Language in U.S. Politics – Take 1

To inaugurate the recent ‘start’ (Memorial Day weekend) of the 2021 General Election primaries period, I’m going to be going over some reflections I’ve had whilst studying the last general election primaries – the one running up to the 2016 General Election (not quite yet available – will be soon).

Before wading into those waters, let’s give a bit of context.

Party sorting is a phenomenon defined as the progressive process of moderate liberal or conservative politics integrating themselves into bilateral parties commonly associated with the left or the right. Republican social liberals have increasingly “sorted themselves” and integrated themselves into the Democrats. And vice versa. This, acknowledged as the defining feature of US party politics’ recent history, has an increasingly concerning effect:  the loss of middle ground, of ‘cross-benchers’ that can ‘translate’ language, attitudes across each side and can ‘temper’ political conformist tendencies within their respective parties. Without these kinds, extremity becomes a norm, and scandal becomes a strategy for parties increasingly at odds with each other- not only because of their policies, but also because of their oppositional identities. It is here where “scandal” emerges as the most relevant means of communicating with voters – policy difference is self-evident, there is little overlap – so how do you win over voters from the other side?

You demonize the other side. You spin policy into a moral playing field, and solidify political debate within these terms. Political identities lose their dimensions and are ‘fetishized’, as moral scandals constantly push you to question the other sides’ very ethics – confirming your own sense of ethical superiority (The ‘scandal politics’ that emerged with Watergate – read more here.).

This emerged parallel to the increasing use of explicit forms of identity politics. These reinforcing mechanisms are seemingly everywhere – you and most others accept the seeming inevitability of these changes. And your identity is defined in opposition to other political kinds’ (i.e. you resist).

No wonder it is easy to fall under the sway of this kind of opposition language, the kind that doesn’t say much except for what you hope to hear: that all that contradicts your opinions is wrong – for those looking for your support, donations, vote, etc. the groundwork is solidly lain.