Note the data in the table below from the Pew Foundation. There have been more than a few stories written about how Trump is a monster created by the Republican Party. Let’s take a closer look at just what the Republican Party has created and why. There are lots of reasons but let’s focus on two. First, the Republicans have simply failed to appeal to Hispanics and minorities even though their after action report from the 2012 election recognized this problem. They did little or nothing about it. 86% of Republicans or those leaning that way are White where only 57% of Democrats are White. Curiously, the Republicans should be able to appeal to Latinos who are family oriented, religious, and patriotic to the extent that they oppose leftist regimes. There are two prominent Republicans in Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who could be electable if conditions were right. The Democrats have begun to include minorities more into the family tent and these minorities recognize their own progress – Donald Trump’s claims that their schools and inner cities are a mess notwithstanding.
Moreover, the Republicans began to run more on moral and social (guns, God, and gays) issues then on economic ones. The angry less educated white male strand of Republican has countered any genuine Republican attempts to include minorities because of their racism and general rejection of the argument that immigration is good for America rather than bad. The foreign-policy hawks in the Republican Party are an attractive appeal for many Americans, and can resonate with American strength, but this group has essentially been co-opted by Hillary Clinton.
Bill Clinton moved to the party to the center and brought in more professionals leaving working-class whites to find a place in the Republican Party. These working-class whites have been frustrated by the Republicans who promised to look after their interests but haven’t done so very successfully. So this group had one more reason to radicalize and movements such as a Tea Party began to emerge and differences between minorities and whites and Republicans and Democrats began to polarize even further.
The table below strongly illustrates this polarization. The blue dots represent Clinton supporters and the red dots Trump supporters. Look at the differences between the two on a few key issues that are ideological in nature. Statements about how wasteful government is and should be smaller are dramatically associated with Republicans (83% and 87% agree). And statements about how government should help the needy and regulate business (most associated with Democrats) are strongly supported by Democrats over Republicans (72% and 70%). These patterns in the electorate are the reason Donald Trump was so successful in the primaries. Moreover, rather than finding a candidate who genuinely coalesced around cultural and economic issues Trump represents fear and nationalism. How is a political party supposed to get anything done when they express such disdain for government?
Trump’s populist nationalism makes us particularly vulnerable because the public currently has so little confidence in many American institutions such as the courts, the presidency, public schools, and banks. When the golden haired man comes on TV and tells you that nothing is your fault – it’s all the fault of immigrants, elites, and the media – there’s plenty of people who will listen.
In the classical literature on rhetoric there is a concept called “muted eloquence.” The term is attributable to Rousseau and is part of the common distinction between reason and emotion or appeals to rationality versus attempts to arouse interests and stir passions in order to induce conformity. There’s always been this argument between those who champion the unadorned use of reason – as if humans were all mind – and persuasion that induces change through baser and more primitive appeals to passions. We can see this distinction borne out between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with Hillary more oriented toward (although not completely) defensible reason and Trump who was almost completely consumed by stirring tribal emotions as opposed to reason-based policy analysis.
The distinction is also one made between “persuading” and “convincing.” Again, persuasion is affecting change through typical appeals to emotions, passions, and the like; and convincing is the act of completely reconstituting the psyche and will of the other by giving them new content and reconstituting their consciousness. Classical scholars argue this point because they were deeply divided with respect to the primary avenue of change that citizens were capable of. Some argued that the highest form of reason was convincing which led to the purest and most accurate formation of preferences and opinions. Others challenge the ability of humans to be reasonable in the purest sense and argued that legislators and leaders needed to find a way to “persuade without convincing” because the only way to effect change was through appeals to the passions on an equal level with reason. Most people were deeply flawed, as the argument went, with respect to their ability and receptiveness to “pure” reason. Persuasion could be musical and non-rational even at the risk of potential fanaticism. Charismatic leaders aroused deeper and more immediate passions in listeners, and their oratory was musical in the same way that chanting could be prophetic of charismatic religious figures. They did not use rationality to convince but persuasion to move. Mohammed and Moses are examples of the link between reason and passion and illustrations of how stirring the passions can lead to fanaticism.
