The Politics of Language

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By: Lawrence Dushenski 

We have entered an age of post-issue politics. No longer are politicians forced to debate fundamental aspects of their political policy, but rather they are able to distract the entire narrative by turning the debate and discussion into an exercise in the minutiae of language.

We saw this during the summer in the run up to the Brexit vote. Little of the debate and discussion had to do with the practical, economic impact that being a member of the European Union has on the United Kingdom. Instead the discussion became dominated by themes that could be described as nothing short of xenophobic. There was name calling before the vote, and Prime Minister Theresa May has continued the barrage of vitriol since she took office. The likes of Boris Johnson and Co. were keen to rally supporters on their side in the lead up to the vote, but they had no intention of actually following through with their promises by taking office and leading the nation.

The Brexit vote was much more of a reflection about the fear and anxiety that have developed throughout the UK than it was about the practical implication about what membership in the EU means for in years going forward. There was endless coded language that branded immigrants as the “others” and “outsiders” to be feared. The fear of the other was capitalized on by the Leave campaign and there has been much second guessing after the fact by those that failed to realize the practical implications of the vote.

We need not look far away to find another shining example of political discourse devolving into nothing relating to fundamental issues that a nation is facing. The United States is facing serious issues relating to unemployment, recovering from the economic collapse, incarceration rates and an out of control military industrial complex. But rather than discuss these issues during the Presidential campaign, the daily headlines are about the language and accusations of misconduct against a certain candidate.

If you were to ask the average American about the real campaign points of he who shall not be named, it would be difficult to truly articulate where he stands on issues like taxation, domestic economy and foreign relations. But everyone knows about the latest ghastly thing that he was caught on tape saying. Further, there is a risk to the foundations of a democracy with the recent allegations that he has been making relating to voter and election fraud. He knows that he is going to lose, and rather than continue to debate based on the issues, he throws baseless accusations of voter misconduct around. These erode the public confidence in the democratic system and will have a long term effect on the national trust in the executive branch of the government.

Be careful when politicians refuse to discuss issues, and instead rely on divisive language and soundbites.

 

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