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Aaron Bushnell, Michigan and the Democratic Party’s losing messaging war on Gaza

Tyler Jackman


It’s been over a week since Aaron Bushnell, a United States Air Force serviceman, self-immolated in front of Washington D.C.’s Israeli embassy in an act of protest against the Israel–Hamas war and occupation of Palestinian territories. Bushnell’s death, which was livestreamed on Twitch and subsequently shared on social media across the world, lit yet another match on the volatile discourse surrounding the U.S.’s role in the Israel–Hamas war. Despite the gravity of Bushnell’s act many on social media shared sympathy with the serviceman, seeing him as a martyr who could no longer abide by his country’s support of all-out war against the people of Gaza. 

The 2024 U.S. presidential election is looming, and with a dramatic showdown between President Biden and former President Trump almost certainly slated for later this year, the Democratic Party and Biden himself must fully understand the precarious position their losing messaging war has put themselves in.

Despite the heavy pressure on Biden to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and to halt aid to Israel after the war claimed over 30,000 lives, Biden and most Democrats have remained in lockstep with their diplomatic support for Israel. In fact, pressure has been so heavy on Biden that many in the public sphere have paid no attention to Trump’s response to the war, in which he called for a ban on Palestinian refugees entering the U.S. and said little else.

Image taken by Tyler Jackman

The pressure on Biden and the Democrats, despite Trump’s positions, is real indeed. In the recent Democratic Party presidential primary in Michigan, the “Uncommitted” vote won a notable 101,100 votes, which was widely seen as a show of rejection towards Biden’s pro-Israel stances and policies. The results in Dearborn, MI, a city with a high Arab-American population were especially notable, where the “Uncommitted” vote soundly defeated Biden.

It isn’t only the Arab-American vote which Biden risks alienating, however. Simply put, his hawkish pro-Israel stance combined with his tempered calls for “humanitarian pauses” for Palestinians have soured youth opinions. Polling indicates that only one third of youth voters approve of Biden’s handling of the Israel–Hamas war, putting a significant Democratic voting bloc in jeopardy. 

The role social media has played in this information war cannot be understated. Like the George Floyd protests in 2020, the youth are flocking to sites like TikTok to document the realities of the conflict, with viral Palestinian creators and journalists flooding the feeds of younger people. Recently, social media has played an integral role in spreading awareness of the Al-Rashid incident or “Flour Massacre”, where over 100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire and the resulting chaos while collecting food aid.

Biden is walking a precarious political tightrope, and he has attempted to make overtures to those sympathetic to Palestinians. He has called for “humanitarian pauses” and has stated he “hopes” for a ceasefire, and has recently ordered airdrops of aid in the Gaza Strip. However, polling combined with the realities on the ground show the stark reality that this simply isn’t enough for the Democrat voter base. Biden knows this too, judging by how frequently pro-Palestine protesters disrupt his team’s events. His events haven’t been interrupted since January since he is now shielded from protesters.

If Biden wishes not to lose his voting coalition come November, he needs more than just a reality check. His reality check came in Michigan, and that hasn’t seemed to shake his resolve yet. Simply put, he needs to understand where his voter base is, or he risks alienating them the way former President Lyndon B. Johnson alienated those who stood against the escalation of the Vietnam War. The stakes are especially high considering that Biden’s likely opponent, former President Trump, has made no bones about expanding the xenophobic, nativist and pro-Israeli policies of his first term.

Biden stands at the precipice of repeating history, where an unpopular war and his support risks tearing his voter base apart. The screams of Bushnell as he yelled “Free Palestine” in his dying breath have been heard louder than Biden’s tepid calls for calm. The only remaining question is what he will do with his remaining term until November comes. If he listens to his base, he may enter a second term damaged, but unmoved. If he continues on his path of unshaken support, then he may go down as just another forgotten one-term president in the annals of U.S. history.


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