Political Communication and Rhetoric in the 2020 Presidential Race


[MUSIC] My name is Meena Bose. I’m the
Executive Dean for Public Policy and Public Service Programs and the Director
of our Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at
Hofstra. It is my great pleasure to welcome you here today for our most
timely panel on political communication and rhetoric in the 2020 Presidential
race. I would say that one day after New Hampshire and one week after Iowa the
results are in. We have much to discuss. I’m going to
turn the floor over to my distinguished colleague professor Phil Dalton in a
moment. I just wanted to give a great thanks to everyone who has helped to put
this event together, our Hofstra Cultural Center: Athelene Collins, Carol Mallison, and Suzanne Thiry, our office of University Relations, our Kalikow school and the Dean,
Ben Rifkin, of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, our program in
Rhetoric and Public Advocacy, I see professor Trasciatti there, several of my
colleagues in Political Science, professors Burnett and Himelfarb who have
joined us, and then, most importantly, professor Phil Dalton in the Department
of Rhetoric and Public Advocacy, who is a member of our Kalikow Center Faculty
Advisory Council. Phil developed this idea really one year ago when we started
talking about what’s going to happen after Iowa and New Hampshire and how
we would evaluate the result. He has invited two most distinguished speakers.
One of them was here a year ago and we’re delighted to bring him back, the other one,
I think, is visiting us for the first time. I will turn the floor over to
Phil to make the formal introductions. Please join me in welcoming him and
thank you for joining us today. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Meena.
To my left is Dr. David Birdsell, the Dean of the Marx School of Public and
International Affairs at Baruch College with the City University of New York. A
widely published scholar, his academic work centers on Public Communication, the
intersections of communication and information technology, and the role of
urban universities and the cities they serve. His scholarly work has focused on
the Nexus of communication politics and technology. He’s one of the nation’s
leading experts on political debates. He comments regularly on politics and
policy for print and electric media- electronic media, and his latest projects
involved the erosion of trust in public institutions. To my right is Dr. Basil Smikle Jr., who is a political and policy consultant who holds a PhD in Politics
and Education from Columbia University As a thought leader and political
strategist, he’s a familiar face on MSNBC CNN and other media outlets where
frequent appearances highlight his insights on electoral politics and
public policy. Dr. Smikle is the former Executive
Director of the New York State Democratic Party. It was most recently
the distinguished lecture of politics and public policy at the City University
of New York School of Labor and urban studies and he’s currently– he lectures
at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and Teachers College.
My name is Philip Dalton. I am a professor here of Rhetoric and Public
Advocacy and I also help in that the program to direct our Political
Communication concentration. Okay. Well, I will set some of this stage with
with a few comments before I hand it over to Dr. Smikle
and then to Dr. Birdsell. We have some interesting outcomes out of last
night’s race. We have Sanders walking away with a win 25.9% of the vote. He walks away with nine delegates. Buttigieg
walks away with nine delegates. Klobuchar comes in third with 19%, almost 20%, of the vote with six delegates. Warren notably comes in fourth and walks
away with no delegates. Vice President Biden comes in fifth place.
You had to scroll past that on NBC this morning to the results to find out
who the others were and where they stood, but Biden walks away with no
delegates. I would note five notable outcomes from this. First, Sanders won.
That puts him in the lead, I guess, in the the narratives in the coming
contests. Second, Sanders underperformed compared to his New Hampshire
performance in 2016, where he took 60% of the vote against Hillary Clinton. Third,
Buttigieg took second and is showing popularity following Iowa’s strong
showing. Fourth, Klobuchar took a strong third place, suggesting voters are now
coalescing around her as candidates drop out and as voters abandoned other
candidates. Fifth, Vice President Biden, who didn’t compete much there, came
in fifth and earned no delegates, which is noteworthy as a Vice President. One
question came to mind as I looked at this and that starts with though he won,
why might Sanders have done so poorly compared to 2016 from 60% to 25%? I
argue the Democrats are now talking about Sanders’ issues, so he has shifted
the debate considerably over four years. We’re now talking about and we have
other candidates talking about, considering, and proposing ideas related
to Medicare for all. The Green New Deal free college, loan forgiveness, and taxing
the wealthy is actually on the agendas of the candidates and something talked
about with some regularity, so we see the debate has shifted. An argument, too, is that
Bernie no longer presents a clear contrast to an establishment candidate,
who was Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though there may be some preferred or
established candidates in this race, there’s so many of them, perhaps, that
it’s difficult to draw clear distinctions between Bernie and some of
the others. For many, the election is one of picking where on the political
spectrum they sit and this is encouraged by the number of candidates who were in
the race, which topped out at 29 people in the Democratic race. Today, we’re down
to eight. We are still talking in terms of a
spectrum of left to right within the Democratic Party. The spectrum framework
dominates a lot of public talk about the election and influences thinking and
reasoning about it. We are influenced in our reasoning by the
rhetorical frameworks imposed on the election and it’s done both by the
candidates talk and by the media narratives and language imposed on the
race. I look at five elements of this. First, I look to talk about electability.
