Donald Trump: The Changed Rhetoric in American Politics

The 2016 American presidential election will undoubtedly go down in history as one of their most problematic- this isn’t an election with the usual reasoned discussion on policies and knowledgeable back-and-forth on what might be the best policies for USA as a nation. Instead, this is more a comically unrealistic parody of an election, with each debate revolving more around basic ethical questions and proclivities of each candidate, rather than policy.

Since Harry Truman, politics in America acquired a formal nature- reasoned speeches, research, formal rhetoric, and to-the-point, sharp debates. But this trend has reversed, and here’s why: people don’t like ‘political’ rhetoric anymore. ‘Political’ candidates are deeply mistrusted, revealing some of the deeper inconsistencies in the system. Second, the new culture of political correctness and the increased awareness and curbing of old, bigoted, rather problematic views is facing its own backlash that is leading people all around the world to elect radically different leaders, with harsher, more decisively unfiltered rhetoric.

You wouldn’t hear a politician calling other world leaders ‘sons of whores’ in the 1980s-1990s in public, like Duterte (President of Philippines) so infamously did not long ago this year.

The USA hasn’t escaped this. Supporters of Donald Trump think in terms of mistrusting conventional politics, and they cite one of their reasons for supporting Trump as him being an ‘outsider’ and him never having political ties to Washington. Aside from this being pretty far from the truth, this reveals a greater trend within the system, and by extension, the rhetoric- political correctness or polished speech (characteristic of seasoned politicians usually) would not be tolerated any more.

Examining excerpts from Donald Trumps’s speeches- one notices the lack of conventional elements of political speeches, repetition of words, and a lot of emphasis on certain words or phrases.  At a campaign rally in South Carolina- he said,

Im telling you, I used to use the word incompetent. Now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school. Im very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words…but there is no better word than stupid. Right?

There is literally no better indicator of where the trend is headed in the USA, in terms of political rhetoric. While Democrats still follow structure in their answers, Trump relies on repetition and emphasis to make his point, which can be very dangerous- because nobody cares about the details. Nobody asks vital questions- with zero rebuttals, because they are so wound up with the catchy slogans. This exacerbates the problematic nature of this decline in rhetoric.

Aside from downright inappropriate assertions at debates (‘And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.’), this creates a culture where nobody asks questions- nobody thinks independently.

Which is why, like Bill Maher, I believe that even if Donald Trump doesn’t win the election, America loses, because nearly half the population wishes he did.

The author, Vasudha Rajkumar, is presently a student of Political Science at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. 

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Nation-null-ism

There’s something quite queer about the society we live in today. It is a society that constantly tries to impose itself upon us and in the process imparts a certain sense of identity to itself and its constituents. But oddly enough this pursuit to attach an identity to every single entity leads to a perplexing criss-cross of theories, beliefs and practices which ultimately paves the way for a loss of the vestige of the original identity that had prevailed prior to an exhaustive indoctrination.  Ever since the concept of the Nation State emerged in the 18th century, political theorists as well as the common man have tried to comprehend the true meaning of nationalism. In the India of today, we like to look upon ourselves as a progressive, modern and liberal nation but does the prevalent theme of nationalistic fervour impede such ideals in any way? Today we seek to find out whether the concept of nationalism in its original or present incarnation is in tune with the motifs of the very State that it seeks to glorify. In addition, we shall explore the ominous avenues that threaten to instill a firm sense of nationalism by rooting out every ounce of humanistic sentiment.

