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Election rhetoric

3 November 2016

One of the problems with US election rhetoric is that it never seems to stop. For two years out of four they are having presidential elections, and much of the other two are taken up with congressional elections. At least here in South Africa we only have a few months of it. The date of the election is announced, parties register their participation, and the issues are debated, and then we vote.

In the days before the Internet, American elections were somewhat remote. We’d read about them in the newspapers, usually on the inside pages until a day or two before the election, and then they would be on the front pages a couple of days before and a couple of days after, and that would be it. Thereafter we’d only read about the US president when the US had bombed some place or other, or was threatening to do so.

But the Internet opened up a whole new world of spite and vituperation, as one discovered how much Americans who hadn’t voted for their president hated him. It started with George H.W. Bush (before him the Internet was only a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye), and went on to Bill Clinton (or Klinton, as most of his detractors called him). Now it’s reached the point where every second post I read on Facebook is slagging off the unpreferred candidate(s) and their supporters. I’ve commented on that here, And it seems that even some South Africans are getting in on the act, engaging in fiercely partisan campaigning, as if they lived in the USA.

us2016And its ironic that usually there is very little difference between the candidates of the two major parties in the US elections, yet the closer their political positions, the more vicious becomes the rhetoric of their supporters. There so little difference that those small differences must be hyped and exaggerated to make them seem more significant than they are. Americans talk about “liberals” and “conservatives” and “left” and “right” but in the last four elections the candidates of the biggest parties have all been in the right-wing authoritarian quadrant of the political compass.

I’ve also begun to see people threatening to “unfriend” others on Facebook for expressing opinions they disagree with, which they often describe as “bigotry”. And here was I thinking that bigotry was refusing to listen to opinions you disagree with, or that offend you. Well, I did unfriend one person on Facebook, but for a slightly different reason. It wasn’t that his opinions offended me, but that my opinions offended him, and I valued his friendship too much, so unfriended him on Facebook so that we could stay friends in real life, and he would not be exposed to the opinions that offended him.

Quite a lot of my friends on Facebook are family. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family and I think it’s good to be exposed to opinions you disagree with. Even if we disagree, we are still family. Sometimes I don’t think anything will be gained by discussing the differences of opinion, so if someone says something I disagree with it, I pass over it and ignore it. If I think there is a possibility for rational discussion, I might comment, expressing a different point of view. But I don’t see the point in unfriending people over a mere difference of opinion. When I was much younger I did that a couple of times, and have often regretted it since. It was because I was being priggish and uncharitable.

imageThe thing that bothers me most about it, though, is that so much of the debate seems to be about personalities rather than policies. More than 95% of the arguments about the current US elections seem to be about the character of the candidates rather than their policies, and much of that seems to be based on innuendo and fake news sources.

And that’s why I like the graphic on the left.

Yes, they are sinners, but so are we all.

Yes, there are certain qualities that are desirable in someone who is going to lead a country, and so we speak of the difference between a statesman and a politician, and most political systems reward those who are best at political wheeling and dealing, and not those who give visionary leadership. But the petty vituperative spitefulness one sees every day on social media really is uncalled for.

 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 November 2016 5:26 pm

    > I don’t see the point in unfriending people over a mere difference of opinion.

    Agreed.

    > I’ve also begun to see people threatening to “unfriend” others on Facebook for expressing opinions they disagree with, which they often describe as “bigotry”. And here was I thinking that bigotry was refusing to listen to opinions you disagree with, or that offend you.

    Hmmmm…are you saying that even when somebody expresses an opinion which IS bigotry, they should be listened to? Because then it logically follows that there is a place for bigotry in our public discourse, that it’s ok to say that, for instance, all Mexicans are rapists, because that’s just my opinion.

    I agree with you that just because I disagree with someone else doesn’t automatically make their opinion bigotry. In that case, I’m the bigot, and even worse I’m claiming that the other person is. 1984 all over again.

  2. 3 November 2016 5:30 pm

    commenting again so I can check the “get notified by email for new comments” checkbox

  3. 3 November 2016 8:45 pm

    Thanks for theb comments, Roger.

    If someone says “All Mexicans are rapists”, that’s prejudice. It could only be true if the person who said knew every single Mexican, and knew whom they had raped, and had incontrovertible evidence to prove it. That’s prejudice — judging without evidence.

    If, in discussing it, you can show that the person does not know every single Mexican (asking something like “How many Mexicans have you met?” should do it) then you should be able to say that the statement is not only prejudiced but false. If the person still maintains that all Mexicans are rapists in the face of the evidence against it, that’s bigotry.

    So, if you like, prejudice is judging something before hearing the evidence; bigotry is maintaining that even when the evidence against it has been presented to you, or refusing to hear the evidence.

    In the matter of this blog post, some supporters of the two main candidates in the US presidential election make and believe lots of accusations against the candidate they don’t like, often on flimsy or no evidence. In other words, they are prejudiced. And some of them are also bigoted, because they will continue in their view even if the evidence is lacking or points the other way. But even if they are bigoted I don’t unfriend them, though I might block them if they become totally disruptive in commenting on something I have posted. I often disagree with things other people post, and sometimes it is bigoted, and if it is, then I avoid commenting, because it’s useless to argue — you wont change their views. But if I put up with stuff they post, then they will have to put up with what I post, which may, or may not, influence them. .

    I could give some examples, but this reply is already too long!

  4. danaames permalink
    3 November 2016 11:29 pm

    One American’s views:

    The “election season” is way too long, and way too much money is spent filling the ether with opinions. I’ve been suffering from election fatigue for more than a year, made worse by the lack of substantive policy discussion. I would never vote for DT, and voting for HC is problematic for me because she’s such a hawk, and so tied in to the moneyed elite. I have problems with the Green and Libertarian candidates as well. I am going to write in another name for President on my ballot simply as a matter of conscience; I’m tired of holding my nose and voting for the perceived lesser of however-many evils.

    Dana

  5. 4 November 2016 2:29 am

    The left wing Western political parties have swung to the right in economic ideals and the right wing parties have swung to left wing ideals that govern (control) the people.

    The path to dictatorship..

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