Once out of power, the out party simply wants to win and, often, voters can put
differences to the side in the interest of winning an election. We have seen this
with a Biden ad that wraps up with “Elect the candidate Trump fears most” or the
Buttigieg ad that says, “This is no time to risk the lot built into that
language.” It’s pregnant, so to speak. This is what I would consider an electability
commonplace in the debate. It suggests some are electable while some are not or
not worth the risk and to play the language to advance various assumptions
that are baked into that rhetorical framework. If I’m electable and my opponent
is not, what makes them different from me? Well, if they’re further to the left it
implies it is their politics, their left politics and their liberalism, perhaps. As a
centrist Democrat, this allows me to recast my centrism my willingness to
compromise, which could be a liability in this particular race with an activated
left wing as an asset. I can win. They can’t. Who are those people who can’t? I
guess, Bernie supporters. Another element is a talk of polarity, so I see this in
particular with Mayor Pete’s talk. He’s cast the election and the
framework of a discussion of polarity, which functions, I argue, as a proxy for a
language of extremes. Right now– Right now, nobody or, I don’t know at one
point ever, anyone wanted to be cast as an extremist, but it’s a strange moment
where nobody wants to be cast as a moderate. That language, being
called a moderate or claiming the mantle of a moderate, isn’t very popular. Not
being polarized, on the other hand, is another way to recast a moderate
centrist as positive or palatable, which is, I argue, the reason why
Buttigieg uses the language. He is more of a centrist and so he didn’t want
to seem like you’re moderating principles that people are talking more– more often about, you’re just less polar than they are. A next thing
that is emerging is one of unity. We saw a lot of this with Elizabeth
Warren’s speech last night. She spoke last night about unity with a
message warning against the party beating itself up on the way to the
general election. This is a criticism of people, for instance, and, perhaps, the
Bernie brothers, who are claimed to have booed Klobuchar. I don’t know who booed
Klobuchar in the debate, but somebody booed Klobuchar which are in a
debate and she took note of that. She assigned that to Bernie Brothers or the Bernie
Bros. We also have a Biden PAC, the Unite the Country PAC, so we see unity
and the concern about it, which has kind of baked into it concern about the
division that could be caused by those who pull us too far to one direction. I
would argue that’s to the left. Another thing we see in the election so far is one of diversity. It’s an identity. It’s a very important matter in this
this race, as it is with any race, but it seems to be a central matter. Who
embodies the party is rhetorical. It was the diversity of the candidates that may
not on its face seem like a rhetorical matter. The embodiment of the party is, I
would argue. It has great to do– a great deal of rhetorical power to it.
Now, following New Hampshire, two very white states have started our nominating
season. Not in the process, not necessarily because of the outcomes of
Iowa or New Hampshire, Deval Patrick, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker,
Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, and Wayne Messam have dropped out of the race.
That’s not to say that we don’t have a diverse set of candidates remaining. We
have two female candidates in the race, two Jewish candidates in the
race, and a member of the LGBT community. What I argue, and what I see as absent in the talk
in this race is plays on prejudice explicit or even implicit. Yet, I don’t
see signs of people running against ethnicity or gender bias within the
Democratic Party and often you see claims or actual
observations of dog-whistle kinds of messages that are meant to tease or
excite antipathies toward groups and we’re not seeing that it’s within the
Democratic candidates. Another thing we see in the race is a talk of revolution. Bernie is still talking about the election as a revolution. It’s a radical
shift of the Democratic Party arguably back to its ostensibly principles. While
this is a shift in the party’s discussion and agenda, we’re seeing recently
as Pete Buttigieg, I think notably, inserting language about
deficit concerns into his talk which I think it functions as a sign around
which people who are interested in centrist politics can read into that as an attempt to be more palatable to a middle, a political middle. Meanwhile,
other candidates will draw contrasts by advocating for issues that are like
expansions of social programs. I don’t want to dominate the time, so I’ll just
give a quick overview and that’s that voters are clearly anxious, at least
Democratic voters, are clearly anxious about losing. This probably
shows in polls and focus groups. The language we see the candidates using
about this anxiety is being chosen and used to exploit it. People with, I
would argue, large quantities of money are backing moderate candidates and
competing to mute or squelch the increasingly popular messages of Sanders
and Warren and others that lean further to the left. It shows in the growth
of support for Democratic socialism that we see in polls in the United States.
If I were to cast this, what we’re seeing so far in this election, it is a
struggle between those who have money that manifests in terms of– I’m sorry,
interest and power that manifests in terms of money and those who are
advocating for the expansion of social programs and we’re seeing that struggle
play out in these last two contests. Anyway, I will stop and invite Dr. Basil Smikle Jr.. I need the password. While we are waiting for that, good
morning, everybody. Let’s do that one more time. Good morning, everybody.