Technically speaking nationalism is defined as a feeling of oneness among individuals pertaining to a common geographical, social, cultural or historical background. As such there seems to be no problem with the rudimentary idea of nationalism. In fact it will not be in any way inaccurate to suggest that it is highly natural for people sharing common attributes to develop a firm sense of loyalty towards common values and towards one another. So where does the problem lie? For starters the problem arises when in a diverse country like India a parallel notion of geographical, social, cultural and historical superiority creeps in rejecting the bliss of pluralism in the process. In present India, certain groups feel that it is their utmost responsibility to establish a status quo when it comes to how an Indian should live his or her life. The emergence of such an objective is hence bound to open up a debate on the very basic practices, habits and customs of Indians. But the reality is that in India attainment of any uniformity when it comes to a civil code is utopia at best. This partly explains why such a provision has not yet been incorporated in the Constitution. The gruesome aspect to this whole equation lies in the fact that portions of the so-called ‘majority ‘ believe that their way of life is what defines the essence of being a true Indian. To suggest that such a lot is prone to disillusion will be an understatement. To put things into context, the highly contentious issue of consuming beef serves as a perfect example. In the northern parts of India, there has cropped up a consortium of sorts of beef vigilantes. These incorrigible individuals have stopped at nothing to ensure that beef eaters pay a hefty price for doing something that they perceive as ‘un-Indian’. Recently the cow vigilantes resorted to assaulting women and infamous among their perennial atrocities is a practice of forcing ‘offenders’ to consume a concoction of cow dung, milk and honey so as to ‘purify’ their ‘corrupted’ bodies. It goes without saying that perpetrators of this kind do not solely suffer from a grotesque miscalculation of what it means to be an Indian, they are also inexorably motivated by the desire of catapulting their community above all others. Taking law into one’s own hands is thus just a side effect of a miserable disease that is threatening to assume epidemic proportions.
To a rational mind it is clear as daylight that the food and dress habits of an individual can never be at daggers drawn with the concept of loyalty to India. To large portions of the intelligentsia, talk of nationalism is nothing more than rhetorical nonsense upon stilts. Unfortunately, in between the radicals and the still lesser rationals there are those who are largely indifferent to the whole saga. To these ignorant masses their sense of nationalism extends no further than zealously following the fortunes of the Indian Cricket Team. Thus by unconsciously sitting on the fence as regards the identity of an Indian, these people only serve to perpetuate a problem whose very birth and survival should be of considerable alarm. Nationalism is not defined by the choices made in the private domain, instead it encompasses the thoughts and actions we carry out in the public domain. For example, nobody, ideally speaking, should bat an eyelid if an Indian chooses to eat a particular food item for dinner. But if the same behaviour follows after an Indian rashly describes the Kashmiri protesters as anti-nationals on social media then such an axiom needs changing. An instrumental factor behind the resurgence of the nationalism debate has been the volatile situation in Kashmir. Ever since the Indian army killed Burhan Wani, the face of Kashmiri militancy in an encounter on 8 July 2016, tensions have been scarcely below boiling point. Kashmir is no longer merely an apple of discord between India and Pakistan. Thanks in no small part to the inexplicable reluctance on part of the Government of India to diffuse matters in the valley and its persistence to keep Kashmiris cut off from the rest of the country, the locals have turned vehemently against the concept of an Indian Kashmir. For them there can be no compromise with India. They are engaged in a quest for their own independence and naturally to them their sense of nationalism bears no loyalty to India. If India does end up relinquishing Kashmir it shall be largely down to its own snobbery of compelling Kashmiris to abide by an ideology which in the former’s book constitutes nationalism. The recent comments of the renowned Indian journalist Arnab Goswami that fellow journalists criticising the actions of the Indian Army in Kashmir should be arrested only serve to highlight the level of naive intolerance an educated, qualified mind bears in this country.
It is high time that we realise that nationalism has no sacramental dimension. Nobody can and should compel us to worship a nation that is plagued by a multitude of flaws. Instead the nationalism we must uphold and practice is a version that questions every dogma, challenges every tradition and attacks every attempt at establishing a theorem for an ideal Indian to follow. As Indians we do have a lot to be proud of but while basking in our pride we must not ignore the elements that seem poised to permanently stain our glory. Today if an Indian does not feel goosebumps on hearing the national anthem he cannot be outrightly condemned as an anti-national. Whatever version of nationalism we preach and practice, it can never conceivably surmount the much greater ideal of humanism- something that the increasingly globalising nature of the world is sure to shed more light on in the time to come. Thus the meat of the matter is that in creating, nurturing and augmenting an unwavering sense of devotion and loyalty to our nation, we must not become oblivious to its sins: a true Indian need not stand up and salute the national flag, he need only stand up and object to anything and everything that defies logic and justice. A belligerent and blind cult of State worship will only serve to build  a facade of nationalism- an omnipotent, misconstrued, all pervading ideal that consumes the very entity it was meant to celebrate. Calls for an ism that nullifies the unifying power of a nation must be nipped in the bud. In other words, jingoistic tendencies must be suppressed and nationalism must be viewed in the right light failing which nationalism might survive but our nation shall not.
The author, Priyam Marik, is presently a student of English at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

