The 2008 Presidential election campaign’s dominant buzzwords were “Change” and Hope” (Obama) and “Reform, Prosperity, and Peace” (McCain). In 2012 Obama used “Forward” and “Believe” and Romney employed “Restore” as their key mantras. In the 2016 campaign that we are knee-deep into, the overriding slogans heard are “Fear” and “Distrust.”
All these words and slogans speak to human emotions. The phrases and words most prominent in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns were mostly positive and uplifting, promising better times ahead. Not so in this 2016 campaign: the rhetoric used this year is stirring up extraordinary levels of anger. While anger and heightened emotions are part of most every political campaign, the number of people caught up in such extremes is usually a low percentage with these folks being categorized as the fringe or outsiders. Not so this year, however, as there seems to be an inordinate number of angry people out there and as a result, more reasoned judgments are being replaced by heightened emotional reactions. Is this year an exception as to the typical campaigns’ level of anger – or is it perhaps pretty much the same old story only retold? Let’s take a look.
Vehement disagreements over ideologies and policies have always been the meat of national elections with the opponents sparing very little in disparaging each other’s stances but also their character. A prominent example of this goes back to the election campaign of 1800 when Thomas Jefferson was pitted against President John Adams. The following was reprinted from an Internet website, Mental Floss:
“Jefferson …accused Adams of having a ‘hideous hermaphroditical (look this one up!) character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In return, Adams’ men called Jefferson ‘a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.’ As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.”
Today’s batch of mud seems somewhat watered down compared to the above Jefferson/Adams mix. Today’s accusations of “liar,” “dishonest,” “ hypocrites,” “phoney,” “con man,” “Wall Street Pawn” are probably standard for most of the previous presidential campaigns. Yet, today’s level of anger is clearly much higher than in the recent past. It seems that just about everybody is mad at someone, some faction, including even the candidates of their own parties. Let’s take a look at what so many people are angry about. These issues may or may not have validity, but they certainly have lit fires in many a belly of today’s voters:
The Have-nots are shut out from the American dream by the “‘one percenters.”
You and your greedy Wall Street friends caused the great recession of 2008.
Corporations that give you millions for your campaign care only about profits and they have shipped millions of our good jobs overseas!
The Washington establishment cares only for feathering its nest, disregarding the needs of the American people.
The Dems want only to control every aspect of our economy and culture.
The Republicans favor the rich at the expense of the poor.
If you do not favor free college education and a single-payer health system, you have no compassion for people.
The current administration has failed to protect our nation by taking firm action in world affairs.
Your arrogant, brash man would alienate all the world leaders, isolating the U.S. to its peril.
We need to protect our workers by playing tough with our trading partners and slap them with onerous tariffs.
Your man (or woman) would continue to allow illegal immigrants to flood into our country, bankrupting our social services, schools, and culture.
Are these unrestrained charges not what we are hearing today, raising our dander temperature to hot? And who is it that is inflaming and separating us into angry factions? Why, it is the very candidates themselves! Today as never before, the U.S. electorate is being manipulated by the negative, false, dishonest, debasing campaign tactics of both parties. And, here’s the painful rub: IT IS WORKING!