Awesome. First, thank you. Thank you, Phil, for inviting me. I was
here about a year ago. I want to thank Will Davis and the good brothers
of Alpha Phi fraternity incorporated, my fraternity, for that invitation and for being
here this morning, and I also want to thank the best teacher I ever had: my mom
is here. She’s a little mad at me because I didn’t tell her I was gonna be here
and she’s not– she said she doesn’t live too far away.
I thought she probably lived a little too far away, but clearly nothing’s too
far for your mom to come see you. Her colleagues from PS107 and a former
principal brother [INAUDIBLE]. How are you doing, sir? Good to see you.
Thank you all for coming this morning. There we go. One of the things that I wanted to do,
and we have about 10 or 15 minutes each to talk about this particular
election cycle, one of the things that I want to do since I’m here to talk about
messaging and branding in this cycle is talk through just a little bit, at
first, about how I view messaging, branding, and narrative. We talk a
lot about name ID and that’s really important. People’s affiliation with a
particular name or with a particular candidate, how much loyalty is built into
that name and into that relationship, and enthusiasm. Are voters enthused about
their particular candidate? Enthusiasm, I would say even more than electability, is
a very important sort of benchmark for me and for a lot of the people that I
work with, in part, because enthusiasm is contagious, right. If you were– I
have a colleague who works in Iowa and worked in the Iowa caucuses and she
related stories of how in one particular room when they are caucusing.
People are in a room like this, sort of standing in each corner
affiliated with their candidate. There was a Biden corner and people were
not particularly happy in the Biden corner, but in the Bernie corner and the
Warren corner, everyone was yelling and chanting and there were signs. You
had a lot of Biden folks looking at that and saying well, “Hey, why am I not over
there?” That means something. Enthusiasm is very very important and we
we talk a lot about that and think a lot about that when we instruct
candidates or advise candidates about creating messages and narratives. What’s
going to excite? What’s going to create enthusiasm? Messaging and narrative is
also about conveying information. It’s what you know about a particular candidate and
what they choose to tell you about themselves within a specific kind of
frame. Those messages are, in many ways, meant to convey sentiment, they’re meant
to convey emotion, and activity. One of the things that’s very important
for us in politics is to try to get you from intent
to behavior. “I like this candidate. I want to support this candidate.” Okay, now we
have to move you from intention to behavior. How do we actually get you out
to go and vote or canvass volunteer in some way, even donate money? In many ways message and narrative is a psychological construct. It’s building a
brand. If you see this phone and it’s got a big apple on
it, what do you think about when you see the Apple logo? How does that
make you feel? You may say innovative, but also really expensive. If you
see a BMW versus a Chrysler do you have a different feeling about a foreign car
versus American car? So and so forth. Those brands are very important and
candidates have brands as well. If you think about Mike Bloomberg, which I’ll
talk about it a little while, you know he’s the businessman turned mayor. “I’m
gonna run the city like I ran my business,” so to speak, right? That’s
branding but there’s a psychological component to that that becomes very
important. This is something that I think, in some of the research on political psychology brings to light, voters don’t
often vote for what they think is the greater good.
They often vote for what makes them feel good. We try to build that into
some of the messaging and narrative of the candidates that we advise and, of
course, you must be consistent and repetitive. Consistency and repetition is
incredibly important in any brand. We want to make sure that you can– you
remember what we have to say, so we say it frequently. I would argue that Bernie
Sanders is probably the most consistent candidate you have ever met. Like him or
not, he has been saying the same thing for the last 30 to 40 years.
The same exact thing. I think– what’s the– not John Oliver…Noah Trevor. Noah,
on his show, unearths Bernie Sanders public access video from 30 years ago. He
looks exactly the same, but he’s saying the exact same things that consistency
and repetition, like it or not, is extraordinarily important for what we do.
Mind you, you’re not the only one doing this. You’re doing it in the
context of a particular campaign and I’ll get to that in a second. When we
deal with messaging, it’s not just about what you say about yourself, but what you
want others to say about you. What’s the takeaway? You may
hear that term a lot. We use that term a lot: “What’s the takeaway?” We’re very
intentional. What do you– what do we want you to think about us and what do you
take away from the statements that we make? Very important
to this process is emotion. If we can convey emotion, that means we can convey
sustainability. I would also say that one of my political mentors growing up
used to tell me that people vote for one of two reasons: pride or anger. I would
also add to that, that fear is an extraordinarily powerful motivator in
elections. Fear is a very important trigger. When I talk about moving from
intent to behavior, fear does that more so than most of the things that we could
ever convey. When you hear a candidate saying, “Well, he’s just stoking fear or
she’s just stoking fear,” that’s done for a reason because it’s extraordinarily
powerful. One of the things about conveying emotion and conveying
sustainability is conveying this concept of social sharing, or a socially shared language. Bernie does that, I think, extraordinarily
well, as do other candidates. I’ll get to that in a second. Another
thing that we do when I talk to my students, and we do this with candidates,
is this wonderful message box. It looks very simple, but it’s an
extraordinarily important concept in creating a message, a brand, and a
narrative. We want to know how do we think about ourselves, us on us, and how do
they think about themselves, your opponent that’s another candidate. You
can do this in the public sector and private sector, as well. If you are
Coke running against Pepsi you’re doing that exercise. How do they think
about themselves, how do we talk about them, and how are they going to talk
about us? As we start to fill in those boxes, we actually start to develop
a finely honed, finely tuned message that we start to present to the
general public. You can’t do it in a vacuum.
