Politics are an ultimately strategic endeavor. Powerful individuals, regardless of their ideology, use charisma to influence opinion. Unfortunately for global politics, leaders seem to abuse the political sphere and its mechanisms to achieve power. Ideology is seemingly the lone unifier: Minor dissent within the political party is to be neglected. Reason is no longer taken into as much account. Charisma has and always will remain in politics. Charisma may unfortunately be used to influence individuals with emotional arguments rather than fact-based reasoning. In this political day and age, facts seem irrelevant as ideology and charisma trump all else.
Lost in the current political debate is our ability to compromise and reason. Contrary to what certain ideologues may argue, compromise doesn’t necessarily require a forfeiture of core principles. It requires critical analysis and a common willingness to provide the best outcome for the American people. The increasingly institutionalized national parties and the increasing influence of mega-donors and Political Action Committees has pressured political leaders to accept nothing less than total acceptance of their party platform. Compromise, fortunately, allows involved parties to both gain.
Political strategy is often depicted as zero sum, a situation in which a gain for one side entails a corresponding loss for the other side. This, however, could not be further from the truth. The zero sum approach to politics has been evidenced recently during the tax reform debate. The Orange County Register is one such news outlet that shares this belief. They recently ran an article headlined, “Republican tax proposal steals from the poor to give to the rich.” Arguments such as these ignore the reality that tax reform does not “steal” wealth from the poor. In fact, it does the contrary, allowing individuals to keep more of their own money. The Republican argument is that economic growth accelerates when individuals retain more of their own money, as opposed to the central government’s control of wealth. There are examples of this tax reform’s likely success, yet the Democratic Party remains unwilling to accept any element of this argument despite former Democratic President Obama’s proposal, in 2012, to lower the corporate tax rate. Not long ago, Republican Senator Ted Cruz threatened a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act. Government shutdowns have been threatened during the current Congressional session as a partisan means of grandstanding as well. The zero sum argument has become a consistent force in modern politics. Political leaders often use zero sum rhetoric coupled with charisma to influence their political base.
Charisma, in the age of modern telecommunications, is arguably the most important aspect of political strategy. A charismatic individual can persuade his/her social media following of their particular viewpoint, regardless of its factual basis. In addition, former President Barack Obama, then a political novice, used his charismatic approach and oratory skills to defeat the established and accomplished Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary. Mrs. Clinton had the support of major donors and the Democratic establishment, yet President Obama was able to overcome the challenges a political novice endures during the primaries. There is no doubt that President Trump’s charisma and demeanor boosted his support during the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary. However, one such major issue with the charismatic approach to politics is the individual’s ability to manipulate others. Individuals must gain their audience’s attention through their personality or their shared experience. Unfortunately, after they have persuaded their audience, they may advance their views via emotional rather than factual arguments.
Ultimately, those who suffer from this highly partisan political environment are ordinary Americans. Americans, after a long day of hard work, turn on their television or open their news applications on their smartphones and are bombarded with subtle bias and partisanship. Sometimes, they will not recognize these forms of bias or hyperbolic arguments because they may agree with the general argument. However, partisanship often distances one from individuals with views other than their own. Often, the other side is portrayed more as a villain than as someone attempting to better the country in a different way. Social media facilitates this phenomenon by creating echo chambers. And as social media becomes more widely used, political partisanship only increases.
Society will once again benefit when the American people re-evaluate their current situation. Congress’ approval rating is a meager 13 percent, while its 2016 general re-election success rate was around 95 percent. There is a very clear disconnect between national politics and the American public, yet there has not been a major bipartisan attempt to “Drain the Swamp,” as a certain politician may put it. A nationwide, grassroots campaign is necessary to re-establish a sense of reason and compromise in our national politics. Ultimately, it is our duty as the American people to demand change and adjust our behavior to achieve this outcome.
Mitchell Nemeth is a Masters of Law candidate and former President of the Young Americans for Liberty at UGA. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.