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,
‘I’m telling you, I used to use the word incompetent. Now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school. I’m 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.