I certainly would not call the oratory of Donald Trump musical but it does function the same way in that it is processed holistically and produces a gut pre-rational passion. “Muted eloquence” is when a visual sign has a sense of immediacy and impact. It is when some physical object or image communicates with a powerful effect. So, for example, The King cuts down the tallest flowers in the garden as a message to kill his enemies. In the movie “the Godfather” when a smelly fish wrapped in newsprint arrives at the door the character Tessio explains “it means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” The message that Luca Brasi is dead and his body dumped in the ocean is semantically ratified by the dead fish. It is a mute wisdom that speaks clearer and more powerfully than a long discourse. These visual signs are a form of persuasion that differs from the ideal of reasoned discourse.
We pivot to Donald Trump surrounded by three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault. They were then seated in the audience for the debate. The presence of these women was supposed to attenuate Trump’s behavior and signify sexual malpractice in Hillary’s case in addition to Trump. And even though these women are accusing Bill Clinton not Hillary just the image of sexual impropriety is supposed to be a form of muted eloquence designed to associate blame and shame with Hillary, and as a piece of evidence that Trump is no different than anyone else. Even though Trump is the sexist perpetrator here he sought to bathe himself in the victimhood of other woman.
The alleged rapist of one of the women, Kathy Shelton, was defended by Hillary and acquitted. Hillary was little more than the court-appointed attorney and she was fulfilling his constitutional right to legal counsel. But such argument seeks conviction rather than persuasion. Her innocence in the Kathy Shelton case is logically and rationally undeniable, but the muted eloquence of Trump’s debate has closed off appeals to conviction.
The brazen and stunning stunt struck at the core of our unhinged national consciousness, a consciousness increasingly reason-free.
Most pundits figured if Trump could tie his shoes then he would have the most to gain from the debate. He really did have a lot to gain by appearing presidential and in control but the issue is of course whether or not he actually maintained any sense of presidential decorum. He didn’t.
Presidential debates are mostly spectacle and this one was no different. Sure, Hillary won especially if you keep score according to a debate coach’s tally sheet of arguments and counter arguments. Presidential debates such as these are not interested in who comes up with a better argument but rather who can make the other look bad.
But the public anticipates debates with a certain amount of enthusiasm. It’s a contest between democracy’s formidable gladiators; there is an underdog challenger doing battle with a superior opponent and we talk about debates with all the war metaphors we can muster. There are “attacks,” and “aggression,” along with “victors and the vanquished.” We would be better off viewing the debates as platforms to make judgments about individuals leading to a decision about which candidate is best. The “winner-loser” frame extends the war metaphor but also causes us to watch it like a horse race constantly attending to who is ahead and who is behind rather than learning something about the issues.
But still, debates contribute to voter knowledge and the acquisition of information. It is true enough that journalism rarely these days considers itself to be a platform for issues and deliberative consideration. So debates have slightly appropriated this role. The debates give us an opportunity for a raw look at the candidates including how they appear on TV, how they handle themselves spontaneously, and general issues of charisma and attraction. This is an important and satisfying counterpoint to political ads which are strategically constructed and designed to be manipulative and the voters know it. It is quite easy to dismiss candidate commercials but less so for debates because of their increased perception of authenticity.
So what did we see the other night and how does it fit in with some of the research on debates?
Even though debates are known to reinforce partisan preferences, the first Clinton-Trump debate transcended that conclusion because Hillary sliced and diced Trump. She set traps (the coming Miss Universe interview), behaved more politely, had very few fact checking problems, appeared composed and in control, unhinged him a few times as was the debate plan, and spent more time on policy.
Dorothy Rabinowitz – of the conservative Wall Street Journal of all places – wrote that Hillary is the only thing that stands between the United States and the “reign of the most unstable, proudly uninformed, psychologically unfit president ever to enter the White House.” Since in one study almost 30% of the viewing audience considers the presidential debates more helpful than talk shows or advertising spots, this means that a lot of people witnessed the Hillary performance in the debate. And given that the viewership was the biggest in history (over 80 million viewers) she was in a position to reintroduce herself to many people.
