By Jonathan Foiles
The ad opens on a group of disparate individuals thanking Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Each then gets a turn to expand upon their gratitude. A man wearing a dress thanks him for opening access to the “girl’s bathroom.” A woman wearing a pink pussy hat, symbol of the Women’s March, thanks him for making taxpayers fund her abortions. A man wearing a black hoodie and a bandana obscuring the lower half of his face thanks him for making Illinois a sanctuary for “illegal immigrant criminals.” A man in a suit thanks him for bailing out a big energy company. A woman wearing a Chicago Teachers Union T-shirt thanks him for using state money to fund their pension program.This campaign ad first appeared Friday February 2nd, and for many it marked the first time they had heard of the gubernatorial campaign of Jeanne Ives, a state representative from the western suburbs of Chicago running to unseat Gov. Rauner in today’s Republican primary.
While Ives seemed to emerge from nowhere for most Illinoisans, she has worked to carve out a space for herself as a culture warrior since she entered the Illinois House of Representatives in 2013. That same year she called gay relationships “completely disordered,” echoing the language of the Catholic Cathecism, and claimed that gay people are “trying to weasel their way into acceptability so that they can then start to push their agenda down into the schools, because this gives them some sort of legitimacy.” In July 2017 she called teachers “the most uncourageous group around” and challenged them to stand up to their unions. In January of this year she stated in a candidate forum that Chicago’s gun violence could be solved if more fathers stayed in the home.
Given the ferocity of her ad and her extreme right wing sentiments, one might assume that Ives represents an area in Illinois’ deeply red rural counties. Not quite: She lives in Wheaton, a western suburb located in DuPage County that Hillary Clinton won by 53 percent to Trump’s 40 percent.
Given the ferocity of her ad and her extreme right wing statements, one might assume that Ives represents an area in Illinois’ deeply red rural counties. Not quite: She lives in Wheaton, a western suburb of Chicago located in DuPage County that Hillary Clinton won by 53 percent to Trump’s 40 percent.
Sure, Wheaton is historically Republican, but the conservatism historically popular in Wheaton has always been more fiscal than social; i.e., not easily aligned with the Trump brand. Longtime resident Peter Ferrans says he noticed that “in 2016, there were far fewer Trump lawn signs than normal for a Republican presidential candidate — if people were voting for him, they didn’t want their neighbors to know about it.” But a large number did vote for him and have voted Ives into the Illinois House of Representatives three times.
Immigration lawyer Dayna Wheatley, who is also an alum of Wheaton College, states that many of the evangelicals she knows may shy away from Trump’s nativism but continue to support him. She’s also noticed many conservative friends saying that they were shifting towards libertarianism while the rhetoric they use on social media has only continued to escalate in an inflammatory direction.
There is a distinctive split between the policies and candidates most suburban Republicans will endorse publicly and those that they will select in the voting booth. Belt Magazine reached out to many more Ives supporters for their perspective on the candidate, but most failed to respond. Like with Trump signs in 2016, few are willing to document their support of Ives, but a majority still feel comfortable endorsing her in the solitude of the voting booth, which begs the question: How real is the 2018 blue wave? Ives run for governor suggests Democrats should be wary.
Rauner ran as a fiscal conservative who would take on the Illinois Democratic machine in the Scott Walker mold, breaking down public sector unions and tightening the belt of Illinois’ finances. He never seemed to care that much about social issues. Yet the language Ives’ voters use most often when discussing why they support her campaign is betrayal. Scott Tapley of Savoy stated “our current governor, Bruce Rauner, betrayed me and the rest of his conservative supporters on several core issues, and Ives has a record of standing up for what’s right, speaking truth to power, and she’s conservative every year (not just election year).” When asked about the infamous ad, Tapley expressed strong support: “Jeanne Ives’ commercial discusses several of those important issues: abortion, immigration, transgender and fiscal policies. Rauner’s actions on these issues are, indeed, offensive. But Jeanne’s courage to talk about and accurately depict those policies in an ad is necessary to inform voters about Rauner’s record of offending conservative values and principles.”
How real is the 2018 blue wave? Ives run for governor suggests Democrats should be wary.
John Sianghio, former chair of the political science department at Trinity Christian College and current Ph.D. student in religious ethics at the University of Chicago, suggests this sense of betrayal is what unites Ives’ supporters: “Where the connection point for these voters may be is not necessarily in the specific issues that Ives has chosen or the heavy-handed way she’s chosen to present them, but rather in the theme of betrayal, Rauner’s betrayal, that she is hammering home…. While Rauner is a Republican, Ives is managing to tap into the same penchant for feeling persecuted by the establishment, whatever party may represent it, that Trump did.” Ives seeks to build momentum off people who feel betrayed not just once but several times over; she is running against elements of her own Republican party as much as she is against Democrats or liberalism in general.