A Long Sentence From Kashmir

As a criss-cross of lights
painfully dissects my room, while
I stay in the city of dreams,
far from my haunted home,
where stains of blood map
the journey of freedom from
one bondage to another,
so that every time
someone asks me if I feel
fortunate or unfortunate to
hail from what is called the
Paradise on Earth, I hold the
framed photograph of me
as a child of eight, standing
between doting parents with
skin whose surface is as
undulating as the landscape in
the backdrop and my pulse
generates shockwaves into that
little paradise of bygone eras –
shockwaves that slowly shatter
the picture-postcard dreams I
nurtured as a child,
reminding me of all those ideas
I could never protect against bullets,
ideas nonetheless that lurk
somewhere behind the mainstream
head of a woman with a nine-to-five
slavery of a job in an alien
city. I smile and say that
Home is no more a noun, but
an adjective that qualifies this
long sentence from Kashmir.

The poet, Meghna Roy, is a student of Sociology at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

The New ‘F’ Word

In the era of ‘progress’ and ‘equality’, any woman pointing out the mundane facts of life which still put women at a disadvantage is immediately labeled a ‘feminist’. Why this accusation or label? And why in fact has the word ‘feminist’ become the new ‘F’ word? Why do men steer clear of ‘feminists’? Why are some women proud and others ashamed to be ‘feminists’? To understand, we must look at the way the word has gained its present meaning.

Quite simply, feminism is the belief in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes. It describes a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women.

Although the terms ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ did not gain widespread use until the 1970s, they were already being used in the public parlance much earlier for instance; Katherine Hepburn speaks of ‘feminist movement’ in the 1942 film ‘Woman of the Year’. According to most experts and sociologists, the history of feminism can be divided into three waves.

First wave:

During the 19th and early 20th century in the UK and U.S.A, there was an extended period of feminist activity; this was referred to as the First Wave. Originally it focused on promoting equal contract and property rights for women and standing against chattel marriage and ownership of married woman along with their children by their husbands that was very prevalent during that time. But by the end of the 19th century the activism shifted focus to gaining more political power, particularly the right of women suffrage. In 1854, Florence Nightingale established female nurses as adjuncts to the military.

Second Wave:

The period of ‘feminist’ activity in the early 1960’s that lasted through the late 1980s was referred to as the Second wave. It has been suggested by scholars that is was a continuation of the earlier wave involving the suffragettes in the UK and the USA. Second wave feminism existed on its own during that time and then coexisted with what was later termed as Third wave feminism. This wave of feminism was mostly concerned with other issues of gender equality, a major point being ending discrimination. Famed feminist and author Carol Hanisch coined the slogan “The Personal is Political” in 1969. This slogan became synonymous with the second wave. Second wave feminists saw that women’s cultural and political inequalities were inextricably linked and they encouraged women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and reflecting sexist power structures.

French author, activist and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir wrote novels, monographs on philosophy, politics and social issues, essays, biographies and an autobiography. She is known for her 1949 treatise “The Second Sex” which was translated into English in 1953. It was a detailed analysis of women’s oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism. It set out a feminist existentialism which advised a moral revolution. He analysis focused on the social construction of women as the other sex. She identified this as fundamental to women’s oppression. She argued that throughout history, women have always been considered deviant and or abnormal. De Beauvoir argued that for feminism to move forward this attitude must be abolished.

The critically acclaimed book ‘The Feminine Mystique’ published in 1963 by Betty Friedan criticized the long standing idea that women could only find fulfillment through childrearing and homemaking. In her book Friedan says that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and find meaning in their lives only through their husbands and children. Such a flawed and destructive system causes women to completely lose their identity in that of their family. Friedan also specifically located this system among post-World War II middle-class suburban communities. It was during this time, America’s post-war economic boom had led to the development of new technologies that made household work less difficult, but at the same time resulted in making women’s work less meaningful and valuable.

