Why is Political Discourse getting nastier?


Political discourse and election speeches these days have almost become synonymous with scathing and scandalous personal attacks on political opponents.

In fact the language being used by the top most politicians has started resembling the lexicon and tone of the common people chatting frivolously.

It is easy to just scorn at the nasty election speeches and move on. But just like any social phenomenon, this one should also point towards some basic reasons.

  • Does it indicate the desperation for and the pressure of the high stakes?
  • Does it indicate the hunger to stay in the headlines?
  • Or does it indicate crumbling of ethical edifice of the society?

I think that it is a combination of all the three aspects.

Desperation for and the pressure of sky high stakes.

Politics has always been a money spinner. But in today’s era of globalisation, stakes have reached a mind boggling level. Political power is a highly potent ground for wind falls. Spurred by technological innovation, businesses are growing faster than ever. Big businesses are finding it more difficult than ever to sustain themselves. Each buck of the disposable income is sought like the last drop of water falling from bottle in a desert. In such a scenario, companies are willing to do anything to surge and remain ahead. They don’t mind breaking a rule or two and love to have rules mended and bended in their favour.

In such a scenario, politicians –   MPs, MLAs, Senators, Congressmen – assume importance to an extent that would be unthinkable a few decades ago. Corporations use lobbying in the US to ensure that favourable bills are introduced and passed and the unfavourable ones killed. In India, although lobbying is not legal, big money changes hands for the same reasons.

Can you imagine the desperation among the contenders for the post of the CEO of Microsoft? Well, by political standards that job is peanuts.

The political discourse in such a high stake scenario cannot be anything but nasty, aggressive and incisive. It’s better to rant and prevail than restrain and perish.

Hunger to stay in the headlines

Technological revolution has had one more major impact. It has resulted in the contraction of the time span to what remains on the top of the memory. It has also reduced the concentration time span of most of the people.

People these days don’t seem to bother much about the events happening around them. This is because there is a lot that is happening and they can neither afford nor seem to bother about keeping track of these events.

News about good deeds has almost lost its ability to make inroads to the top of the memory and also to grab any concentration. News about catastrophes, scandals, insults is far more effective in grabbing eye-balls. For an example, try answering the following questions:

Can you tell me one view of Donald Sterling?

Give me one reason why you remember Bill Clinton.

What is second name that comes to your mind when I say John F Kennedy?

What is the first thing about Lady Diana that comes to your mind?

Who is the most talked about political figure from the World War II?

What do you know about Tiger Woods apart from the fact that he is a top Golf Player?

What is Lance Armstrong famous for?

In politics if you praise your opponent or mention him/her in a matter-of-fact manner your are very much likely to miss the headlines but if you denigrate a mighty opponent you will almost definitely make it to the headlines and finally to the coveted top of the memory slot. And if you want to win elections this slot is the sine qua non.

Thus political discourse tends to tickle the basic instincts by getting nasty.

Crumbling of ethical edifice of the society

Ethics have evolved. Much that a few decades ago would have drawn censure on account of being unethical is worth only a shrug today. Drinking, smoking, porn, promiscuity, voyeurism, violence have already pervaded the society while the weed is on its way. In fact they have also been glamorised to the extent that non users fear ostracization. Death Race, Hunger games, Game of Thrones epitomize public choice today.

People won’t mind a death race in the political arena too. They seem to enjoy one vicious verbal blow after another. No wonder that political biggies are not leaving any stone unturned in lending edge to their political discourse. No communication can be effective if it is not in the language of the audience. So using the language (even if it is nasty), which is used by the common man has become acceptable, desirable and immune to ethical censure (unless ironically done by another politician).

During elections, politicians become gladiators and the globalised world becomes one big Colosseum.

And offensive and nasty discourse seems to be an indispensible weapon they can wield.

5 responses to “Why is Political Discourse getting nastier?”

  1. You are apt in highlighting one of the most demoralizing aspects of civil society in our times – the way political discourse has sunk into a sewer of epithets and shouting. Worse are the professional ranters on talk radio and cable TV who peddle anger, fear and mendacity.( The nation wants to know!! ) 😀
    Worst of all are the growing number of politicians who think lies and vilification in the defense of their version of liberty is no vice.It is easy to sample the bullying rhetoric; simply peruse the reader comments at the end of this, or any other, political column. U r right to suspect/conclude that more of the political conversation of intelligent people is being devoted to the politics of adolescence, the grievance mongering, the manufactured outrage, and the ridicule of the cultural “other,” and less and less to the hard tasks of charitably taking account of all points of view and sentiments, and all available information, to create a consensus that can actually solve our problems.Respectful disagreement is a casualty of the information age. The true hallmark of our times is juvenile name-calling unworthy of the dimmest schoolyard brat..But as we argue for better political discourse, let us not get too apocalyptic about our future ( Coz I sound so ) ..We’ll survive these rancorous times and, as one side of the current divide begins to decisively win the argument, the partisanship will abate. Remember that the election of 1998 eventually gave way to an Era of Good Feelings ( Relatively).!!.

    1. Thanks Nitesh for this very insightful comment.

  2. Up went the stone ,missed the mark and hit the Emperor as he passed with his convoy. The king wiped the blood of his head, smiled and moved away. The next day the 3 kids who were hitting stones found dozens of mango boxes at their door steps.
    Strength does not mean how hard can you hit somebody else , it often reflects how hard and how much can u take and be unaffected. That’s the stuff nation builders are made up of. Kinda ideal stuff more apt for stories but again evry achievement attained is just an idea at one stage or point of time. Democracy itself was an idea few hundred years back and an attainable one. But nations are being run with this very idea today

    When people aspiring for a high office—demanding selfless service , condescend to a level, what the media terms as ” Elek-saan 2014, DANCE OF DEMOCRACY” , they do send out signals how serious and capable they are? So here comes the idea, kinda ideal one—let us aspire for politicians whom we can look up to as role models.
    Glad u took up the issue.

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