Attacking Electric Vehicles Has Become An Aggressive Political Campaign Tactic

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In 350 BCE, Aristotle said, “An emotional speaker always makes their audience feel with them, even when there is nothing in their arguments, which is why many speakers try to overwhelm their audience by mere noise.” Ah, it is as if the ancient Greek philosopher could predict the embedded turmoil in the 2024 US presidential race. Attacking electric vehicles is part-and-parcel of this year’s noisy, emotional language on the campaign trail.

Attacking EVs is so common that no longer is logical reasoning necessary or even persuasive to some audiences, and EVs are in a whirlwind of symbolic partisanship and rancor.



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Former President Donald J. Trump has walked back his warning last week about the inevitability of a “blood bath” if he is not elected US president in November. Now he insists that the comment was made in the context of electric vehicles. No, he repeats — he was not talking about political violence that would erupt among his supporters. No, he was not calling for his supporters to rise up with violence. He was equating the rise of EVs with a violent demise of the auto industry.

His anti-EV rhetoric is part of a pattern of hyperbole and conscious misstatements. Somehow, to this consummate showman, evoking a mass human slaughter — massacre — is entirely appropriate.

Clearly, it’s time that we engage in some critical reflection on how politicians draw upon different dark linguistic tools to gain political goals and objectives. Trump likes to use the rhetorical strategy of “ad baculum,” which Oxford University Press describes as an appeal to force. It is a fallacy that is committed when an arguer threatens use of force to make someone accept a conclusion — and it’s sometimes embraced when rational argumentation has failed.

Many experts recognized the dangerous undertone to the “bloodbath” allusion. Brendan Nyhan, professor of political science at Dartmouth, drew the connections among contexts, ambiguity, and political language in an interview with NPR.

“It’s important to make clear that the bloodbath comment was in the context of a discussion of the auto industry, but it’s also hard not to be worried when a president who inspired a violent insurrection and often explicitly endorses political violence is using language like that. We have very good reason to fear another January 6 if he loses this election, and that language communicated that threat in a way that I think resonated with people, even if the context was in part lost.”

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, US voters are less ideologically polarized than they think they are, and the misperception about ideological polarization is greatest for the most politically engaged people. The Endowment says the problem is not polarized emotions alone but how those feelings interact with voting systems, candidate incentives, and personal relationships. However, affective polarization “is probably contributing to an environment that allows politicians and opinion leaders to increase violence targeted at politicians, election officials, women, and many types of minorities.”

Dehumanizing and denigrating rhetoric that normalizes violence or threats against some groups turns that sense of fear and anger into a target by making certain groups appear to be both threatening and, at the same time, vulnerable.

Attacking Electric Vehicles — Perpetuating a False Narrative

In a rally staged in Vandalia, Ohio, Trump promised a “100% tariff” on cars made outside the US. The tariff would protect domestic auto manufacturing from China’s wide selection of EVs.

“We’re going to put a 100% tariff on every single car that comes across the line, and you’re not going to be able to sell those guys if I get elected. Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole – that’s gonna be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That’ll be the least of it.”

Electric vehicles are one of Trump’s favorite targets, and the evocative language he has used to describe them is rife with the ugly symbolism of war and destruction. His not-so-lightly veiled threats of automotive manufacturers’ economic ruin ring true to many of his followers.

However, electric car sales continue to grow despite supply chain disruptions, macro-economic and geopolitical uncertainty, and high commodity and energy prices. Electric vehicle sales are consistently on the upswing, even though there’s been a strong narrative to the contrary lately.

In a disjointed speech that landed randomly on the auto industry, unions, the transition to electric vehicles, and auto plants in Mexico, the former president failed to acknowledge new data about auto workers’ living wages.

His campaign strategists jumped on the proverbial bandwagon. “Biden’s policies will create an economic bloodbath for the auto industry and autoworkers,” Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said.

If it is, indeed, autoworkers about whom Trump is worried, UAW president Shawn Fain isn’t moved. In fact, in response to Trump’s “bloodbath” statement, Fain called out Trump for the mis- and disinformation that is the former president’s hallmark.

“He can do all the name-calling he wants, but the truth is he is a con man who has been directly part of the problem we have seen over the past 40 years — where working class people have gone backward and billionaires like Donald Trump reap all the benefits … Trump has been a player in the class war against the working class for decades, whether screwing workers and small businesses in his dealings, exploiting workers at his Mar a Lago estate and properties, blaming workers for the Great Recession, or giving tax breaks to the rich. The bottom line is Trump only represents the billionaire class, and he doesn’t give a damn about the plight of working class people — union or not.”

Bloomberg Law’s “Quarterly Union Wage Data” report analyzed the wage increases negotiated in 952 collective bargaining agreements ratified in 2023. The wage data covered a total of approximately 2.8 million union-represented workers. It concludes that the 2023 union contracts gave workers an average first-year wage increase of 6.6% — the highest raise since at least 1988. With signing bonuses and other lump-sum payments added to the calculations, the Q4 2023’s 6.6% average is still the third-highest average wage increase negotiated by unions since at least 2008.

After the UAW secured record wage gains in its contracts with Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis following their 6-week strike, several nonunion car manufacturers — including Toyota and Tesla — announced pay increases for their employees in an apparent attempt to preempt organizing efforts in their factories, as reported by Common Dreams.

Emissions Standards Strengthens while Negative Rhetoric Rises

In a move being hailed as one of the most significant climate rules in US history, the Biden administration announced new regulations regulating tailpipe emissions on March 20.

New tailpipe pollution limits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will require automakers to manufacture a majority of new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the US to be either all-electric or hybrids by 2032. To meet the new standards, 56% of new cars sold by 2032 must be zero emissions, and another 16% must be hybrid.

Electric vehicles account for only 7.6% of US new car sales today. To elevate them to majority vehicle sales status is an extraordinary task — one that has become ammunition in this year’s US presidential election.

Electric vehicles are now squarely a part of the culture wars. Shouldn’t the slew of green jobs opening up everyday a wake-up call that the road to prosperity starts on the factory floor? Last summer I created the slogan, “My kids can’t eat culture wars — Give us more green jobs!”

The presumed Republican candidate for US president paints a false, dire picture of the nation. The transition to zero emissions transportation in 8 years now seems to be the predominant climate issue in this year’s presidential election. With the rhetoric comes the question: How healthy will our planet be if Trump takes office again?


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