There’s our opponent, if you’re a Democrat, there’s our opponent.
All of the messages that the candidates are preparing for themselves before they
get into this race and as they go through the race narrowing it down and
sort of fine-tuning it is done with everybody mindful of the fact that
Donald Trump, President Trump, is our ultimate opponent. Candidates present
themselves as alternatives, not just to President Trump but in the context of
the primary to other Democratic candidates. When we had 21 or whatever,
it was a small school bus full of candidates, that we had at the beginning
of the cycle, how difficult was it for one to sort of categorize themselves and
create a lane for themselves that was separate and apart from someone else? You
may not see those real divisions until now or perhaps that even a little
further down the road as the field dwindles down a little
bit. Presenting alternatives to one another and to our ultimate opponent is
very important. The fact that we had a lot of candidates at the beginning
presented a kind of cognitive dissonance. There were too many candidates, too much
information, too many decisions for me to make to choose between them or among
them. It’s good that we’re at this place now where we’ve
a lot of them, to some extent. We have seen a lot of them sort of come off the trail.
The ultimate winner here– we need to get to that person quickly because if
we’re going to create enthusiasm and if we are going to really buy into that
candidates message, we need to pay attention to it much more closely. It’s hard
to do that when they are five, six, or seven other people running. Another sort of
political rule of thumb that I have is that anger only gets you to 49%. You
actually need to embrace your candidate to get to the 51%. Anger against Trump,
which is what you do hear a lot and I, granted, I’m on TV a lot and I know that
my colleagues speak anger about Donald Trump all the time, but if we, as a sort
of collectively, don’t start to embrace a particular candidate and then be able to
talk more positively and aspirationally about how we’re going to make the lives
of voters and Americans better, it’s going to be a problem for us for
Democrats, if you if you are Democrat in the general election.
In this particular cycle, one of the big buzz words that I will get to in a
second is electability. What is electability? I’m going to explain how
that’s played out in a minute. We have heard that term since the beginning of
this cycle. In some ways it’s kind of nebulous, right? Electability means a lot
of things to a lot of people. Ultimately, yes “can you beat Donald Trump in a
general election,” but it’s still a fairly nebulous term. It really depends on your
theory of the campaign and what voters are looking for and that has been a
little hard to pin down. Certainly, it’s really important, as Phil
said earlier, if you’re a Democrat at war or if you’re not a Trump fan to actually beat Donald Trump. It’s as simple as that. How do we get there? What’s our
path? What’s going to both bring in Democrats, particularly the 4.9 million
Democrats that voted for Obama in 2012 and did not vote in 2016? How
do we bring those folks back, as well? You heard a lot of theories about
electability and you have seen candidates go all over the place. Well, one
thing is definitely true. There is an ebb and flow to us and to any campaign cycle.
Candidates go to their base first, they spend some time expanding, and then they
go back to the base of the bed towards the end. Where is Joe Biden right now?
South Carolina. Why? Because he realizes if he doesn’t show up his support
particularly among African Americans now, he is probably never going to have an
opportunity to do it. He’s going back to his base while others are in this
process of expanding it. They’re still in that phase and
I think that the 2020’s election cycle really, in some ways, began– well,
maybe not began in 2008, but there are remnants of the 2008 election here. In
particular, if you think about Joe Biden. This is how I’ve been framing this
race. Not so much between moderates and progressives because I definitely think
that is true, but also between an establishment candidate in
Joe Biden and disrupters. Everybody else is sort of a disruptor. If you think
about Joe Biden now, Hillary Clinton– and think about Hillary Clinton in 2008, she
ran as this sort of establishment, experienced candidate. It doesn’t
happen in a vacuum because Obama was the hope and
change candidate, so she is the experienced candidate. She ran as
experienced in 2008 and she saw that she had a version of that in 2016, but in both of
those elections voters chose somewhat of a disrupter. They chose Barack Obama for many
reasons and Donald Trump, ultimately in the general election, for those reasons.
In some ways, Bernie– Joe Biden, to me, represents the kind of third
iteration of that experienced, establishment candidate. All the while,
the American voter has been trending toward choosing a disruptive candidate.
