Surprisingly Unsurprising Elections

The first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday has been considered a rejection of the mainstream parties, and a surprising victory for the two political “outsiders” who will move onto a second round in May: the centrist Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (Onward!) and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. The New York Times, for example, called it “a full-throated rebuke of the mainstream parties” and The Economist warned that the “first-round result could also presage the break-up of the French party system.” Although the results certainly indicate a historical ousting of the Socialist and Republican Parties, which have been governing France for most of the past 50 years, the results were hardly unexpected, and the two leading candidates are not political outsiders.

In his article “A Historic But Unsurprising Election In France – Why It Was a Long Time in Coming,” Martin A. Schain suggests that the recent French election round isn’t all that it’s made out to be. The first paragraph, written above, explains exactly what he means by this.

The election has been seen by many as the “rejection” of mainstream sentiment, the “victory” of “outsiders,” and a fight for the right to rule. It’s the same fantasy that gripped American elections in November of 2016. The outsiders defeat all odds pit against them and they win because they are the true representation of the people. To have this representation is the foundation of a strong republic. However, if Schain were to provide commentary on the nature of these elections, he would likely agree that this is isn’t true, especially for the French election.

Schain seems very doubtful of people who feel this way, because to him, this was a story too good to be true. The last sentence of this paragraph begins with the world, “although.” That immediately refutes the beautiful imagery of struggle and success (although that’s debatable depending on who you ask) that came immediately before. It turns out that the outcome of the election was “hardly unexpected” and that the candidates were not “outsiders” at all. Heartbreaking. Shattering. Devastating.

So, why this? I think I’ll leave it to Martin A. Schain himself to explain.

All the Good Men in Jail

“If a person goes to a country and finds their newspapers filled with nothing but good news, there are good men in jail.”

Daniel P. Moynihan, U.S. Senator

A collection featuring newspapers from various states and countries at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
A collection featuring newspapers from various states and countries at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The quote above has been pulled from the top of a display in Washington’s famous Newseum. The Newseum undertakes the mission of relaying how important information, and the manipulation of information, is to the functionality, or dysfunctionality, of society. The quote is displayed above a collection of newspaper front pages from various states and countries. Ironically, all of them are filled with good news. They’re all filled of feel-good stories like good samaritans saving kittens and the dreams of little children being realized.

When I read the quote, it hit me hard. It’s one thing to make a claim like the one Senator Moynihan made, but it’s an entirely different thing to see the manifestation of that same claim. My friend and I walked through the hall analyzing the contents of each paper, and no top headline mentioned anything about stories regarding earthquakes, murders, or even genocide.

This got me thinking about the state of our democracy and the illusion of our free press. I wondered if it was ever really free to begin with. The United States champions itself as a nation that boasts the free status of its press. After all, we’re not like North Korea or anything… right? As my friend and I walked through the hall, however, the front cover stories weren’t very critical. By this, I mean that the headlines didn’t say what was wrong about the United States in general, or communities within the state.

If what Senator Moynihan says is true, then we should be extremely alarmed. Given the nature of politics right now, we should be seeing more pieces criticizing the society we have built around us. There is always something going wrong in our country, or in our world. Something is always happening, and if something is always happening, at least one person is trying to get a story regarding it out there. And if Senator Moynihan is right, they may very will be trying, but they’re facing great challenges while doing so. Doesn’t sound like a very free press to me, probably a lot of “fake news,” though.

The Price of Democracy is 99 Cents

The tweet above appears on my Twitter feed quite often because I do follow to the Washington Post, among many other news organizations. I find their methods to get more subscriptions quite interesting. Maybe I only noticed recently, or maybe it’s true that this marketing tactic started with the strengthening Donald Trump campaign for President of the United States. But why does it matter?

