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Deceptive campaigning

Sunday, November 20, 2016

When are we to believe politicians and what they say when campaigning for office? Should we give them space and licence to distort reality and language and not be responsible for campaign promises, policies, and programmes after being elected to office

If politicians are given that luxury to deceive when campaigning, then there will be no basis for an electorate to make sound judgments of them and their parties if their rhetoric and programmes consist of fabrications and twisted logic to spark off emotional reactions which play on the vulnerabilities of segments of the electorate.

We surely cannot allow them to appeal only to economic fears; to activate ethnic and tribal sensitivities; religious anxieties; and ultra-nationalist sentiments. If they, politicians, are allowed liberty to forward lies and unrealistic propositions to deceive the electorate and walk away from them after the campaign is done, we shall surely be constructing societies of sand castles which can be easily washed away by the tides of reality.

Such deceptive campaigning is not a new phenomenon, it reached mind-bending proportions under Nazism led by Adolf Hitler and his chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. In the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s, T&T’s political leaders and their parties developed the art of beguiling us, using our tribal instincts. Since then, they have perfected those approaches using modern technology and big money.

What is perhaps new is the institutionalization of deception-it is now becoming an acceptable means of electing governments. “Politics has its own morality,” said Basdeo Panday who was honest enough to admit to deception as a means of winning and keeping office. In the recent referendum in the United Kingdom and more so in the US presidential elections, that approach dug deep into the insecurities of the white population situated mainly in rural states and communities.

The campaign of Donald Trump consisted not only of tagline statements directed at the fears of the above-cited populations with emotional language to Make America Great Again-with all of the connotations and the undercurrent of fears, it was programmatic: construct the wall against rapists and drug dealers; return jobs that had gone overseas; cut America adrift from the global multi-lateral trading systems; and socially to curtail the growing multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nature of American society.

The pitch was for this new America to take its leave of the international Climate Change agreement, which had been built through Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Paris to minimise industrial pollution. To advance his objectives of mobilising his targeted communities, Donald Trump created fictions; he sought to smear and delegitimise the character and legacy of his opponents, Hillary Clinton and the outgoing president Barack Obama.

My concern is to point to the nature and consequences of a campaign culture that is developing deep penetrating roots into the global political culture. That culture is characterised by the use of language to distort reality and most significantly for parties and their slick campaign managers to construct campaign strategies that deceive the electorate, but leave those who win without the responsibility to pay great attention to programmes and reasons through which they were elected to office.

As an illustration of the fraudulence of such campaigning is Trump’s immediate turn around post-election to say that he will seek to amend Obamacare rather than burn the Affordable Care Act in which he saw no virtue during his campaign.

To face the serious charge against him of having deceived students into signing into his university, Trump and his legal team made an overture to the US courts requesting that nothing he said on the campaign should be brought as evidence in the matter.

What the US President-elect was seeking to do was to have a court rule definitively that nothing said on a campaign by an individual should be taken seriously.

That would mean in the immediate that Trump would not have to construct the Mexican Wall and have the Mexican government pay for it. Such a ruling would free him of having to protect his support base from “Mexican rapists, murderers and drug dealers”-as they do not exist in reality.

The devaluation of language, the undercutting of public trust in officialdom and very significantly, the freeing of politicians from commitment to the content of their campaigns will devalue the judgment of individuals who bought into the campaigns.

We shall become no more than malleable pieces of plasticine (play dough being the modern name for that rubbery substance that students of my generation used) that can be twisted into and out of shape at the wishes of politicians and any snake-oil salesman who comes along.

As a first approach to beat back this mass hallucination, reporters, journalists, and public commentators well outfitted with the technology of the times, have a responsibility to be clinical and to vigorously assess programmes put forward by campaigning politicians. We must not be afraid to be severely critical of deceptions when we perceive them, to ask for detail of ideas and plans, while electronic media journalists should use the technology to “fact check”.

A local government elections campaign is in full swing, but with little on the table but abstract promises to transform local government and an opposition immersed in the tried and tested formula of mounting allegations of corruption against the governing party.

The collective society has to beat back this world order of deception and the devaluation of our human intelligence.


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