The question for me and for many others is what kind– how much
disruption are we really looking for on a democratic side and
how is that going to work going up against an extraordinary disruptive
President? I don’t– I’m not assigning a value to that, but to an extraordinary
disruptive President in Donald Trump. Let’s take a look at the candidates
and see how they are telling me a story. I’m not doing this in any particular
order. I’m going to go back to this point about electability. The concern I had
about the electability argument was that one of the arguments for Joe Biden was
that he could bring back working-class white males. I never bought that because
in many ways, many of those voters across the country haven’t been supporting
Democrats. They didn’t support Barack Obama largely, particularly in the
primary. The question is, is that a good sound argument? The concern I had
for that is that what has happened now is that you have seen voters in some ways turn
into their own strategists. If you’re focused on an electability
argument which says working-class white males, does that mean that the
African American man, the African American woman, or the Latino man
can’t get those voters back? Where are those candidates now? They’re gone.
What concerns me about Cory Booker, Kamala Harrison, and Julián Castro leaving that stage is that they take a lot of the issues they cared about
with them. When was the last time we heard about the border crisis? Julián
Castro talked a lot about that. When was the last time we heard about the caravan?
Do you remember the caravan? Where has that gone, right? These are the concerns that I
have when you craft an electability argument. There are pundits and
others crafting an electability argument at the onset that ends up excluding
other types of candidates because those ideas and issues leave with them.
The truth is, Joe Biden was very instrumental in that because that
argument served his interests best. Let’s talk about Joe. Uncle Joe.
Avuncular Joe Biden, right? It’s “Obama, Obama, Obama. I was there. I was there with him. I was the second in command. I was his
chief defender. If you want somebody with experience or want somebody with the
temperament to go after Donald Trump, I’m your guy.”
It turns out voters are not thinking he’s the guy. They may have appreciated
his role as Obama’s #2, but they don’t necessarily see him in the role as
President of the United States. We could chalk that up to age, you could truck that up
to a number of different factors, including the fact that he’s the third
iteration of the experience candidate and voters are probably looking for
something else. It’s also important to note, I think, with Joe Biden and
something we deal with in the context of politics and messaging, just because
Obama’s messaging was hope and change doesn’t mean that that directly
translates to you, the person that worked for him. Those coattails aren’t that
broad and they don’t translate that easily. That’s important to keep in
mind. We saw that because especially if you are Joe Biden and you
keep saying, “I’m deal. I’m the next iteration of Obama,” but you listen to him
perform in the debates and he is not quite Obama, right? It’s a big difference and voters I think picked
up on that. Bernie Sanders is probably the most consistent candidate there is,
clearly in this cycle in terms of message and narrative. He
clearly has an enthusiastic base. What’s
interesting, I think, about Bernie, and it was raised a little bit last night but I
still think it’s underreported, is that he, after 2016, kept running. A lot of his supporters and a lot of his ideas have filtered into individual
state parties like here in New York. The DNC has those rules about getting
candidates on stage because of polling and the number of unique donors is all
his influence because it benefitted, sort of, his type of campaigning. There’s a
question as to whether or not the country is ready for Democratic
socialists. The truth is that a lot of his ideas have already filtered down
into city and state government. We are talking about affordable college a
lot more than we ever do. We’re talking about moving to some kind of universal
healthcare more so than we’ve ever done in the last
decade or so. I think that’s largely because of him. Is the “is the country ready for it?” quote a self-described Democratic Socialist? Well, we’re already
sort of in that mix already where those ideas are already in our
heads. The question is, is there enough of– we talked about base and expansion of
base. Can he expand his base to be able to go after Donald Trump in the general election?
One other piece of information about that: if you look back at the primaries
in 2016, where he beat Hillary are places that Donald Trump also won. Why does that
occur? Because there’s a thread of – not their entire messaging – but a thread of
their messaging that was similar. The system is corrupt. The system is rigged. We need to
start from scratch or we need to blow it up and do
something radically different. There are a lot of voters across the country
that really do support that. Just very quickly,
Pete Buttigieg. If you like moderation but think there’s something not right
about Joe Biden, Buttigieg may be your God. He’s young. He does talk about
moderate democratic politics and values. I think one of the one of the things
that makes him an attractive candidate for so many people is that he’s pulling, in many
ways, from Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden in terms of the messaging. He’s
appealing both to an educated, white voter who is probably a relatively
high income earner, but he’s also talking about values. He’s especially
been good at talking about himself as someone from Mike Pence’s home state
that could be the complete antithesis to everything that Mike Pence
and the administration represents. In many ways, that has really
worked for him. Elizabeth Warren is interesting because in many ways her
lane and her messaging was “I am not quite Bernie Sanders. I’m sort of the
thoughtful, professor, ideas person. I have a plan for that,”
right? That was her thing. “I have a plan for that.” You need to get hooked up on a
date? I have a plan for that. Somebody actually did do that and she did have a
plan for that, but that was her thing. She presented
herself as a person who wanted some substantial change made about radical
change, but substantial change with a plan.