Presidential debates also produce multiplier effects. This means that post debate citizen communication about political issues is stimulated. The debate induces communication. And this post debate communication is one way that partisan preferences are mediated. In other words, debates because of information processing and selection biases are strongly implicated in reinforcing existing partisan biases. But these effects are mediated by post debate conversation. As citizens engage others, especially if this engagement represents some sense of substantive exchange, then partisan positions are challenged. From my own experience anyway, the Clinton-Trump post debate interactions were robust. This of course has something to do with Trump’s media presence and inimitable personality along with the uniquely personal and conflict oriented nature of the campaign. Nevertheless, it prompted post debate conversation relative to the issues people are thinking about.
One might continue to think, in naïve rationality, that Trump will make the necessary adjustments but it’s getting late and first debates are the most watched as the audience trails off for the next two. But we will tune in waiting for some sort of catastrophe that we can talk about after the debate.
Word around the campfire is that the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump this Monday night the 26th might be the most watched television program in history. Both candidates have an appeal to the various audiences that make up the United States (not to mention the world) beginning with Trump’s narcissistic populism and rank self-aggrandizement, and including Hillary’s “bitch persona” as Andi Zeisler explains in the New York Times.
The debate will devolve into two general strategic thrusts. One, we will at least fantasize about meeting our expectations on policy and issue stances. There will be some attempts to win debate points by a rather straightforward exchange of a few facts and arguments. But don’t expect this to last long and while this clearly favors Hillary it could work against her. Hillary Clinton is soaked in policy issues and Donald Trump doesn’t stand a chance. She is the grown up version of the high school debater carrying around a large suitcase of information and just waiting to pull out a little 3 x 5 fact card. I’m sure, bless her heart, she still thinks this form of discourse matters much. Somewhere in her soul she still believes that if she has one better fact than Trump, or makes the slightly better argument then she will “win.”
The problem is people don’t pay much attention to this form of communication any longer. Most of the population is incapable of taking part in such argument and, more to the point, don’t want to. Paradoxically, Hillary’s superior control of the substantive issues will do little more than classify her as “boring” or a “Washington policy wonk” who doesn’t understand the needs of real people. Moreover, Trump can escape this aspect of the debates unscathed because the expectations for him on these matters are so low. Even when it turns out he doesn’t know the difference between Turkey and his Thanksgiving meal he will emerge undamaged.
I suppose it is possible that Trump will pull an all-nighter and study for his big exams but I doubt it. This would be too against character. In fact, it might not serve him well because it would be contrary to his authenticity image which is based on a lack of fancy knowledge. Trump will do well if he just maintains some sense of equanimity. Then again, this too is against character.
But the name calling, personal attacks, and bullying will be the real fun. Both candidates have been wounded often enough that they take the shots pretty well. Trump will clearly try to bully Hillary but she’s also capable of being tough. This worked for Trump in the primaries and I’m sure he will continue to do “what got him here.” Trump will be at some disadvantage because of the moderator system rather me rabble rousing crowds. This is likely to subdue him which does not work to his advantage.
Hillary has to continue to drive home the theme that Trump lacks the manners and temperament to be president. Following the convention when she unleashed an aggressive series of ads around this theme was the time in which she had 10 point leads in the polls. These leads began to dissipate as soon as she scaled back that message. If Trump is calm on Monday night and even slightly appears presidential then that will be the best argument against Hillary’s claim that he is unfit for the job.
Unfortunately, the only way for Hillary Clinton to gain ground during the debate is to cause Trump to lose his temper or say something so outrageous that it reinforces Hillary’s claim that he is unfit for the job. Considered policy analysis and reasonable arguments that take place in the shiny and clean debating halls of justice are Hillary’s strength, but she’ll have to play outside in the dirt to beat Trump.
It is fashionable – especially for liberal academics – to decry the current state of politics crouching in fear as the beast Donald Trump slouches toward Bethlehem. The center is no longer holding. But just because it’s “fashionable” doesn’t make it any less true. Trump is a unique candidate who represents the accumulated intellectual and linguistic decline that has been fomenting in the background for a few decades.
