Free political rhetoric is at the forefront of the public mind, especially when attacks on the Capitol and the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are plastered in the headlines. There have been countless instances of unparalleled rhetoric that have been viewed as unprecedented, but only a handful historically.
The inflammatory rhetoric dates back to Greek and Roman democracies, and it’s simply “the nature of politics,” says Tobe Berkowitz, a longtime media consultant and professor emeritus at Boston University.
“Go back to before the Civil War,” he says. “Oh my god, the politics, the insults and the attacks were more personal and vicious than we’re seeing today.”
Political rhetoric is the art of persuasion using words intended to influence public opinion. But its language is carefully curated, with what cognitive linguist George Lakoff calls “framing,” which has a dramatic impact on political debate.
Lakoff describes frames as “mental structures that shape the way we see the world” that politicians can use to draw or trap people into their point of view.
“Framing is about getting the words that fit your worldview,” says Lakoff in an excerpt from his 2004 book Don’t Think About Elephants! “It’s not just language. Ideas are fundamental, and language conveys those ideas and evokes those ideas.”
When Lakoff wrote the book, he believed Republicans had an advantage when it came to framing because of the “message discipline.” Berkowitz says that was no longer the case in the era of Donald Trump, and Republicans had to be “dragged out.”
When it comes to achieving the goals Trump has set for himself, Berkowitz claims the former president is “excellent in his rhetoric” and uses effective rhetoric apparatus to “build walls.” Create phrases that fit into social terms such as , or “China virus.” “Crooked Hillary” — the list goes on and on.
“Other politicians are much more sophisticated. That’s the main difference. [between them and Donald Trump]’ says Berkowitz. “Once you get Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, they’re using inflammatory rhetoric too, but it’s done in a much more sophisticated way.”
“I am not saying that all are equal…that is to say that some are much more reprehensible than others. “Bad rhetoric is bad for democracy, but it’s been part of democracy since the Greek times.” ”
By repeating rehearsed points and synthesizing them with nuanced approaches, politicians can create what Emerson College professor Gregory Payne calls “a mediated reality that doesn’t always match reality.”But if [politicians] If you can make people believe it, it will become a reality. ”
Once this augmented reality is in place, Payne says politicians can use “trigger signals” on certain groups as a way to scare people, although different parties have different strategies.
“Part of the whole thing is that one party tends to be more hopeful and hopeful. [asks] “How do I move forward?” Opponents, on the other hand, tend to be much more fear-oriented,” says Payne. “So you scare people into submission.”
In response to Republicans’ use of emotionally charged language to scare the public, Democrats consistently crack down on that language, creating a “safe space” where they can identify as people they like. But adding new aspects of the language to make things more inclusive could add even more fuel to an already dangerous fire, and Payne argues that anti-racism This constant pressure on popular language can damage left-wing platforms and their homogeneity.
“What happens is that, even though we are very progressive, we are giving this new generation [the ability] To name these things,” says Payne. “You can do it, but doing so probably creates a gap between the people on your side. [to one side]you take away the people in the middle.
A striking example of this division is the use of the term “Latino”. Although commonly used in academia and progressive campaigns, many communities to which the term applies either do not use it at all or actively avoid it. Nevertheless, almost all Democrats would stick to the language that is now considered all-encompassing.
“There’s a certain irony to that. It’s very popular to go to college campuses,” says Berkowitz. “But part of the problem is that both parties have elected officials who have no idea of the realities of voter life. We maintain good connections, so we can connect well.”
This kind of rhetorical connection cannot exist without proper language. This is the most important aspect of politics, Payne says, and can be found in all popular movements, from civil rights to women’s liberation to Brazil’s elections.
“One of my favorite rhetoricians, Richard Weaver, said that language is a directive to action,” he says. “Democracy depends on finding enough common ground among different groups to move forward.”
Kana Ruhalter contributes to the Gazette of the Boston University Statehouse Program.