I think her problem, which is an issue we deal with in messaging all the time, is
that she started to veer too much away from her lane and into Bernie Sanders’
lane a little bit. The truth is, if you like Bernie, why would you go with
Elizabeth when you could actually have Bernie? I think she strayed away
from her core messaging for a little while and then started to go on the
attack. That hurt her. Amy Klobuchar. I’ve been wanting to hear more
from her since the very beginning. I thought her messaging in terms of
Midwestern candidate as a woman who, there were early articles about her
temperament which I thought were very sexist, but it showed her to be this very
strong candidate. She has portrayed herself as
that. She has gotten actually stronger as the debates have gone on and that has
helped her substantially. I’m glad to see that she’s actually– she came in third place yesterday. She came in third place yesterday and
we’ll see where we go from here. What’s going to be interesting is Mike
Bloomberg, that x-factor. Well, it’s three million dollars x-factor, right? It’s
three hundred million x-factor. Where does Mike Bloomberg fit
into all of this? Well, his decision to avoid the first four primaries was, I
thought, if you’re just thinking about it from a strategic standpoint, it’s smart
strategy. I don’t need to be on it– he doesn’t need to be on a debate stage because
why would he want to debate anybody on stop-and-frisk right now, right? Why be on
a debate stage? Why am I going to be in states that are not representative of
the rest of the country when I was a big-city mayor of the city of New York?
Why don’t I just contend on the Super Tuesday where you have states with big
cities and big metropolitan areas that mirror and have issues
similar to what we dealt with here in New York? That, for him, is the do-or-die
sort of day. The truth is, I think he and Sanders have the money and the
motivation to take it as long as they want until they’re
mathematically eliminated. Now that we have Nevada and South Carolina,
where you have more diversity left in these sort of first
four states, how did the candidates change up their messaging a little bit?
Well, Biden is already in South Carolina talking to black voters because he knows
he needs them to stay afloat. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been notoriously bad with
black voters so what does he– does he just die before South Carolina? How
does he change the conversation about his relationship with that community to
try to chip away at some of those votes? It remains to be seen that
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are better than he is, but certainly
not as good as Biden is with African American voters. They do
have more of a war of an opportunity with Latino voters, particularly in
Nevada, so you’ll start to hear them talk a little more inclusively. Messages will
be a little broader to include, probably, race-specific language which you would
not hear necessarily going into Iowa and New Hampshire. As we leave this
particular cycle and there are more conversations about the value of Iowa
and New Hampshire in this particular– in presidential politics, I think what
you’re going to start to see is candidates over the next few cycles
broaden their message a bit as they start to appeal to more and more diverse
States. For right now, I would say in terms of, just to wrap up, some of
the tightest messaging you have seen from from a Bernie Sanders and a Pete Buttigieg and
that’s why they’re having the success they are right now. Everybody else is
starting to sort of change and make some very small tweaks to
their to their narrative, but it’s having an effect. It actually is becoming
obvious to the voter and that tight messaging, consistency, and
repetition is paying off for the folks that you see bubble up to the top.
We’re going to take questions later, but you have Dr. Birdsell coming up.
Thank you. – Thank you, Basil. [APPLAUSE] I thought I would be able to say good
afternoon, but I’m still five minutes shy. We’ll pretend it’s that time. Anyway, hi
everyone. I’m David Birdsell. I’m really pleased to be
here today. I’m the one who has never been to Hofstra University before, so
it’s a great pleasure to be here talking to you all about the campaign. Now, my PhD
is in Communication, but I have a powerfully difficult time talking about
this campaign fundamentally at this stage as a communicative phenomenon.
All people who study communication are inclined to look at almost everything as
an instance of communication, right. That the world is constituted by the way that
we describe it. I think as you listen to both Phil and Basil, and I agree
completely with almost everything that they have said, but I’m going take a couple of
points of difference here as we move along. We have an environment in which we
have had a profound disruption, whether you like him or hate him, Donald Trump
has been a profound disruption to politics and political discourse in the
United States. A difficulty reestablishing, if ever indeed we will,
what constitutes a center that comprehends a majority of the American
public? When we talk about the performance of the primary candidates to
date, we have only had two elections under the belt: Iowa and New Hampshire, right?