This undercurrent has been creeping up on the culture but hiding itself in the small interactions of people, commercial culture, and media that structure and reproduce the nature of society. For example, a few of what we thought were ongoing debates or genuine contentions in our political culture that require critical analysis and defensible conclusions have now been either settled or are leaning so far in one direction as to constitute a tide. So, there was once a debate between “bias” and “objectivity” the goal of which was to clarify objectivity or move toward it as much as possible. But we woke up one morning and the tables were turned telling us that objectivity didn’t exist and everything was biased. The only issue was whose bias was going to overwhelm the other. Argument, the foundation of democratic processes and quality decision-making, has been enervated because when everything is considered “just your opinion” or “just the way you see things” then even quality evidence-based argument loses its standing. The best thinking is easy to ignore because there are no standards of objectivity only degrees of bias.
There also used to be a boundary between entertainment and civic life. Even the most insightful political operative did not assume that Trump’s television show “The Apprentice” would be a launching pad for his presidential run. But when exposure and recognition become equivalent to knowledge of history, politics, and policy then appearing on television is just as good. The increasing ease with which exposure is conflated with competence is one of those undercurrents that has finally bubbled to the surface as commercial media, and the logic of its presentation structure, has become the dominant form of information processing and organization.
Additionally, it is remarkable how the public has been separated into fact universes. People live in their own information enclave that includes a collection of their own facts and interpretations – or at least conclusions they believe to be facts. Somehow we got to the point where rather than observing and gathering facts and information and then interpreting upwards toward a conclusion, we start with conclusions and reason downward looking for confirming facts and ideas. We criticize politicians who change their mind rather than respecting them for learning something and adjusting accordingly. It is all part of the post-truth society.
Finally, and by way of one more example, the quality of public discourse (e.g. presidential speeches and advertisements) has shifted shapes so that now it looks more like bloated rhetoric then considered analysis. Trump is of course a good example of a speaker who is so befuddled that he has little left to do but lash out and call names. He reflects a specialized strand of reality, one in which when you are wrong you blame reality rather than yourself. It is the ultimate in the common characterization of Trump as a narcissist.
Trump continues to use fear appeals and scare tactics when it comes to Muslims and terror. And while he is minimally effective – and getting less so every day – his supporters are sympathetic others who are increasingly misinformed about terror and Islam. A piece of video footage showing Trump supporters at a rally had one fellow screaming at another that Islam was an “ideology.” The point was that Islam is a nefarious set of beliefs and practices designed to manipulate you into its belief system.
The dilemma here is that defining Islam as violent justifies an armed response when, in fact, the only response that will be effective is a long-term war of ideas pitting *Islamist extremism against liberal democracies. As Gutmann and Thompson have claimed in their highly recommended book Democracy and Disagreement,“of the challenges that American democracy faces today, none is more formidable than the problem of moral disagreement.” In other words, those who have sacred values and are what Scott Atran calls “devoted actors” rather than “rational actors” pose the biggest challenge to liberal democracies because conflicts over fundamental values are so resistant to resolution. You cannot simply subject the moral disagreement to the rational calculations of the marketplace.
But if wanton murder of men, women, and children is so fundamental to Islam why is it such a recent phenomenon on the world stage? Why doesn’t “jihadism” as it has come to be known have long history? Typically, Islamist terror is first associated with the 1979 Iranian revolution. But even the Iranian revolution can be analyzed as a clash of political ideologies where Islamists attach themselves to religious sounding terminology (“infidels,” “holy wars,” “party of God”) in order to give themselves religious justification.
It is true enough that Islamism is really a totalitarian movement that has hijacked some religious terminology in an effort to alter traditional Islam and challenge Western democracies. But Boroumand and Boroumand writing in the Journal of Democracy make the following emphatic statement and I quote in full:
“There is in the history of Islam no precedent for the utterly unrestrained violence of Al Qaeda or Hezbollah… To kill oneself while wantonly murdering women, children, and people of all religions and descriptions… has nothing to do with Islam and one does not have to be a learned theologian to see this… The truth is that contemporary Islamist terror is an eminently modern practice thoroughly at odds with Islamic traditions and ethics” (p.6).
