This was, for the city of Malden where I live, a disastrous local election: not because the outcome was bad — it wasn’t— but because it may well have poisoned Malden politics for years to come.
As the election approached, the dishonesty and unscrupulousness of the mayoral challenger’s campaign increased. Bigotry came into the open, with Facebook allegations that a city council candidate wasn’t a citizen and suggestions that he be reported to the FBI. That gem came from the President of Malden Youth Soccer, and as a result he is the former President of Malden Youth Soccer. Yet nothing at all happened to those who started the smear, or those who cheered him on. They ran exactly the same play two years ago against another Muslim candidate, and again there were no consequences.
There were no consequences when a candidate used Facebook to assert without evidence that a private citizen was mentally ill, just as in an earlier election there were no consequences when a sitting Councillor denounced a Democratic convention delegate for her Wiccan beliefs. There were no consequences for the candidate who praised the white supremacists of Charlottesville, and now he’s ensconced on the School Committee.
We say, Malden is a welcoming city, but we condone bigotry. Bigotry works.
Infamously, after his complaints about a proposed addiction recovery center were roundly denounced by City Councillors, the challenger withdrew his opposition only to revive it just before the election. Even more infamously, illegal campaign literature trying to tie the incumbent Mayor to abortion was cravenly distributed in church parking lots during Mass. Campaign operative shrugged, saying “it might have been anybody!”
A central mystery of this campaign was, how did the challenger expect to govern if he were elected? Facing a City Council that had already repudiated a central argument of his campaign, facing the natural outrage of those whose religion had been smeared, what possibly could be accomplished?
Now we will hear calls for civility and insistence that we all just get along. The left will meekly comply while the right polishes its daggers and perfects its methods. We will be told to “let it go” and we will, while they continue to use local Facebook pages to spread anti-Semitism, to smear their Muslim neighbors, and to slyly warn that new housing will bring more Asians to Malden. It is, of course, proverbial in these circles that adding more Asians to Malden would be a very bad thing.
Great damage has been done — quiet damage, damage that we can pretend to ignore for a few years, but damage nonetheless. If we cannot stand up to lies and to bigotry, we cannot be trusted. Without that trust, we are not a community.