Taken from Friedan’s obituary in The New York Times, The Feminine Mystique “ignited the contemporary women’s movement in 1963 and as a result permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world” and “is widely regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.”

Betty Friedan was also one of the 30 women who organized The National Organization for Women (NOW) and helped draft the founding statement. The statement called for “The true equality for all women”.

Third Wave:

It began in the early 1990s, the movement arose partially as a response to the perceived failures of and backlash against initiatives and movements created by the second wave. Third wave feminists believed there needed to be further changes in stereotypes and media portrayals to define women. The idea was to celebrate the diverse identities of women and abandon the “victim feminism” ideology. Third wave feminism also wanted to challenge what it deemed the second wave’s essentialist definitions of femininity which according to them over-emphasized the experience of upper middle class white women.

Third wave feminism focuses more on post-structuralist interpretation of gender and equality. Third wave feminist often focus on “micro-politics” and challenges the second wave’s paradigm as to what is, or is not, good for females. Third wave feminism has its origins in the mid 1980s. Many of the leaders, sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities. It attempts to expand the topic of feminism to include a diverse group of women with a diverse set of identities.

Third-wave feminism contains major internal debates between different feminists such as the psychologist and ethicist Carol Gilligan best known for her work on ethical community (who believes that there are important differences between the sexes) and those who believe that there are no inherent differences between the sexes and also believe that gender roles are only due to social conditioning.

Post-feminism:

Describes a range of viewpoints reacting to feminism. While not being “anti-feminist,” post-feminists believe that women have achieved second wave goals while being critical of third wave feminist goals. The term was first used in the 1980s to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism. Some post-feminists actually believe that feminism is irrelevant in today’s society.

One of the central points of tension confronting feminism in the modern age, and one that may define it going forward is the growing tendency of younger generations of women to untether feminism from its political and activist foundations.

Young women (and increasingly, men) are still coming to the movement in strong numbers, but this feminism looks different, in many ways, than that of earlier generations. This New Wave feminism is shaped less by a shared struggle against oppression than by a collective embrace of individual freedoms, concerned less with targeting narrowly defined enemies than with broadening feminism reach through inclusiveness, and held together not by a handful of national organizations and charismatic leaders but by the invisible bonds of the Internet and social media. This feminism stresses personal freedom as much as it does equality and, when infused with the younger generation’s bend toward inclusion, has the capacity to make room for feminists like Beyonce – even though older generations might not have permitted it.

The word itself- ‘feminist’ still is a sticking point for many, loaded with negative connotations, thanks at least in part to the efforts of influential right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who popularized the pejorative term feminazi with his listeners. The word “feminist” is increasingly associated with “feminazi” which is derogatory in ways and is giving the movement a bad reputation. Polls conducted in the U.S show that men and women strongly support feminist ideas – just not feminist labels. Most women refuse to identify with the term feminist due to the concept of an extreme and radical feminist. Most women believe in feminism, but do not obsess over it.

Some women see feminism as the ideology which allows them to do what they want within legal boundaries and about people not being defined by their biological differences. They prefer to keep it personal instead of participating in meetings, protests or rallies.

If feminism is more personal than collective now, then each woman’s experience has its own meaning. The belief of young generations the “feminism is not political” actually turns out to be “feminism is not only political”.

The leaders of 21st century feminism are rather out of touch with how most ordinary women live their lives. Some critics have rightly pointed out that a lot of key feminist issues are not actually “women’s issues”. Children, for instance, is a parents’ issue and rape and domestic violence are not crimes against women. They are simply crimes.

Like most other political or social movements, the feminist stretched it too far, with some extremists claiming that the existence of men is not required by women, which is rather radical. The backlash against such unnecessary issues is justifiable. However, conservative men and women, claiming feminism is utter rubbish is wrong too. Feminism is still required as there is a long way to go still with regards to equality of sexes and equal rights for women. As women, whether we choose to be ashamed of being called a feminist or we proclaim ourselves to be feminist, is inconsequential. What really matters is, if at heart we believe in equality and work for it. If we know our stand or the issue, labels do not really matter.

The author, Srishti Negal is presently a student of Political Science at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.