I don’t mean to imply that traditional Islamic religious teachings hold an inclusive democratic vision for the world or that it resonates with contemporary ideas about liberal democracies and human rights. But the long view of any religious evolution has it moving toward a widening circle of inclusion and dignity for others. As of now, there are more than a few Islamic countries that are pluralistic but have no political concept of “pluralism.” For this reason they define rigid group boundaries and more nascent forms of control.
But as with most of the issues in this election, Trump is not the answer to anything.
*Terminology note: I use “Islamist” or “Islamism” to refer to those extreme groups or ideologies that justify violence and cherry pick the Koran to give their ideology a religious sounding façade. The term “Islamic” refers to the long political, religious, and scholarly tradition of institutional Islam.
When Donald Trump proposed that Ghazala Khan – the Muslim Goldstar mother of Captain Humayun Khan who was killed in Iraq – was not allowed to speak, ostensibly because of Muslim sexist control of women, he dehumanized Mrs. Khan. Interestingly, Trump dehumanized Mrs. Khan by assuming that Islam was responsible for her dehumanization thus projecting the issue to the foreground.
To “dehumanize” someone is typically thought of as portraying the other person as uncivilized and animal-like. It has historically been used to explain the psychological changes in individuals during times of war or atrocity. In order for genocide and mass murder to take place the perpetrator must see his enemy as less than human and thereby more deserving of being killed. And, dehumanization helps perpetrators justify their behavior since they are not taking the life of a “real” human being.
But in recent decades researchers have been more interested in subtle forms of dehumanization in which human characteristics (such as emotions) are denied to some other individual or group. This can happen on an individual as well as group basis. Freedom of expression, for example, is considered a natural “human” right and it is “dehumanizing” to deny the right. Most research is on racial and ethnic groups. For example, studies show that the association of one ethnic group with an animal (e.g. Blacks with apes) causes significant perceptual distortions such as the overestimation of children ages and criminal culpability. Such research helps explain police violence and the disparities of police violence toward different groups (for a review of dehumanization research see Haslam and Stratemeyer).
Immigrants and asylum-seekers are also dehumanized (Trump calling Mexicans coming over the border “rapists” and “drug dealers”) as well as an increasing number of groups such as psychiatric patients, homeless people, gay men, and older adults. Although dehumanization is related to stereotypes, they are not equivalent since it is possible to stereotype without dehumanizing and vice versa. Moreover, keep in mind that “super humanizing” someone is equally as dehumanizing since it defines them as “other than human.” The ascription of superhuman physical or sexual qualities to an ethnic group diminishes the recognition of their experience of pain and their capacities for sensitivity.
The consequences of dehumanizing are serious and persistent. More than a few studies report how dehumanization leads to increased punishment because offenders are considered less than human, as well as the endorsement of extralegal behavior such as torture for terrorists. Trump’s dehumanization of Mrs. Khan perpetuated a stereotype designed to challenge the authenticity of their sacrifice, and to categorize the Khans in such a way as to make them less deserving of sympathy. Individuals or groups who are dehumanized are assumed to be less worthy of respect and conciliation.
The combination of stereotypes and dehumanization makes for an explosive mixture producing distorted perceptions and easy justification of violence. But even in situations where violence is less implicated (the Trump example) there is a sort of psychological violence that makes it easier to overlook or ignore the potential for aggression and cognitive distortions.
The below was first posted in March of 2014. Thought it would have new interest given events in Turkey.
The photograph above is of Fethullah Gulen who Victor Gaetan writing in Foreign Affairs compared to the Muslim Martin Luther. Interestingly, I have been writing a little bit about Gulen recently in a book that I’m finishing up and during my research I had become a little intrigued with Gulen. You can find the article in Foreign Affairs here.