Nobody is scoring above 30%. We have perilously small margins of
victory across a wide range of candidates. In the case of Bernie Sanders
that has already been observed, underperforming his 2016 numbers and,
remember, there we were talking about two major candidates and then poor Martin
O’Malley hanging in the wings, picking up 2-3% worth
of the vote. Now, we have gone way down in terms of
those cumulative numbers and that suggests a party that is still very much
trying to figure out what it’s all about. If you’re into disruption and clearly,
Bernie Sanders and I agree completely, has been largely a candidate of
disruption. He claims it proudly. As a mantle, why would you want to go if you
aren’t already a committed Democrat with an unproven disrupter when you could go
with the extraordinarily well proven disruptive presidency of Donald Trump
and just rewind for a second round? I think these are some of the questions
that we want to look at. Now, I’m going to do something that is
sort of against type for a Communications professor and that is to look at some of
the reasons why we have this extraordinarily fractured dialogic
environment. There are narratives that don’t overlap or necessarily even conveniently
address one another. I don’t think it’s unique to Donald Trump. I don’t think it
started there. I think it started at least 40 years ago when Americans began
losing faith in their institutions. When we began losing a rhetoric of the
positive whole. Some of this was a constructive effort, and I use that term
in the broadest possible sense, of political operatives who wanted to tear
down the systemic responses built largely through the New Deal and the
Great Society and argue that those are illegitimate constraints on freedom,
business activity, etc. Some of it was, in fact, the experience of extraordinary
events such as the Vietnam War or the Watergate scandal that from the
other side, tore down the notion of institutions hiding behind temple fronts
in marble buildings trying to do the people’s business in ways that are
fundamentally detached from the people. Some of it, redounds to social media and,
before social media, the advent of 24/7 news. Remember, that has only been with us
since 1980 with the birth of CNN, right? Now we suddenly have 24-hour news
cycles that we need to fill each and every day on myriad channels and quite
frankly, there isn’t that much news, right? What they do is take people like
Basil and, less frequently, people like me and put them up to talk about the way
that we feel about and analyze facts, right, phenomena on the ground, while the
actual news hole for that hour shrinks to about four minutes. When
people then claim that the media no longer talked about anything other than
opinion and that most of it is opinion on that hourly news wheel, that’s true,
okay? That’s just simply, empirically true. There isn’t that much news and certainly
if we look at new news from hour to hour to hour on that wheel, there is a precious, precious,
little bit of it. We wind up dividing ourselves further. I’d like to talk a
little bit about what I see is some of the reasons for that division. I’m going
to submit to you that one of the fundamental differences that we see in
America today is that we are living in different Americas and we have different
experiences. I’m going to try to put some numbers behind that and give you a sense
of how that might be true and resonant. That produces political polarization
and it’s political polarization that is actually reinforced by the media that we
have available to us today. It is– I want to talk about then the implications of
those things for turnout and issue differentiation among the campaigns.
One of the things that I really hope, at least in this room and at least among us, to
put to rest is the notion that there are no differences between Democrats and
Republicans. It’s one of the most annoying and absurd claims. I know that Basil had to record with us and part of his day job just a couple of years ago, but
it’s one of the most annoying and absurd claims. I want to put up a couple of
slides just to suggest why that’s actually true. Let’s begin with this
notion of different Americas and different experiences. By the way, I
need to say everything that I’m talking about here is a pre message
consideration. It is the landscape in which we develop messages and why we
develop messages to try to appeal, ultimately if you’re want to be
President of the United States, to a majority of the American people. Some of
these things you know pretty well. We are a nation that is majority white as we
speak today but we will not be majority white around 20 to 25 years from now.
There are some variables, fertility rates, our migration policy is the biggest
policy change that may affect this, but this is important. If you were, in 1960,
voting for John Kennedy, you were voting, if you’re a white person, as a
confident member of a super majority of people who shared your race and
ethnicity at 85% at that point. At about this stage you dropped below the 50% mark. There is
no longer a majority white population in the United States. I don’t want to spend much time here,
except to note that much of Donald Trump support is very concerned about this
pathway, about this trajectory, and the loss of dominant representation.
The way that I like to think about the post 2040 universe, and a lot of people
use the phrase of majority-minority which is not my
favorite phrase because it is an oxymoron, is a no majority’s
environment in the United States. I live in New York City. New York City has been
a no majority city since 2005, ok? I think it’s arguable that bright
political futures live in places where there are no majorities and people have
to work with one another in order to achieve policy results, but we’re not
there yet and the dying gasps of the white majority are really a political
problem for these United States. Again, I think this is true
regardless of your political philosophy, but I think beyond that it’s important
to think about, going back to my major theme here, the different understandings
of the United States depending on where you are. Those racial and ethnic
categories mask profound differences along other demographic variables. The
median– the most common age among white people today is 58 years old. That
is that is the largest aggregation of white people and that very top bar shows
you an age bracket with a snapshot in time. If you’re Latino, your most
common– the largest number of Latinos in the United States are 11 years old, okay? 11. Think
about that for a moment. Given that we tend to associate with people in our
age brackets, we isolate ourselves isomorphically with regard to people who
look a lot like us. Old white people are looking at a bunch of old white people
they’re saying what’s all this I hear about a you know a darkening America.
Everybody I know is white and middle-aged, right? Maybe that’s true,
but that’s not true in the country as a whole.
If you– you can just look on down the line,
you know. African Americans at this point– the largest number of African Americans is
27 years old, okay, just at that snapshot. For Asians, 29, and for multiracial, 3. This is
a huge phenomenon that we see with more and more people on census reports
describing themselves as multiracial categories. There are big differences about
where you sit. Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution put together this chart and
I think it’s a really good one to give a sense of the different experiences.
What this chart shows is the year at which– the age in 2018 at which Whites
become a minority. If you’re under 18 now
in 2020, Whites are already a minority. Does everybody understand what I’m saying here?
