Opinion: Black Lives Matter….in election years

Google Trends analytics shows dramatic uptick in BLM during 2016, 2020 election years, political science doctoral student shows

By Tyler-Joseph Ballard 

Over half a century ago, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, much better known as Malcolm X, had some poignant ideas about the nature of American liberalism. He stated, “the white liberal is the worst enemy to America, and the worst enemy to the black man… the white liberals aren’t white people who are for independence, who are moral and ethical in their thinking. They are just a faction of white people that are jockeying for power.” 

Tyler-Joseph Ballard

Web traffic analytics suggest the last two general election years have seen the plight of the African American community targeted by the generally white, liberal media with a proliferation of tragic news stories of systemic racism.

Google Trends is an effective barometer to determine the momentum of specific search terms. but Google does account for 70% of all search engine traffic. Google Trends shows how public interest in “BLM” or “Black Lives Matters” has spiked in the election years of 2016 and 2020. The prevalence of BLM related traffic on the search engine is at its highest point, but before 2016 and even after, interest fizzles out. The BLM movement started in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. Some of the earliest key demonstrations came after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, then Sandra Bland in 2015, and other incidents in between. 

During these early events, there wasn’t much web traffic about BLM, compared to what was to come in 2016. The climb of BLM related traffic on Google coinciding with Ted Cruz dropping out of the GOP primary race in 2016. Traffic peaked in summer of 2016 but remained at a higher average rate than ever before until after the 2016 election.

There were some bumps in search prevalence but BLM-related traffic and interest in the movement became non-existent for three and a half years, until the killing of George Floyd in May of 2020, despite the annual number of police shootings remaining nearly constant for 5 years (Tate, Jenkins and Rich; Washington Post, 2020). Traffic spiked to nearly an all-time high, and now sits at innumerable levels in response to the many demonstrations across the country. This trend is shared with other related terms like “police brutality” or “police killings,” which see more spikes due to their direct relevance to some of the aforementioned incidents. These trends are solely for web searches into the search engine, but news searches for such terms are a bit more dynamic, however, they follow the same trend

In both of these years, liberal politicians made/are making a partisan issue out of police brutality to serve their reelection bids – all during an election year where the transparency of elections is in question and challengers have never before faced bigger hurdles to unseating incumbents. 

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, much like Governor Gavin Newsom of California, has worked to halt peaceful protests by smaller groups of individuals protesting the lockdown while commending the BLM movements in Vermont and elsewhere. Scott has gone on to say that the state can’t “enforce social distancing” at such protests, but in a state which has shown to be one of the safest in regard to the COVID outbreak, refuses to let consumers, workers, and business-owners return to 100% normal as he has extended Vermont’s “state of emergency” until at least July 15 – and possibly beyond.

Vermonters who suffered and died alone in hospitals and nursing homes could not be remembered with funerals because it would have been too “dangerous” for families to come together during times of need. Vermont business owners were demonized by the AG’s office and bureaucrats for wanting to be able to make a living. Peaceful protestors were vilified for daring to stand up against the seemingly needless shutdown in Vermont. But suddenly, the rules do not apply for those demonstrating against police brutality or against the institutions. This is not to undermine those demonstrations but to ask why the Constitution is selectively invoked to protect only certain groups of people. COVID-19 and BLM should not be partisan, electoral weapons. But for some reason, they are. For shame.

The performance and response of Governor Scott regarding the COVID-19 dilemma deserves some praise, but his selective support and upholding of the US Constitution, indifference toward maintaining free and fair elections, and wave-riding of COVID-19 and BLM for political gain should be questioned. Scott is that white liberal for whom Malcolm X shows disgust and disdain. 

As a student of political science, I recognize that the Governor need not campaign, given the press he’s getting with COVID-19, and can easily ride into another two years as Vermont’s chief executive. It is the duty of those who wish to hold the governor accountable and maintain a free and fair election to pressure Governor Scott to acknowledge his challenger(s) and face them. 

A professor of mine liked to say that maintaining the illusion of a free and fair election is much more important than there actually being one, and that has stuck with me, because we are seeing what happens when the unilateral power of the liberal Vermont Legislature goes unchallenged, and unfortunately for Vermont, their chief executive consents to being their doormat.

Governor Scott kowtowing to the legislature on the mail-in voting and subsequent ballot harvesting issue shows his complacency with not participating in the political process, which will likely come at the expense of the perceived fairness of the 2020 election. While large demonstrations violating the orders on “social distancing” are allowed and constitutionally protected, the right for candidates to campaign and meet with voters is hindered, despite the notion that they also have First Amendment rights.

Campaign speech is a highly protected right as determined in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Shouldn’t this also apply to a candidate’s right to deliver their platform to voters in a traditional manner? Hague v. CIO (1939) was a decision that found the mayor’s ban on political meetings to be unconstitutional. Shouldn’t this be the same for a governor placing obstacles for candidates canvassing for an election? The decision Carroll v. Town of Princess Anne (1968) holds that states cannot preemptively prohibit persons from holding public meetings without allowing individuals the right to argue their case. Should this not be true for state executives unilaterally disrupting the political process? I recognize that in a “state of emergency,” the rules of the game may change, but the Constitution protects all citizens, not just the ones public officials think they can get a vote out of.

Vermonters can no longer afford to hide behind the veil of ignorance as the “altruism” of the General Assembly and weakness of the executive remains burdensome for taxpayers. Governor Scott needs to stand up for Vermonters and his conservative constituents with the same fervor with which he defends the Left’s right to demonstrate. Governor Scott has a role in participating in, and protecting, the political process — the same one he used to be elected governor twice. If he cannot do this with veracity, then he should no longer be Vermont’s Governor.

The author, a Poultney resident, is a first-year doctoral student in Brown University’s Political Science graduate program.