Essay №6: A Warning

Rhetoric Matters


Anger. Anti-Establishment. Violence. Populism. Neither wing of the political spectrum is immune to the consequences of rhetoric. The importance of tone and communication is pivotal, and when misused it can foster an anger that can turn violent. Populism, like fascism, breeds a holistic view of how politics, government, society and the economy as a whole should be structured; without providing a definitive foundation. Populism, unlike fascism, calls for the removal of political establishment and is built on the precipice of anger and anti-establishment, without ever providing a specification for what should replace it.

If unity and division are viewed through the lens of a spectrum, populists and anti-establishment candidates would rest comfortably on the side of division. Whether it be the far-left or the far-right, candidates who run on a message resembling a revolution, extreme isolationism, or both, draft a social contract that is etched in fear and anger. Violence is the sum of the equation of anger and fear. When candidates attack the social contract of civility in politics, the result is the sum.

The problem with populists, aside from the violence they can perpetuate, is that they build their legitimacy on their viewpoint being the moral one. They divide the electorate on values, not political party. For example, if a candidate of any given political party, during a campaign, creates a level of separation from the party they seek to represent, by restructuring the narrative from “Democrat” to who is more “progressive,” air on the side of caution. Support that is built on fear and anger is not support, it is a variable in the equation for violence. While a populist candidate may not win the election, they will more often than not claim victory that their “revolution” will continue and “never end,” and that the victory “belongs to you. It belongs to everyone.

Our political parties, our candidates, our voters, our citizens, must decide what kind of language we are going to use in our political discourse. Danger is when candidates wage war on the free press to foster decisive language of elitism and classism. While critiques on the media can be appropriate and dialogue about classism are needed, the language in which we use to enhance these dialogues must advance discourse not anger. It is easy to create rhetoric and language that bolsters “establishment"; while as a candidate, making voters believe that you are separate from the government you seek to represent, building upon a deceptive sense of false morality. Populism is a political tactic that preys on the insecurities of voters. Our democracy and institutions depend on the deviation from this political tactic.

If a candidate is willing to use language such as “revolution” or “carnage,” they must understand the political atmosphere they are helping to create. Passive justification of words that are rooted in fear and anger, help yield violence. If a candidate is willing to callously use this type of language, without justification, they need to be willing to accept the consequences that these words create. Regret which follows violence, triggered by a neglect use of rhetoric, is simply not enough. We must be wise with our words, and understand that language is the catalyst to action. Words and language empower people. Words empower action. Words empower voting. Words can both inspire and yield violence.