The rhetoric of good and evil
Have you noticed how the word “evil” has become a common reference in political discussions across the country?
It doesn’t matter which side is talking, the far right or the far left.
It’s not just your cynical uncle talking like this. They are politicians, experts and activists, people who should know better.
If you surf a lot of cable news, you see this kind of language popping up regularly, whether it’s MSNBC on the left or Fox News on the right. CNN interviews do not hesitate to accept demeaning language, either.
And certainly, you see it everywhere on social media. Don’t rely on disinformation monitors to monitor this tone.
In today’s debate, it is not enough to pretend that the opposition is wrong or that it is misguided. In today’s debate, the opposition is so often called bad and conspiratorial.
Do people who use this language believe what they say? In some cases, yes; their passions are probably gaining the upper hand. In other cases, maybe not; it’s a simple way to manipulate followers.
Certainly, this is a simple way to rally the base or raise funds. If people can be convinced that the opponents are bad, well, that’s going to elicit a visceral response. None of us just disagree with evil, after all; we are appalled.
But it’s also a good way to avoid talking about the substance of the debate. If, for example, Donald Trump’s views on immigration or Joe Biden’s positions on police reform can boil down to an abbreviated choice between right and wrong, then no one needs s ” bother with a more nuanced discussion on either topic.
When progressives flared up and worried about Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition to the Democrats’ so-called “Build Better” plan, it was easy to ridicule Manchin as a rich man beholden to special interests.
There is more than one reason for such attacks. In part, they are created out of frustration, and in part, they are intended to exert political pressure.
But did you also notice that this meant they didn’t have to address the concerns Manchin voiced about the impact the legislation might have on inflation? No, I didn’t have to go.
This is true for all inflammatory labels. Evil, socialists, right wing, racists, demagogues, all.
Labels are apparently good policy – good techniques for influencing the masses.
But these are mediocre public services.
They do not elevate our discussions or our decision making.
Worse, they are dangerous.
They are the seeds of polarization and alienation. It is the vapors of the storm which gathers.