This article has been corrected since it was first posted.
Jade Bahr was surprised to see her face on her opponent’s Facebook page. Bahr, Northern Cheyenne, is a candidate for the Montana legislature in Billings. Her Republican opponent in the race, Quentin Eggart posted Bahr’s picture with a Communist hammer and sickle along, and packaged with an endorsement page from the Democratic Socialists of America. “This is who who I am running against in house district 50. Socialism is not what America is about,” he wrote.
But Bahr says the picture is designed to educate people about the original meaning of the hammer & sickle & hammer. "People hold a very distorted perception of that symbol and yet it's as relevant today as it was back then because there is now a need to unite working class and those in poverty to create the change we deserve," Bahr said. "There appears to be a misconception on socialism and communism which we should work to educate people on."
Never mind that Communists and Socialists are not the same thing. And, never mind that globally democratic socialism successfully runs countries from Finland to New Zealand. In Montana “socialism” is the evil empire. Except that this time Montanans weren’t buying it.
On his wall several comments challenged his attack. “So Jade sides with labor, sides with human and civil rights... that's my kind of candidate,” posted Nadine Smith. There were comments on both sides. But what’s interesting here is that many people dug into the policy discussion and found agreement on health care, workers’ rights, all sorts of less than inflammatory discourse.
On her Facebook page, Bahr handled the attack with humor and turned the conversation back to issues. “Watch out people,” she wrote. “I'm a scary socialist wanting the quality of peoples lives to improve. So wanting the uber wealthy to have less power, Medicare for all and workers to have more power in the workplace apparently goes against American values. #radical.”
The 2018 election is different because the field is so diverse. What’s different is that you can look across the country and see women like Bahr, Sharice Davids, Ashley McCray, and even Deb Haaland, upsetting what the old regime sees as the “norm.”
So all four have been attacked for silly reasons, distorting legitimate policy differences into nonsense. These kinds of attacks always happen in politics -- every time a new voice surfaces. But usually such charges are said in code, language that is understood by the majority, yet still polite. Sort of. But in the era of Donald J. Trump, civility is out.
So the Republican running against Haaland in New Mexico tells her Fox TV audience that Haaland is not a real Indian. “I’m saying there’s no doubt that her lineage is Laguna, but she is a military brat just like I am,” Janice Arnold-Jones said. “I think it evokes images that she was raised on a reservation—she belongs to a Pueblo.”
A “say what?” moment and Arnold-Jones was soon apologizing.
Then this week a Kansas GOP official posted an attack on Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk. Republican precinct committeeman Michael Kalny of Shawnee sent a message that read: “The REAL REPUBLICANS will remember what the scum DEMONRATS tried to do to Kavanaugh in November. Your radical socialist kick boxing lesbian Indian will be sent back packing to the reservation.”
One bright spot: On social media dozens of people posted that this spurred them to donate to Davids' campaign. She has already raised a record amount for any candidate in that district, some $2.7 million.
C.J. Grover, a spokesman for Rep. Kevin Yoder, denounced the message. He told the Kansas City Star: “Kevin (Yoder) doesn’t believe this type of rhetoric is appropriate at all. It’s unacceptable. These kind of nasty personal attacks are all too prevalent in politics these days, and it needs to stop.”
But in Oklahoma, Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee, who is running for the corporation commission, was labeled as a threat by the Tulsa Beacon. "Ashley Nicole McCray is a dangerous, radical would-be politician who wants to wage war on the energy industry in Oklahoma. She despises the roots of capitalism and will try to damage state companies with a combative relationship. McCray will defer to the state’s tribes in their quest for increases sovereignty and punish any Oklahoma business that dares to disagree with her."
And, like with Bahr, the Tulsa Beacon reached for the S-word, describing McCray as "a radical who prefers socialist policies over the actual welfare of people should be voted down."
McCray countered. “The truth is, tribal sovereignty is good for everyone,” she wrote on Facebook. “Oklahoman tribes are the cornerstone of Oklahoma's economy, so it only makes sense to build relationships that will save our agency time, money, and resources while helping to protect Oklahoman land, water, and communities.”
Back in Kansas this week the president of the United States was on the campaign trail to support Republicans. And he turned to one of his favorite themes: Dissing Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas. “Pocahontas, Pocahontas,” he said. “I have more Indian blood in me than Pocahontas and I have none. I mean, sadly, but I have more than she does. They said to her, ‘Why do you say you’re of Indian heritage?’ ‘Well my mother said that I have high cheekbones.’ Well, I have high cheekbones too. Hey! Maybe I’m an Indian and I’m going to do very well.”
Enough nonsense. An alternative, lofty discourse is expressed by Deb Haaland. She posted on Twitter: “I’ll bring with me my culture, my history, and the sacrifices that my ancestors made to survive in this world. I want to be able to leave the ladder down, to make sure that other Native women have an opportunity to climb up it."
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports