and I hope you’ll lock arms with Americans nationwide in seeking to instill more courage, compassion and accountability into our political system.

Happy Election Day.

The History Club

on the Ballot