A typical descriptive statement about Islam over the last decade is that it never experienced a Reformation. It is true enough that Sufi-ism and scholars such as Said Nursi inspired new more humane schools of thought but they remain marginalized. Much of Islam, not all, is harsh and rooted in the political and military conditions of the ancient world and there has never been a moderation of these tenets by a Muslim Martin Luther. There has never been a Muslim Reformation. Martin Luther was an influential and controversial figure in the Christian Reformation movement. He was responsible for entire new lines of thinking in Christianity and set in motion a sort of enlightenment. Luther had a desire for people to feel closer to God and this led him to translate the Bible into the language of the people, radically changing the relationship between church leaders and their followers. Martin Luther is generally associated with rooting out corruption, preventing religion from being used as a tool for political power, and humanizing the church his anti-Semitism notwithstanding.
Even at the risk of exaggeration, many feel the contemporary version of the Muslim Martin Luther is Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is a Turk who has been in the United States since 1999. He has worked to promote a modern school of Islam and is an Islamic intellectual committed to secular education, economic development, democracy, and acceptance of scientific knowledge.
Gulen has taught that Islam should devote more energy to public service and be separated from politics as much as possible. His emphasis on helping others and doing good deeds in the community is consistent with much Koranic teaching and directs attention away from political organization. This is in sharp contrast to the Muslim Brotherhood whose ascendancy in the last half-century has argued that the state should be Islamic and armed struggle is a moral and spiritual obligation. Moreover, Gulen is committed to education, including science and math, and has over 1000 schools around the world with video and instructional material made easily available to students.
As you might imagine, Gulen is not popular with modern-day Islamists. He has been exiled in the United States for many years and clashed with Erdogan over foreign-policy and authoritarian politics. Gulen is a strong supporter of democratic dialogue and he has chastised Turkey and other Islamic countries for poor treatment of journalists and a failure to engage sufficient constituencies over issues such as the Gezi Park protests.
The Gulen movement upholds numerous liberal conditions such as the belief in the intellect and the fact that individuals are characterized by free will and responsibility to others. Not all of Islam divides the world up into categories such as dar al-harb (the house of war) and dar al-Islam (the house of peace) but understands humans as more coherent and integrated. A verse in the Koran states that “there is no compulsion in religion” which emphasizes the individual intellect and freedom of choice.
Gulen is both careful and brave. He will not be intimidated and continues to speak up even in the face of the easy violence that could confront him. While Erdogan continues to clamp down on Turkey with Internet censorship and control of the judiciary, Gulen continues to infuse Islam with the teachings of tolerance and democratic sensibility.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have to get over their aversion to loss. This is difficult because research on cognitive processing and decision-making indicates that people fear loss more than they value gain. Both sides have tried to minimize loss rather than take the risks of possible gains. The two-state solution – whose death is premature and has been exaggerated – will require both sides to operate against their natural inclinations.
But the two-state solution is the only real answer. It’s the only way both groups maintain their identity and have the opportunity to cultivate their own history, culture, and literature. And it certainly is the only way Israel remains democratic and Jewish. There is no way Israel can be a reasonably ethical liberal state if it has to lord over a minority group that challenges the nature of the state and whose religion and national history is contrary to the state. Below is an abbreviated account of some basic assumptions and principles that will facilitate the establishment of two states. Again, for this to work both sides have to orient toward gain rather than loss. For more and related information see the Quartet report.
- The Israelis and the Palestinians must begin by mutually agreeing and understanding that peace and solutions to their problems cannot be achieved with force. They can only be achieved by consistent recognition of both sides and freedom from violence.
- Both sides should reaffirm the unacceptability of acquiring territory by force. This includes the settlements whose legal standing might be a matter of argument but clearly are a serious threat to any comprehensive peace.
- The matter of refugees must be settled and both sides will lose a little. Israel will provide compensation and readmit a small number of people, and the Palestinians will surely not flood the state of Israel with large numbers of descendants and families claiming property rights.
- Efforts at Palestinian state building must be recognized and supported by international organizations as well as Israel. Palestine must make progress on the matter of developing institutions (educational, cultural, state) that are stable and consistent with the constitution of the state.
- The two sides must solve the problem such that it is an “end of conflict” status. In other words, they need to satisfy the obligations and expectations of both sides and resolve any questions of recognition, political status, and legitimate demands. This includes a negotiated end of conflict including issues related to refugees, borders, and legal standing. This end of conflict status will be based on the following issues:
- All planks of a negotiated end of conflict are facilitative of the desire to establish democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous states.
