The concepts of reason versus impression were the basis of advice given to Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, during his campaign in 1968. An article I read recently from the political historian, Heather Cox Richardson, suggested that this advice has driven the Republican Party ever since. When I thought about it in the context of the current political climate in the US, and the pending presidential elections in 2024, the strategy seems absolutely relevant today. It may be frightening in a political system that purports to acknowledge, and even demand, that the electorate be educated, aware, and can make informed decisions, but it rings totally true none-the-less.
The advice given to Nixon by one of his media advisors was, “Voters are basically lazy. Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand…. When we argue with him, we…seek to engage his intellect…. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable.”
It is difficult not to argue that, 55 years later, that strategy will be just as effective as it was in 1968, not only for the Republican Party candidates, but for the Democratic ones as well. If you think about it, it makes a mockery of the whole concept of democracy. It reminds me of a comment from an Educational pundit of roughly the same period as Nixon, Marshal McLuhan, who said “the medium is the message”, implying the content of the message is of secondary relevance.
In reading the article by Cox Richardson, I was also reminded of the comments of the Republican presidential candidate, Will Hurd, on a PBS show last week. He said something to the effect that a large percentage of the voting public don’t give a damn about the antics of Donald Trump, or Hunter Biden, they are concentrated on survival and building a future for their families.
If you put those two concepts together, both current political parties are only preaching to their respective choirs. What they are talking about is basically irrelevant to the majority of American voters, regardless of those voters’ political affiliations. It is a media circus that has little relevance to most people’s everyday lives and interests.
I have said many times that the US Democratic Party has lost its way, in that it seems to have alienated its traditional base of the poor and middle classes – not that it ever really gave a damn about them anyway, and that’s the Party’s legacy of hypocrisy. The Republicans are a little better organized or, at least, were a little better organized when they knew that their base was the privileged and wealthy. However, recently, they have co-opted the traditional base of the Democratic Party, the poor and middle classes, particularly the rural poor, and they have no clue what to do with that inheritance. As a result, both parties have allowed themselves to be driven by their fanatics, who at least know what they want, however detrimental to the country that may be.
It’s a mess, to put it mildly, and it’s difficult to see where a force/movement might come from to put us back on the rails again. Realistically, it is difficult not to predict civil war if Trump loses the 2024 election, and a dictatorship if he wins. Either way, it could spell the end of the American experiment with democracy, and that would have consequences for the world order of the future.
I can certainly be accused of being a prophet of doom but, as we know, it only takes good men not to stand up for what is right to ensure a catastrophic future. I realize I am mis-quoting someone there, but that doesn’t negate the seriousness of the situation.