The Influence of Politics in Language
The famous novelist, George Orwell, once said, “[Political] prose consist less and less of words chosen for the sake their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.” Now, what exactly does this mean? Orwell was trying to point out how politicians are twisted– or more so, how they twist and select what they say to whom they are speaking to. He perfectly describes the way that politics is performed; everything an act and creatively changed, or used, to make people believe in things they should or should not.
In politics, eloquence is one of the key ingredients to becoming a leader. The words they use are very selective, calculated, formulated; to do such advance planning was, and is, for convincing and persuading their audience. The usage of political vocabulary in language is a powerful tool to use as it influences what people believe, how people perceive who the politician really is, and the entire culture of American language.
Language can be morphed depending on to whom and where a politician is speaking, by using words that have strategic connotations in order to manipulate their audience. Statistics have shown that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents have all reacted very positively to the phrases “civil rights,” “family values,” and “states’ rights,” (Alvarez). However, Republicans usually respond negatively to the phrase “socialism.” Because of this, most Democratic candidates or representatives tend to use the phrases “civil rights,” “family values,” and “states’ rights” more often. Republicans use the phrase “socialism” when attacking their opponents because they know that the overall response from the audience of using that phrase is negative, therefore gaining public preference over their Democratic opponent. In more extreme cases, language can be used to sway the public’s opinion on controversial topics. For instance, immigration is known as a hot-button topic in United States politics as of right now because of such radicalized arguments from both sides of political parties. Pro-immigration groups use language that appeals to pathos, and invokes a sense of empathy from the audience. Anti-immigration groups, on the other hand, use phrases such as “illegal alien” as opposed to “undocumented immigrant” to sway the public into thinking immigration is wrong and criminal (Dean). In addition, the word “alien” essentially dehumanizes the subject and creates a separation from human sympathy. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly warned of the dangers posed by “criminal aliens.” And last month, President Trump told a law enforcement gathering that “sanctuary cities release thousands of criminal aliens” into the streets, including ‘predators, rapists, killers,’” (Egelko). By using the word “alien,” Trump creates a snap judgement of a what he believes to be a “stereotypical” undocumented immigrant, and uses his position of power to sway his audience’s viewpoints on immigration.
When describing the power of words in politics, Dean Powers states,“Language is indeed a mechanism for shaping the way people think about politics.” In most cases, politicians announce new proposals for legislation with specific vocabulary in order to appeal to their audience. For instance, if one were to propose a law that raised taxes, instead of saying that taxpayers would have to pay even more of their money to the government, they would say it is a “way of helping the schools, universities, and public projects,” (Dean). Although people will still have to be paying more money in taxes, they may be more willing to do so if they believe it is going towards a good cause rather than “just to the government.” By using these words, politicians are essentially driving attention away from the topic and towards something better, and distracting their audience from the upsetting news that is being given to them. Politicians change language in order to gain public favor- whether they are proposing a bill or giving a speech. When announcing his 2020 Presidential Candidacy, Bernie Sanders used the word “dangerous” to describe the state of the nation under Donald Trump’s presidency (Gambino). Sanders applies such an extreme word to attack the opposite political platform, and uses the word “dangerous” instead of “unsafe” to rile up his audience and gain public favor.
Another example of how the political use of language takes more than creating positive or negative feelings by using wordplay to change words of discussion is when Gingrich was outdone by the Democrats (Pitney, Jr.). Changing the words of discussion to get the people’s satisfaction is the main goal for the speaker to feel like they have done their job. It has been said that “We need to increase spending on federal domestic programs” (Pitney, Jr.). Instead of doing this, President Bill Clinton expressed approval of “critical investments and training” from the spending bill of last fall. In Clinton’s statement, he never used the word “spend.” That is because “spending” indicates loss, while “investment” indicates the profit’s expectation. The outcome from his words is shown that Americans would be more productive for the federal programs to pay for themselves. Clinton also manipulated language when he stated that the spending bill “added resources to protect the environment, to move people from welfare to work” (Pitney, Jr.). People think positively when they hear “resources” because “natural and renewable” is what they tend to think of when that word pops up. But in this case, the “resources” is just a cover-up for the budget figures. Even in some situations, language does not even make sense to people, but it just has to sound helpful or pleasing to satisfy them as a citizen. Bill Clinton was pretty much the master of manipulating his audience, who were the citizens of America, especially with his political campaign ad for the presidency of 1992. “Its sole purpose was to begin creating a set of positive associations with him and a narrative about the Man from Hope – framed, from start to finish, in terms of hope and the American dream” (The Guardian). Clinton’s ad does a great job of connecting to the audience. This gets more attention because the American citizens would want a president who they could connect with, and someone who would understand them because they are coming from the same struggles and environment. The American dream is what everybody strives for, so putting that in his ad already got some votes as this is what they want in the future. But, sometimes in language, especially in politics, it takes lying to maintain their position on where the speaker lies. “The lie can be maintained for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic, and/or military consequences of the lie…” (Frank) The truth eventually gets out into the alertness of the public, and “then only outright repression can be used against populace” (Frank). The manipulation of political power of language can cover up lies, but can only last for a short period of time.