- Clear recognition of borders along the 1967 border guidelines with the acceptance of agreed-upon exchanges and swaps.
- Specified security arrangements.
- Rigorous control of terrorism.
- An agreement as to the status of Jerusalem which might include sharing Jerusalem as the capital of two states.
- Firm and fair agreements on outstanding issues related to water, electricity, and environmental concerns.
- Firm restraints on the incitement of violence.
For some period of time after negotiated agreements the two polities will engage in trust and confidence building designed to develop an atmosphere of cooperation. The two sides will work to achieve the full potential and possibilities of neighborly relations. This will include the development, for example, of trade and educational exchanges as well as systematic efforts to learn about the other culture.
Of course, many of these will be difficult to achieve and there will always be those who claim naïveté with respect to actually solving this prototypical intractable conflict. But if you have another way, show me.
One of the divides that has emerged more starkly from the Brexit debate and the candidacy of Donald Trump is the distinction between elite and popular discourse. Just being overly general for the moment, elite discourse is most associated with the educated and professional classes and is characterized by what is considered to be acceptable forms of argument, the use of evidence, the recognition of complexity, and articulation. Popular discourse is more ethnopolitical and nationalistic. It is typically characterized by binary thinking, a simpler and more reductive understanding of the issue, and an ample amount of cognitive rigidity makes it difficult to change attitudes. To be sure, this is a general characterization because both genres are capable of each.
Still, consistent with the well-known polarization of society is the withdrawal of each side into a comfortable discourse structure where the two codes are increasingly removed from one another and the gap between them cannot be transcended very easily.
Additionally, elite and popular discourses share some different sociological and economic orientations. Elites are more cosmopolitan and popular is more local and nationalistic. Elites live in more urban centers and are comfortable with and exposed regularly to diversity. Those who employ more popular discourse tend to live in smaller towns and are more provincial. They seem to resist cultural change more and are less comfortable with diversity.
These two orientations toward language divide the leave-remain vote over Brexit and the electorate that characterizes the differences between Clinton and Trump. But this distinction is more than a socioeconomic divide that reflects some typical differences between people. It symbolizes the polarization currently characterizing American politics and has the potential to spiral into dangerous violence as the “popular” form of discourse becomes more “nationalistic.” It lowers the quality of public discourse and typically degenerates into even more rigid differences and stereotypical exemplars of elite and popular discourse. Nationalist discourse substitutes close minded combativeness for elite debate which can be passionate but is geared toward deliberative conversation that can be constructive. Nationalism is the deep sense of commitment a group has to their collective including territory, history and language. When national “consciousness” sets in then one nation is exalted and considered sacred and worthy of protection even in the face of death. Trump’s catchphrase “make America great again” or “let’s take our country back” or his appeals to separation and distinctiveness by building walls that clearly demark “us” and “them” are all examples of a nationalist consciousness that glorifies the state.
The nationalism espoused by Trump and the “leave” camp during Britain’s vote on the EU question are the primary impediments to consolidating, integrating, and strengthening democracies. All states with any sort of diverse population must establish a civil order that protects those populations; that is, no society will remain integrated and coherent if it does not accommodate ethnic diversity. At the moment, Trump’s rhetoric is divisive and representative of a tribal mentality that clearly wants to separate in many ways various communities in the US. Trump’s references to Mexicans, Jews, Muslims, for example betrays his own nationalistic sentiments.
The two ways to handle ethnic diversity are either pluralistic integration or organizational isolation of groups. Isolating and separating groups is inherently destabilizing and foment ripe conditions for violence. Building a wall and making determinations about who can enter the United States and who can’t are all examples of isolating groups. Intensifying nationalist discourse and the privileging of rights for a dominant group is fundamentally unsustainable.
This gap in the United States between an elite discourse and the nationalist discourse has grown wider and deeper. Each side snickers at the other’s orientation toward language and communication and continues the cycle by reinforcing the superiority of his own discursive position.