I first want to explore the nature of the advertisement. I, a college-aged woman studying International Studies, go on Twitter often to find my news. Yeah, yeah, I know. Why would I depend on a social media site to inform me? See, here’s the thing: I don’t only follow Twitter accounts that mainly create entertaining context, I also follow many government agencies and news outlets. I appreciate that Twitter is constantly updating, and that allows me to be connected with the world around me in a unique way. The Washington Post recognizes that this is true for people that use Twitter in a similar fashion as I do, so they understand that placing an ad like this on this platform would be effective.

Now that I’ve explained the context, I want to explore the diction used in the advertisement. The advertisement mentions a “vigorous press” that “empowers the people.” It also states that democracy “depends” on this vigorous press and that you should pay to support the work of “great journalism” that makes this all possible. And, with a price of 99 cents, who could say no? Certainly not people whose political awareness heightened in the past few years, or the people who wish to technically embed themselves in the news cycle. And there we have it: an effective advertisement.

THE MOST DEADLIEST COUNTRY, I guess?

Pakistan is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists. Intelligence agents and members of banned militant organisations are behind “serious threats” to reporters, says Reporters Without Borders.

Above is the first paragraph of an article released by BBC News about the Pakistan’s media profile. When I read this, it’s safe to say I was a little disappointed. And now to explain myself…

This first paragraph on the website has been bolded, just like I have done so above. This paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the publication which, to no surprise, focuses on the shortcomings of Pakistani media and the freedom which, as clearly communicated by the article, doesn’t actually exist.

My issue, however, is not to refute the facts it presents. It’s all true. I’m not denying that Pakistani media needs to be awarded more freedom or that reporters should be able to publish any piece whatever their stance on the government is.

So let’s take a closer look at the diction used. Pakistan is one of the world’s “most deadliest countries.” Parties have “banned” and issued “serious threats” to reporters. By this initial description, readers are confirming their own biases about the country of Pakistan. They are confirming the biases that western media has forced upon the country. Thanks to western media, Pakistan is inherently seen as a backwards country operating under a sinister dictatorship  (fun fact: it’s not) that serves as a breeding ground for terrorist organizations.

The problem with such a description is that this image is then applied to the people of Pakistan. Because this is what is repeated time and time again in headlines on western media outlets like BBC, ABC, CNN, and Fox News, people may not understand that Pakistani citizens aren’t the gross generalization they are told to be. The headlines regarding Pakistan regard death, political struggle, and occasional feel-good stories.

And this is a tragedy because Pakistan is full of people who are constantly fighting for freedom, constantly criticizing what they see wrong around them, and constantly seeking to improve their communities. It’s a shame that they are assigned to this single narrative that the world makes them out to be.

BBC isn’t lying, but the way the article is written, judging from the first paragraph, shows signs of rhetorical injustice.

One Barrel at a Time

President Trump has taken steps to erase the Obama administration’s environmental record in an effort to buoy the struggling coal industry. But the move risks running afoul of public opinion, with majorities of the public in support of several rules that Trump is focused on dismantling.

Trump’s sweeping executive order includes rewriting rules curbing carbon emissions, lifting a moratorium on federal coal leases and removing the mandate that federal officials consider climate change impacts when making decisions. Trump already approved two major oil pipelines, rolled back other limits on extraction and burning of fossil fuels and eliminated a system that would have made energy companies pay more in federal royalties.

Above are two paragraphs pulled from this Washington Post article.

These two paragraphs play an instrumental role in communicating a sense of urgency and anxiety to its audience. However, the way these paragraphs do so is quite subtle.
I’d like to draw special attention to the general diction of these paragraphs. In the first, President Trump creates an “effort” to “buoy the struggling coal industry.” By describing the coal industry as something that needs to be saved and describing Trump’s reaction as merely an “effort,” the author indirectly asserts that such an effort wasn’t successful. Instead of describing Trump’s attempt as a “valiant” or “great” effort, it’s just an effort.
The next paragraph reinforces this notion that such efforts weren’t successful. But then, the question becomes, “Who were they successful for?” The first two sentences list all the actions taken to aid oil companies and other big industries. Ultimately, they are the recipients of such good fortune. The last sentence, however, suggests that such a victory isn’t one to be celebrated. It asserts that there are certain corporate responsibilities that companies have towards the people and are now not required to fulfill them. So, while Trump’s effort is to help America, once again, it is merely an effort.

