Is Modern Politics Just a Semantics Game?

Donald Trump may have brought the immigration issue to the forefront of the primary, but the nuances have effectively become a cudgel with which the media can beat him and his running mates.

And yet none of the questions asked in sanctimonious tones by anchors who confuse intensity and anger with serious skepticism seem concerned with the actual merit of proposed policies. They would much rather gin up outrage over whether the language used is “offensive.”

Following the release of Trump’s immigration policy paper, a tariff and bromide ridden plan over which many have inextricably salivated, “anchor baby” has become something akin to a racial epithet.

Since then, Jeb Bush’s use of the term has been termed a disgusting slur, Hillary Clinton attacked Bobby Jindal along roughly the same line and in a shameful display of cowardice, Scott Walker backed away from his support of ending birthright citizenship, saying he will not take an official position.

As of 2008, data compiled by the Pew Research Center suggested that 8% of births in the United States were anchor babies. And as of 2010, the estimated cost of education alone for anchors babies was approximately $52 billion. Last summer’s influx of children can only have increased this number.

Clearly, there are solid facts behind the idea that illegal immigrants not only come to America to have an end run around the visa system, but also that this phenomenon costs taxpayers money.

Can the truth be a pejorative? No. So why the outrage?

Because it’s easier than having a serious and meaty debate. Entrenched politicians, both left and right, are far too concerned with offending society’s cultural hegemons and losing their votes, campaign dollars and the platform from which they can play identity politics to drop the bluff and bluster and engage in some sober analysis.

And that’s hardly a revelation. But a presidential election cycle is just beginning to become serious. Though there are always those in the media looking to make a name for themselves with “gotcha” questioning, candidates usually find a conscience and backbone at least for the duration of stump speeches.

Scott Walker, who stood down Wisconsin’s labor unions and has hinged his electoral identity on being a fearless conservative, has inexplicably already caved.  Who’s the next victim?

Certainly not Donald Trump, but his campaign strategy is a variation on the outrage-driven theme. The only outlined policy position on his campaign website is immigration. And the tenets revolve around a nation without borders or laws being not being a nation. Aside from being semantically null, these are not actionable principles; they’re facts.

And while their is substance later in Trump’s plan, this is not what he’s discussing on the campaign trail. Trump is screaming and vilifying, creating an “us versus them” dichotomy that is frenetically emotional and divorced from the nuance. There may be a place for this within political rhetoric, but it cannot be all of it. At its surface level, this is no different than what the other side does when it runs to branding everything it doesn’t like racist.

This is appropriate in a way, since the behavior has no deeper substance. It catalyzes emotional outrage and uses its energy. But the problem is the timbre has to reach greater and greater thresholds to keep moving. Hence, where in 2012 Big Bird and binders full of women were the inane takeaways from the debates, 2016 featured a shouting match about hugs and personal attacks on Megyn Kelly.

So, yes, there may be some substance left to modern politics. There have been some serious policy proposals from Rick Santorum, Scott Walker and Donald Trump. But these aren’t what’s grabbing the headlines. The pithy quip du jour is. And that’s a real problem.



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Katherine Revello

A recent graduate of the University of Maine, where she majored in journalism and political science, Katherine Revello is an aspiring political commentator. Her focuses include theory, the philosophy of money and populism. Currently, she is a graduate student at Villanova University. She is the founder of The Politics of Discretion, a blog dedicated to advancing her philosophy of discretionism. Follow her on Twitter: @MrsWynandPapers

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