Divisive rhetoric is ruining politics
The race for the Republican presidential nomination has been a media phenomenon for many reasons, most of which you already know. It has received an inordinate amount of attention to the Democratic side, which, if it weren’t for Bernie Sander’s rise, could have gone unreported altogether. The Republican race has been so bizarre, even liberal media outlets don’t seem concerned with Clinton or Sanders. They seem to be under the impression that if they keep shouting “Carson is a liar!” or “Trump is racist!” a la Larry David, eventually people will hear it and somehow change their mind and their vote. But all it has done is fuel the fire.
The ever-growing divide between liberals and conservatives has fostered the environment for Trump’s so-far-successful campaign. People who have spent the last seven years blaming President Obama for every problem they can perceive flock to a man who represents Obama’s opposite in so many ways. Enough with diversity, tolerance, progress; let’s Make America Great Again. While I disagree with these ideas, they make sense to me on a surface level.
What has been much further beneath the surface is Carson’s appeal to voters. He’s not a traditional legitimate candidate at all. He doesn’t seem particularly well-versed in policy, beyond the obvious platforms of the party he belongs to. While Carson has made some comments about Muslim people that could easily and accurately be described as racist, that is where the similarities to Trump stop for the most part.
Carson is not exactly Trump’s opposite either though. While people are attracted to Trump because of his contrast to Obama, Carson doesn’t seem to have an opposite. Carson doesn’t seem to be… anything. At all times, he has the presence of a relatively smart person who has stumbled into a presidential election and is trying to make himself look as competent as possible. He lacks the passion, charisma, or ideas that made Sanders and Trump so popular. All he has really done are outrageous things that make Democrats upset. And after watching months of Trump, it’s easy to think that might be as valuable an asset as any for a Republican presidential candidate in 2015.
How many times has Trump said something that would have killed any other candidate’s campaign? He started his campaign off by calling Mexican people rapists; but through all the outrage, he came out on top of the polls. There seems to be a cycle: candidate makes mistake, opposition criticizes, candidate’s poll numbers improve.
This is the nature of political discourse during the 2016 election. Affairs between the two parties and their respective followers have become so divided that the “opposing” party’s anger reads as encouragement, regardless of its inspiration. It doesn’t matter what Trump did to make Democrats mad; if you’re pissing off the bad guys, you’re a good guy.
Political discussion, especially on the internet, has come to resemble the way we talk about sports. People treat their favorite political party the way they treat their local basketball team. It’s not about analyzing what they do, criticizing or considering. They are the best, and everyone else stinks. Every time someone calls Obama a socialist, or talks broadly in non-specifics about conservatives “ruining the country,” it’s no different than booing the visiting team or a Lakers fan tweeting “RINNNNGGGZZZ.”
Politics aren’t meant to be consumed the same way sports are. The fun of having a favorite sports team is that you can invest yourself in it highly, and say whatever you want, all while knowing the stakes are fairly low. The stakes are high when it comes to politics, and words matter.
The origin of this type of rhetoric and thinking is, of course, the political parties themselves. It could be seen during George W. Bush’s presidency. Democrats crafted the conversation about whether W was the worst president of all time. He became a running joke among the liberal community, and was demonized to no end during the 2008 election. It has only escalated during Obama’s time in office, along with the rise of 24 hour news networks. It’s been truly astounding to watch Fox News leave their “how dare you criticize the president” attitude in the past when talking about Obama.
While the media’s manipulation of political rhetoric is damaging, it is understandable. Their job is to attract viewers and make money, and the easiest way to do that is to create teams: Team Conservative and Team Liberal. Once you figure out what team you root for, you know which network to watch, and that network will tell you what you want to hear. You’ll feel like you’re being educated, while you’re really being pandered to. It creates a stubbornness that can only come from having your views validated by some sort of higher power.
The intentions of networks like Fox News or MSNBC are obvious, but they are also appropriate. The same can not be said about politicians feeding the same type of rhetoric. While the intentions of politicians creating a narrative where the opposing party is the enemy are obvious as well, it is ruining any chance the government has at making change, and bringing reasonable political discourse to a screeching halt.
Given that Democrats have had the sitting president for the last 7 years, Republicans have been the party more guilty of this. Their willingness to blame all of the country’s problems on Obamacare, and regularly threaten — or even enact — government shutdowns to prevent Obama from accomplishing anything has fostered the culture that created Carson and Trump’s campaigns. They have been looking 4 years ahead since the moment Obama was sworn in. They thought they could win in 2012, but they couldn’t. So during Obama’s second term, they doubled down. In return, they’ve gotten this massive field of misfit toy candidates. It seems they’re currently trying to will Marco Rubio into being the frontrunner. But in the current landscape of their party, Rubio may be too good a candidate to get any attention.