Public Citizens and Discourse as Democracy

Picture of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on graphic with rally information.
Twitter graphic obtained from Public Citizen.

The groups involved in the effort launched a concerted campaign to oppose Clayton’s nomination to be chair of the SEC, citing Clayton’s massive and unavoidable conflicts of interest and cozy relationship with Wall Street that raise grave doubts about his commitment to protecting investors. Clayton’s nomination signals that President Donald Trump is putting Wall Street ahead of hard-working Americans in what amounts to a hostile takeover of our country’s future. With Clayton’s nomination, Trump has proven once again that his campaign promises were empty, and instead he is putting the economy back in the hands of the very people who caused and profited from the financial crisis.

This particular paragraph of a post on Public Citizen’s website mainly informs the audience, loyal visitors and constituents to Public Citizens along with other left-of-center leaning American citizens, about the issues with the current Trump administration. It informs the audience that  attorney Jay Clayton has been nominated for chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  It further informs the audience that Clayton is tied to Wall Street.

But how does it inform? The diction utilized by Public Citizen clearly inspires strong sentiment in the audience.  Not only does the paragraph state that Clayton has been nominated and that he is tied to Wall Street, but this relationship will create “unavoidable conflicts” because of how “cozy” it is.  If the post’s visitors don’t already agree that this is a negative aspect to the Clayton nomination, the next half of the sentence reinforces this idea by describing the ordeal as “grave.”  To dispel any doubts, the following sentence ties Clayton to President Donald Trump and describes the conflict of interest as a sort of “hostile takeover” of the United States and its future. By now, the audience may feel threatened. Public Citizen then capitalizes on this opportunity by saying what this threat may be: making everyday liberal Americans a lower priority than Wall Street, where people seemingly profit at the expense of others.

After reading a paragraph crafted in such a way, it’s difficult to imagine someone that fits the characteristics of the target audience to not feel threatened and inspired to protest. The language used in the paragraph is indeed meant to unite people. Some may argue that such intense language may inherently seek to force people into a hostile mindset that alienates others (like conservative Americans). I disagree. I argue that democracy is essentially a commitment and a promise to continued discourse, so the very existence of this paragraph is a success of democracy.

Editorial Piece Takes on Frankenversion of Affordable Care Act

Republican House leaders have spent months dodging questions about how they would replace the Affordable Care Act with a better law, and went so far as to hide the draft of their plan from other lawmakers. No wonder. The bill they released on Monday would kick millions of people off the coverage they currently have. So much for President Trump’s big campaign promise: “We’re going to have insurance for everybody’ — with coverage that would be “much less expensive and much better.

Shown above is the first paragraph published by The New York Times in an editorial piece.

The diction used in this piece clearly displays the author’s bias. There is no guesswork to be done. The first two sentences identify the Republican House leaders to be malevolent forces in policymaking by “dodging questions” to later “hide” their drafts from lawmakers. The first two sentences not only identify a specific group and their actions, they also undermine that group. The most impactful words that undermine the Republican leaders are “No wonder.” That’s right, “no wonder,” as if your audience is supposed to know better than to trust the leaders in the first place.

However, the next part of the paragraph furthers the undermining of the Republican leaders in a new way. By referencing President Donald J. Trump, saying, “So much for President Trump’s big campaign promise,” the author’s disdain for the current administration is already showing. The author then elaborates on President Trump’s own words by directly quoting him. President Trump says that the coverage would be much less expensive and much better.

