The grift of manufacturing political outrage continues
Hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric have long been staples among the political class—but there’s something about the modern flair for over-dramatization that is particularly insidious.
Far from shaming Americans into accepting one’s preferred political narrative, the incessant demonization of those with whom we might disagree has deepened partisan divisions—and as we’ve seen in the last week, it doesn’t even (necessarily) deliver political wins.
Democrats recently failed to get enough support for their plan to overhaul American elections on the federal level—despite relentless attacks on the character and motives of those who opposed such reform.
Democrats have lauded their electoral reforms as necessary to keep states like Georgia from plunging their populations back to a time of Jim Crow’s institutionalized bigotry—never mind that many of the reforms adopted by Georgia are no more burdensome than existing laws in some reliably blue states, such as New York and New Jersey. Of course, that doesn’t mean one can’t reasonably critique Georgia’s recent changes—but it does, nonetheless, make it difficult to believe Georgia’s election laws are on the same moral ground as legislating “White Only” standards back into existence.
Even if one is critical of Georgia’s recent reforms, there are still legitimate reasons to be concerned about the precedent of federalizing much of the election process. After all, if Republicans truly are on the side of Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis—as Joe Biden recently insinuated—then Democrats might want to reconsider what federalizing elections would mean should those bigoted partisans on the other side of the aisle win a majority in future years. Do we really want the election process in every state to be subjected to the partisan seesaw of national electoral trends?
The fact that pretty much everyone knew the Democratic bill would be defeated along party lines should be an indication that further negotiation between the two parties was needed to draft a more palatable set of reforms—reforms that better reflect the diversity of opinions on the issue.
Instead, the demonization of political opponents only accelerated—and it wasn’t necessarily all aimed at the GOP. Much of the rhetoric from the last week was, undoubtedly, aimed at cajoling two reluctant Democrats into eliminating the Senate rules that would allow Republicans to stall the bill.
As soon as it became apparent that Democrats wouldn’t be able to secure enough support to overcome a GOP filibuster, the filibuster itself was maligned as a “relic of Jim Crow” in an attempt to shame members of the majority party into changing long standing Senate practices for short-term political gain.
The hypocrisy among Democrats on this issue is noteworthy. After all, many of the very same people demanding the filibuster be eliminated have previously given passionate speeches defending its use when they were in the minority. Democrats, themselves, even used this supposed “relic of Jim Crow” earlier this month to block a Republican-sponsored bill that had garnered bipartisan support.
Such hypocrisy, however, is also unremarkable. Historically, both parties have shown interest in toying with Senate rules when it advances their short-term partisan interests. The filibuster has long been disfavored by various senate majority leaders for the simple fact that getting a bipartisan coalition of 60 senators is, obviously, a more daunting task than relying on mere partisan loyalty—especially in an era when politicians increasingly rely on demonizing their opponents rather than soliciting compromise.
And so, despite the recent Democratic loss in the Senate, that demonization is going to accelerate. And to be fair, such hyperbole isn’t a trait exclusive to the American Left. The relentless “stop the steal” rhetoric that has emanated from many within the Republican Party has wrought plenty of dangers to our democratic system—not the least of which was a riotous moment on the steps of the capital a little over a year ago.
And that’s precisely the point: The bi-partisan impulse to cry wolf at every political inconvenience—such as the loss of an election or failing to advance partisan legislation—is undoubtedly furthering the dangerous fractures that have been chipping away at our willingness to engage with members of the opposing political tribe.
If it is repeated often enough that a political win for “the other side” is returning us to the horrors of America’s darkest historical injustices, or that one’s political foes have gained power illegitimately, some people might actually start to believe it… and some might even try to act upon it.
Many of those who were present on January 6th, for example, truly believed they were acting out against a supposedly “illegitimate” government rather than violently injuring the most important aspect of our constitutional republic: the peaceful transition of power. Likewise, the socialist who took up arms and tried to murder a bunch of Republicans on a baseball field several years ago believed he was ridding the world of “the Taliban of the USA.”
In other words, there are simply too many “true believers” following politics—people who have actually bought into the drama emanating from a political class more interested in grifting on fear and hatred than governing with consensus. And, as rhetoric becomes more inflammatory, the risks associated with the radicalization of those true believers is bound to grow.
In a sane world, one would imagine recent acts of political violence—if not the mere threat of such violence—would give our electeds a bit more trepidation in ratcheting up their hyperbole. One would think, given the radicalization of Americans against each other, adults in elected office might actually be motivated to build consensus rather than further feed the hatred fueling modern political discontent.
Clearly, however, our world is anything but sane at the moment and “adults” are an endangered species in our nation’s capital. The peddlers of such drama are addicted to the campaign contributions made by perpetually outraged partisans every election season—and the more inflammatory the rhetoric, the more “excitement” it generates among those supporters.
Despite the injury it has done to our cultural landscape, outrage has effectively become the fuel used to keep the political grift of Washington D.C. moving—and describing the policies of one’s opponents as “Jim Crow 2.0” is significantly higher octane than persuasion or compromise.
Michael Schaus is a communications and branding consultant based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. He is the former communications director for Nevada Policy Research Institute and has more than a decade of experience in public affairs commentary as a columnist, political humorist, and radio talk show host. Follow him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.