Ever since the 2016 presidential election, it is increasingly difficult to listen as people express shock when political issues morph into personal attacks. Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican candidate for the Illinois gubernatorial race, received backlash after an ad was posted on an Illinois political blog Capitol Fax on Feb. 2. According to Slate, the ad mockingly depicted a deep-voiced man in a dress, who “thanked” current Gov. Bruce Rauner for “signing legislation that lets me use the girls’ bathroom.” The ad targeted other groups, including women, teachers and immigrants, most of whom have a history of being targets of President Donald Trump. Although Slate reported that many Democrats and Republicans denounced the ad, the precedent was already set by our nation’s leader, and words are not as powerful as actions.
The Chicago Tribune published a column, “Ives’ poisonous commercial rips a page from the Trump playbook” on Feb. 6 where Eric Zorn compares the tone of the ad to Trump’s history attacking many of the same groups. Zorn acknowledged that General Assembly members, including Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, and Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, have called for Ives to remove the ad, despite being her primary backers. Zorn said, “But why should she? Did Donald Trump apologize … when criticized for his foul attacks on Mexicans, the disabled, Gold Star families, John McCain’s war record, Muslims and so on? No.” Zorn also noted that Trump’s continues to be lauded for his candidness and “lack of delicacy.” These are the same values that Ives counts on to win the March 20 primary. Next month, it is the decision of Illinoisians as to whether they will expect better of the person who is in the role of governor.
In response to the backlash, the Chicago Tribune reported that Ives stated on Feb. 5 that the ad’s purpose was to “properly and truthfully characterize the extreme issue positions Rauner took and their implications.” Additionally, she asserted that the ad’s intention was not to attack people. The ad referenced House Bill 1785 as the legislation Rauner signed, implicating that the bill allows transgender women to “use the girls’ bathroom.” According to the Illinois General Assembly website, HB1785 “Changes provisions concerning the issuance of new birth certificates for individuals that have undergone gender transition treatment.”
Further, it requires that as part of the process of changing one’s sex on a birth certificate, “a licensed healthcare professional or licensed mental health professional must make a declaration concerning the treatment.” So, Ives’ ad does not truthfully represent the nature of the bill, which does not mention the issue of who uses which public restroom. To her point that the ad is not an attack, Zorn raised the significant point that “outside of elementary schools, does anyone use the term ‘girls’ bathroom’?” From his point, it is not difficult to connect that Ives’ campaign is relying on the transphobic belief that transgender women are men who prey on young girls.
Simply put, Ives’ campaign likely sought publicity, especially since as of Jan. 16, The Washington Post reported that We Ask America found nearly 65 percent of Illinoisians would vote for Rauner in the GOP primary, and only approximately 21 percent would vote in favor of Ives. Likewise, the poll revealed that of the 1,026 likely voters who completed the survey, over 68 percent said that they never heard of Ives. Considering how the primary was then barely over two months away, an ad that made Ives recognizable would not necessarily harm her campaign, which was reported as trailing by more than 40 percentage points.
Those who idly watch as Trump continues to unapologetically proselytize that to “Make America Great Again” we must “build a wall” to keep illegal immigrants outside of the U.S. are the reason that Ives and others like her feel empowered. He set the standard for how politicians discuss political issues and as a result, hateful rhetoric is interchangeable with articulating political perspectives. More so, although Ives was harshly criticized, castigating the ad or her campaign is not enough to shift the tone. Instead, we must recognize that the only way politicians will stop mixing rhetoric with political views is if everyone who is eligible to vote exercises their constitutional right and votes against the candidate perpetuating prejudice and bigotry.