This first paragraph is especially interesting because it introduces the central topic: Trump’s frankenversion of the Affordable Care Act, in a condescending manner. The rhetorical choices that the author of this editorial makes clearly indicates that the text is meant for an audience who is very much left of center. The text is meant for someone who, due to their political views, already views Trump’s actions in a negative light. While the introduction of the piece is so strongly worded, the choice to make it so is actually quite interesting. Because the New York Times, as a whole, is generally read by people whose views do fall left of center, this piece will favor well with the current audience. It’ll most likely sell well.

Do We Belong in Trump’s America?

“I have a question in my mind,” Sunayana Dumala said after her
husband, an Indian engineer, was shot dead last week in a Kansas bar. “Do we belong?”

Above is a quote pulled from an OpEd published on February 27th in the New York Times titled, “Who Belongs in Trump’s America?“.

The article explores the consequences of President Trump‘s speech and action that immediately followed. The rhetorical effect of opening such an article with this quote immediately puts readers into the shoes of many people who may now feel out of place in the land of the free. This, for many people who reside in the United States, may be uncomfortable to imagine, which makes this decision work.

Aspects to first consider when understanding this powerful beginning are the words “husband,” “Indian engineer,” “shot,” and “Kansas bar.” By using the word “husband,” the author immediately draws attention to the notion of family. Yet, when the next few words suggest that the husband is an Indian engineer, some readers may feel conflicted because of their preconceived political biases. Readers who feel uncomfortable may share in the President’s view that immigrants are the root of many societal and economic issues. However, these same readers may once again come out in support of this woman’s plight after learning that her husband was shot in a Kansas bar. This last bit is very American and because of its relatability, readers may be more willing to accept the author’s argument.

The last part of this quote, however, asks a simple question. “Do we belong here?” Posing this question, in conjunction with presenting the information above, creates the opportunity for dialogue. The rhetorical choice of presenting information that could possibly spark internal conflict due to preconceived biases and then asking a very powerful and intimate question sets the stage for the rest of the article.

We Didn’t Start the Fire

“We didn’t start the fire,
It was always burning
since the world’s been turning.”

Written above is the chorus to the song We Didn’t Start the Fire  by Billy Joel and it’s the only part of the entire song that stays consistent. The other verses, by contrast, name events, figures, or ideologies that have been at the forefront of political and social rumblings since the 1960s.  By reiterating these words repeatedly, the overall message is clear: We didn’t do it, it’s not our fault, it’s been happening since the beginning of time.

I’d like to believe that this song is about the younger generation of America having to inherit a mess and being blamed for it. I’d like to believe that we live in a galvanized society with galvanized politics and a galvanized perspective of the world around us. Because of this and all the wrong happening in the world around us, we are led to believe that we are responsible for it because we are the reckless ones. Interestingly enough, every younger generation is vindicated the same way as the previous was.

And so, for Billy Joel to essentially thrust himself into the public sphere and into the music scene to say that we aren’t the issue, we are just a symptom, is groundbreaking. The world is on fire, yes. But we didn’t start it. But we also won’t be able to end it either.

The Real Scandal

“Scandal.”
“Illegally.”
“Given out.”
“Candy.”
“Un-American.”

President Trump is probably best known for speaking his mind and having a more or less direct communication with the American people. In many cases, such direct communication should be sought after, should be celebrated, should be a hallmark of democracy in full effect. However, with the democratic setup of the United States government, such direct democracy may not be looked upon so favorably for the simple reason of preserving the state.

What President Trump does on a daily basis is essentially undermining the agencies and the people that have let the United States not only exist, but flourish for so long. He denies his own shortcomings and places blame where there is none. He destroys the credibility of the American people when it’s just simply inconvenient for him. During the campaign, he and his supporters pleaded for government involvement targeting the Clinton campaign, but now the White House is leaking like a tap and “intelligence” agencies are just giving illegal information like “candy.”

He calls them “un-American.” Coming from the President, “un-American” becomes more than just an adjective. Coming from the President, that is a direct threat to rally a nation against something or someone.