This phenomenon is not limited to Illinois alone. The Detroit suburb of Macomb County voted for Obama twice, but Trump managed to win it by 12 points. When the Village Voice visited following the 2016 election, they didn’t find a hotbed of fervent Trump support but rather voters who felt as if things had went off-keel since the Obama election. One Trump voter they spoke to said, “After Obama was elected, it was like people didn’t want to joke around about anything anymore … it felt like all of a sudden people were pointing at us because we’re white, privileged people, and automatically assuming that we were horrible. I’m like, ‘Wait, I’m not a racist!’” Most Trump voters in Macomb County thought that he was not a particularly strong candidate, but these feelings of resentment alongside a deep hatred for Hillary Clinton were enough for him to win their vote. We can observe similar dynamics in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Clinton improved upon Obama’s totals in four suburban Philadelphia counties, but Trump managed to flip many of the outer suburbs from blue to red. Midwestern urban areas were never going to go for Trump, or really any other Republican candidate, and the opposite is true of rural areas. The suburban areas, like DuPage County, prove to be the true outliers, and they more than any other region demonstrate the radical splits occurring in American politics and provide a preview of what’s to come in the 2018 midterm elections.
The consensus reached by liberals after the 2016 election was that Trump and his populist approach offered a better economic vision than Clinton and was able to flip enough working class voters to win. In some ways this was meant to be comforting; surely Democrats had better economic messaging, they just didn’t talk about it enough and would do better in the next election. The aforementioned Macomb County has a median income of $69,000; Ives’ Wheaton has a median income of over $85,000. FiveThirtyEight broke down the numbers across the country and found that the average Trump voter has a median income $11,000 a year higher than the average Clinton voter. This theory of losing the working class is predicated upon prior assumptions that voters are mostly persuaded by the state of the economy. Speaking to actual Trump voters and other conservatives reveals an entirely different set of priorities.
The sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild spent five years interviewing conservatives in Louisiana and published her findings in Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. In seeking to describe their motivations for embracing extreme conservatism, she developed a metaphor that her subjects said accurately reflected their perspective. Imagine you’re in a long line, Hochschild says, and at the top of the line is the “American Dream.” The people waiting in line feel they have worked hard to be there and the line is barely moving. Ahead of them they see people cutting into the line: immigrants, Blacks, refugees, teachers. Then picture Obama at the side of the line, cheering on those who are cutting in. This is how deeply conservative Louisianans picture the current state of America.
Such a viewpoint is not limited to the Deep South; indeed, it provides the perfect lens through which to view Ives’ ad in Illinois. Gov. Rauner has taken steps to aid transgender people, undocumented immigrants, women seeking abortions, big business executives, and public school teachers, waving them on ahead of the line. And ‘you’ are stuck behind them, forced to live in a world you didn’t ask for and to support people you find abhorrent. And who is the ‘you’ in this equation? Everything the people in the ad are not: white middle-class U.S. citizens opposed to abortion rights and LGBTQ people. Like chiaroscuro, the ad best draws the eye to the light by shading in the surrounding darkness.
The Republican Party may not be able to count on suburban white resentment for much longer, for the demographics of the suburbs are rapidly shifting. A 2016 report by the Brookings Institution reveals that the percentage of minorities in the suburbs is now proportional to their population in the country as a whole. The majority of residents of color of large metropolitan areas reside in the suburbs rather than the city. Some suburban areas, such as those surrounding Houston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., are now majority minority.
Jeanne Ives and other similar candidates reveal the degree to which the priorities of Trumpism have infected local politics and come to dominate the Republican Party as a whole.
Following the 2016 election many liberals tried to convince themselves that Trump was an outlier, a candidate in the right place at the right time who managed to stumble into the highest office in the land. Jeanne Ives and other similar candidates reveal the degree to which the priorities of Trumpism have infected local politics and come to dominate the Republican Party as a whole. No one can predict what will happen in 2018; candidates like Ives seek to further push the rightward tilt of the suburbs by inflaming feelings of resentment and persecution at the same time that those very suburbs are becoming more diverse and thus much less susceptible to starry-eyed visions of the past. Many liberals hope for a wave of blue in the 2018 midterms, but candidates like Ives reveal just how deeply Trumpism has sunk into our politics and suggest caution is warranted. They also reveal the depths to which the Republican party has become complicit in promoting hatred and intolerance of anyone who fails to live up to their increasingly narrow standards of what constitutes an American.
Banner photo: State Rep. Jeanne Ives at the Illinois Statehouse, photo by Daniel X. O’Neil
Jonathan Foiles is a writer and mental health professional based in Chicago. He writes a blog for Psychology Today and has previously written for Slate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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