The way politicians are viewed play a big role in the audience that follows them. In order to “stay on top” they must “present on top” by being weary of the language they use and that is used to describe them. With fear of losing support, maintaining their image is one of their main concerns. It is very common to see politicians using sugar coated language in order to either exaggerate or play down their true actions, “This weasel word is often used by bureaucracies and the corporate-minded to censure employees’ behaviour. What the culprit has done is not described as `wrong’ or `illegal’ or `prohibited’, but as `inappropriate’” (Wordsworth). The lies run even deeper, with not only the twisted truth from politicians themselves, but the news outlets that present these stories. News stations typically swing one way politically, making the way they air stories biased, “In recent years, journalism had grown increasingly dependent on spin-doctor spoonfeeding and the circular and insular quoting of other journalists instead of attempting to locate and quote actual first person sources” (Arkansas Business). For a party/figure they favor, their diction is always used to paint a politician as the hero, but for the opponent, it is not unusual for them to choose words that make a person look criminal. Over the years, these issues have become more and more prevalent, most of them starting with the politicians themselves and their lack of political understanding that makes it all go south, “One of the reasons, said Toronto novelist Timothy Findley, is that modern-day politicians have little substance to say” (Wallace), this was noticed in the last presidential debates, Trump’s comments became more personal than professional when he began criticizing his opponents, saying things like Clinton is “such a nasty woman” (Kingston). Giving himself enough time to think of what to say next or at least making Clinton lose supporters. Although politicians may be lacking in some areas, they know how to use manipulation in their words to get ahead.
A successful speaker refines his language at the level of syntax, vocabulary, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. A successful politician infuses this foundation with political philosophy, thinking, and even paradox, thereby demonstrating his political ideology and goals. But there can be highly controversial and extremely negative effects when this caution is completely ignored. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump defined his persona as a top businessman and then hyperbolized and fully committed to this role in the beginning of the election cycle. In his elevator pitch–a succinct and conclusive synopsis or outline of the concept of the campaign–he highly emphasized his winner status and tough attitude as he stated “we will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning” (Trump). Usually, populist politicians emphasize their poor origins in an attempt to project a “populist” image, while plutocratic politicians avoid talking about their wealth. However, Trump’s image as a winner is based on his billionaire status as he deliberately touts and exaggerates his wealth with the most direct and unscrupulous description. The reason behind this is that he accurately finds the product-market fit, or , the fit between the product and the market demand, in which he concludes that “from a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about far outweigh the drawbacks” (Trump). Although more than half of party voters trust Trump most when it comes to “the economy, jobs, and immigration” as a result, there is this obvious and radical board criticism on his use of language upon his election.
Trump’s language is uneducated and unpolished in which it is identified at the fourth-grade level based on Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale, which is the lowest of the last 15 U.S. presidents” as this new evaluation suggests (Burleigh). The evaluation includes studies on his use of presidential vocabulary collected from unscripted words uttered at press conferences and other public appearances according to the highly credible FactBase, in which the conclusion is drawn that based on every indicator and method of testing, Trump’s vocabulary and grammatical structure are extremely poor, simple and lack of diversity compared with the 15 presidents since Hoover. Instead, he pays great attention to the purpose and provocative of his words, which promotes his ideas and counter attacks criticism towards him, often causing him to ignore the etiquette, beauty and even logic of the language itself. His understanding of profit maximization as a successful businessman makes his language targeted and aggressive, forcing people to look for logic that is lacking in his language from his policy itself. This leads people to produce a natural prejudice and distrust in their impression of him, and hinders him to implement his policy. As an aggressive speaker, Trump creates a looming vision full of untrue and inappropriate political language, and brings the listener into his vision and thinking. This type of hyperbolic statement not only renews the standard and understanding of the language of a President, but also greatly reduces his credibility and reputation. He continues to supply meaningless lies to the public, such as “my dad was born in Germany” and “I had the largest inauguration crowd in history” (Cockburn). He also continues to attack the assistants who work around him in vulgar and indecent language, in which he refers his Omarosa Manigault-Newman as a “dog”, which is considered as a racial discrimination that devalues and insults his former aide (Graham).
