It may not be a demonic clown, but a real evil force is spreading round town and killing our democratic sap
It has been revealed that in the spring of 2015, with over a year until polling day, as Hillary Clinton was deciding whether to run for the presidency, she and her team were at odds. Clinton wanted her speech writers to write a speech that would place her into the history books.
Rewind to 2008. After losing to Obama in the democratic primaries, she began to review what went wrong and decided that a divided team led to damaging leaks that proved detrimental. She also wanted to emulate the success that Obama had in being able to connect with the electorate. Despite hiring the man behind many of America’s past presidential speeches (who incidentally later resigned from the Clinton campaign), even he couldn’t craft the prose Hillary wanted.
After countless sleepless nights and fracases within the team, the speech that culminated was nothing short of a mess. It lacked the vital lines that would explain why Clinton wanted to become president and what she could do for America.
One of the reasons for this was that Hillary had struggled to explain the main aims of her presidency to her team. Instead, she chose to focus with her close aides on microscopic details in policy. Clinton was a candidate who preferred to discuss the nuances of complex policies rather than shout catchy but memorable slogans.
In contrast, Donald Trump ran a campaign that rarely discussed policy and certainly never detailed any of his plans. He achieved this by reviving Reagans’s patriotic slogan: Make America Great Again! Something that successfully pulled at the heartstrings of many Americans who felt neglected by an elite, of which Clinton was seen to be a part of.
Similarly, in the EU Referendum and the recent election when I talked to voters about the choices they were making, many of them failed to spell out the economic complexities of the single market (few knew what it was) or the advantages of nationalising the railways. Instead, voters simplified their explanations by stating that they wanted to take back control or make Britain a fairer place — each of these slogans as lucid as they were vacuous.
Are the electorate choosing to be blindly engulfed by the emotive force of slogans rather than listen to politicians like Clinton explain in detail the complexities of the Trans Pacific Trade Deal?
This is a very damaging conclusion about the quality of our democratic debate. Nowadays, instead of choosing to argue or debate our points we find ourselves ignoring the opposition’s figures or information, responding instead with vacuous slogans. Even more worryingly this means that we are now not listening to the opposing sides and not taking part in real debate. As a result, democracy is weakened and the electorate are making dangerously uninformed choices. For democracy to function there has to be a debate, where two or more opposing sides listen to each other and chose to accept a common ground in facts.
Another consequence is that in our refusal to debate we are narrowing what we hear. By being deaf to the opposition, we begin to surround ourselves with people who say and act like we do, all believing in the same blind slogan. This is what leads to extremism. After the Finsbury Park mosque terror, the husband of Jo Cox appeared on BBC NEWS to speak about extremism. He explained how the demise of workers’ clubs and village pubs has led people to become more reclusive, and that means making it easier to isolate yourself from opposition.
The result is that voters are becoming surrounded by those who won’t challenge their beliefs or views, and this leads to two things:
Firstly, the belief that everyone you know is normal. And that anyone who disagrees with you, particularly those ‘liberal liars’ on the news, are somehow not human. In recent months I’ve seen BBC journalists described as monsters and inhuman, and some politicians receiving vile racist and sexist abuse, usually on Twitter.
Secondly, it leads to the growth of fake news. As the electorate narrows its scope of acceptable people, it can no longer tolerate dissonance of information, no matter how factually correct it is.
As a result, these voters look towards sites like Canary news that knowingly publish lies to backup their fragile views of the world. This kind of extremism isn’t as dangerous as Islamic extremism, but it is the beginning of a similar downward spiral — the limiting of sources of information and individuals falling deaf to and isolating themselves from different views.
It would be hyperbolic to suggest democracy is entering a place of no return. Nevertheless, this trend of isolationism by voters is growing. Likewise, it would be wrong to suggest that recent voting patterns have been heavily affected by fake news — since many voters still read respectable newspapers and watch factual news programmes.
These lies will eventually unravel. I suspect Corbyn’s promise to abolish tuition fees may be an example of this should Labour be elected. When these promises prove false, perhaps the governing parties will face a bigger revolution than anything a referendum can create. A revolution built on anger and a feeling of being deceived. Or the revolution will be prevented, by Britain following America’s example in the creation of bias media news channels like Fox News or the liberal MSNBC. Either way, both prospects are alarming.
The Washington Post has a new strapline: ‘democracy dies in darkness’ . It does. Worryingly, we are nearing a stage where the electorate will make their uniformed choices in darkness. And after that, we face the possibility of an upheaval against the ruling elite, filled with passionate anger and fury. Passion is the strongest catalyst to stir a debate, and the hardest to quell.
As experts warn, we are becoming increasingly isolated from our neighbours. We are, as an electorate, steadily distancing ourselves from facts and debate. To avoid this, both the media and politicians have to stand up for the truth. And if that doesn’t work, well, we all might just have to go to the pub.