On the contrary, his opponents and opposing parties have tightly grasped his huge loopholes and rigor in language. These opposing voices search for and magnify common ground from the complaints and doubts of the people and them, in which they temper language itself to seek out the most “resonant” words when purposefully and consciously facing a particular group of people or a widely sought after point of view. The most common and effective language attack on Trump is to accurately describe his actions or fully quote his original discourse. Even Trump’s National Economic Council chief Gary Cohn writes in an email that “Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing” (Burleigh). The major news media have chosen Trump’s direct discourse as the website title for Trump News, such as The Atlantic selects “Trump Attacks Omarosa, Calling Her a ‘Dog’” as the title of an report discussing Trump’s usage of racial discrimination language to devalue and insult his former assistant (Graham). This seemingly weak discourse contains the most powerful guidance to the public, highlighting Trump’s lack of literate and cultural connotation by easing the language of criticism. In response to these opponents, Trump obviously fully use his knack for tarnishing his opponent’s image in which he has been using the monikers to refer to his rivals directly in speeches and on social media such as “Crooked Hillary” and “Lyin’ Ted” (Trump). Ironically, the Texas senator “Lyin’ Ted’ Cruz is now changed to ‘Beautiful Ted’” as Trump realized all the risks and threats he might face in the 2018 midterm elections (Mahdawi). Even the most unscrupulous people would succumb to the use of correct and favorable political language under the struggle from dealing with the pressure of political parties, which demonstrates and reflects the obstacles that inappropriate political language could possibly bring, and the risks that could be avoided by correct and smooth political language as an excellent counterargument.
It is natural for humans to learn by example; from the way we talk to the way we act, it is constantly changing and influenced by relatives, friends, celebrities… etc. politicians even influence what we say. Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt, presidents have been heard across the country through radio. Then, President Eisenhower had politicians being shown on television. When their voices are heard around the country people aspire to act and talk like them because they want to be as powerful as them. But when their language is not clean, it sends a message to the citizens. “Assistant Secretary State Victoria Nuland made some impolitic comments…Representative Dan Burton referred to President Clinton with an offensive word…George W. Bush us[ed] a vulgar term…Vice President Dick Cheney insulted Senator Pat Leahy on the Senate floor with yet another vulgarity…Representative Michael Grimm threatened an aggressive reporter, using an obscenity” (Sheidlower). All instances are from within the past 20 years, obviously over time Americans got comfortable with profanity due to media. Though hearing it from someone who is supposed to be professional, and has a job so key to our society functioning as a country, it is a little unsettling. Not to mention, depending on what words they specifically used, it is as if they are giving the permission to everyone to say those words because their status is just below regality. These terms are not only offensive, but highly unprofessional and unnecessary; such animosity should not be condoned by a person who is meant to keep a façade of complete eloquence with respectable vocabulary. Now, as time has gone on, politicians word choice have not become better, but rather worse–almost as if we have gone back in time. “Referred to people in the Middle East as savages…I was just using the Trump administration’s terminology” (Ahmad). This quote displays how the political celebrities can affect the way we speak. The man was addressing a Muslim woman in a debate over one of President Trump’s ideals and he crudely labeled the woman that derogatory term. For a retired actor, and now an American President, it is highly important for Trump to watch what he and his advisors say to, or in front, of the public. It is because he is a man of such power, in a time where media is in control of everything, that people now believe it is acceptable to say inappropriate, harmful, discriminatory language.
Politicians use eloquent, strong, and carefully sourced diction when speaking to their audience in order to persuade or gain power. Studies have shown that legislation is easier passed when politicians use specific phrases, and strive to use particular language to maintain a good reputation. In addition, words used in American politics can greatly impact the everyday language of Americans, as politicians lead by example. Political language is an art- it persuades and mesmerizes the average American into believing something other than what is going on. For instance, the heartbeat bill-a bill that restricts abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy which was recently passed in a few states around the nation- uses specific diction to appeal to pathos. By labeling this bill the “heartbeat” bill and not something as straightforward as the “sixth week” bill, politicians use the word “heartbeat” to manipulate their audience into feeling shame and guilt for terminating a pregnancy after the baby’s heartbeat is formed. That being said, a fetus’s organs are not developed until the 10th week of pregnancy and it is not viable outside the mother’s body until at least the 20th week of pregnancy (The Fetal Heartbeat Bill). Millions of Americans are being manipulated by their elected officials daily due to their politicians’ carefully crafted word choice. What does it say about Americans when our nation’s viewpoints on such vital matters can be influenced so easily? What does it say about America itself? Why do Americans allow their politicians to essentially make decisions for them?
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