For all of you undergraduate students out there right now, save those of you
who took a gap year, your age mates are already no majority,
okay? If you’re 18 to 29, that year happens in 2027. If you’re 30 to 39,
that year happens in 2033. If you’re 40 to 49, it happens in 2041. If you’re 50 to 59, it’s in 2050. For me, I’m in that last group, 60 plus– for me that happens after 2060 and I’m afraid
that’s the year I turn 103 so that probably doesn’t happen for me,
right? Among my age bracket, I have a daughter who’s 12 years old she has
never lived in a majority white America. She sees the world differently from
the way that I grew up and that my age mates predominantly see it. I really want
to drive home this notion of difference. It’s very important. We’re gonna look at
some Geographic dimensions in a moment. Real quickly, this is about educational attainment.
This, I think, is important too. We have been a nation that has been graduating
more and more people from college. Right now we have just a little bit
north of a third of Americans who get college degrees. A much larger group
graduated from high school and might have some college. We have been
declining in the number of people who don’t graduate from high school, but it
is still a case. This is important. A significant majority, about two-thirds or a little bit less than that, of the United States has some college or no college, alright? There are profound economic differences that we see within those groups. This is a little
bit dated. The numbers that I’m going to present have gotten worse since this
time. But, what this chart shows you is what a person was earning in 2013 as a
fraction of the 1990 salary in those educational brackets. What we see over
on your far left, if you’re a man and you have no high school education working
today you’re earning 80 cents on the dollar of what you were earning in 1990.
These are in real adjusted dollars. You’ve lost ground. If you’re a woman
you’ve lost a little bit less ground. I won’t go into detail on this now. The
reason for that is that we have seen, even though there are still sharp gaps
between men and women and earnings, those gaps have been narrowing somewhat so you
see those changes here. Basically, you’re in really bad shape if you have less than a high school education. If you’ve got that high school
diploma or some college and you’re a man you’re down 13%, so
you’re earning 87 cents on the dollar for what you earned in 1990. Women
actually begin to see gains at this stage. The education pays off and they’re
103% of the 1990 number. Bachelor’s degree, okay, now we’re
beginning to look good. Mom and dad were right. You should graduate from college. You’re getting 7% more if you’re a man and 16 percent if you’re a woman. Then, advanced degrees, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, law degrees, etc., 13% above– 113% of your 1990 numbers.
If you’re a woman, you’re making 121% of your 1990 numbers. Now, I want you to see
this because this is very important to understanding the
chaotic perception of what institutions have done. Remember, this is not– when we see charts like this we have a tendency to think this is 50% and this is 50%.
That’s not so and that’s why I showed you the chart beforehand. This is two-thirds
of America by population. This is one third of America. This third is doing pretty well. We’re doing pretty well. That other
two-thirds is doing miserably and they aren’t gaining ground. There are more
jobs, but we have seen wage growth at a very, very, very slow pace. I’m not
gonna show you charts in that but you’ve seen it widely reported the media. This
is a chart, brand new from the Hamilton project, that maps economic vitality. The
areas that you see in blue– that’s not Democratic blue, although as you see in a
moment it might as well be Democratic blue. The areas in blue are the places
with the most vital economies in the United States. That looks at cost of
living, it looks at the average wage, and it looks at a whole bunch of factors to try
to see where you’re going to do well. The more, sort of, “orangey” you are, the worse
off you are as a locality. These are not individuals. These are localities, is
everybody with me? This is mapped to the county level. Obviously, we can’t go onto
the interactive map and go to the counties. But, you know, surprise, if you look at the northeast megalopolis we’re doing pretty well. If you look at Houston and you look at San Antonio and you look at Dallas you’ve got pockets of truly great activity here. Along the west coast areas up to Seattle you’ve got San Francisco, and you’ve got Los Angeles. The urban areas are doing really well. This is a county-level map of what the vote looked like in 2016. Do you notice anything similar about those? Hmm?
We have this great middle of the United States that is not doing so well. Geographically, it’s an enormous majority of the country. In terms of population, not so much. These are very lightly populated areas by and
large. Add in the heavy Latino votes right along the Mexican border in Texas, in South Florida, in Southern California, and up through portions of
New Mexico and Arizona and you have an explanation to a certain extent for why
it is that much of America, speaking geographically now,
voted for Donald Trump. They are people who are doing poorly economically. It’s not
the case that all of Donald Trump supporters are, you know, out-of-work
white males. That’s not true. Actually, the income profile is a little higher on
average than what you see for people who voted for Hillary Clinton in that year
in 2016. But, you’ve got a lot of support and some of the most vocal support from
these areas that aren’t doing too well. I see this as a profound, profound
crisis of every dimension for the United States. Most importantly, a constitutional crisis.
Right alongside of that in terms of the ability of the polity to respond to
human needs and, particularly, to economic needs, but it’s also a rhetorical crisis. What works for these urban areas in the way that you formulate your
experience and you talk about the people you see around you every day, it
doesn’t even sound like reality if you’re having that same conversation in
the middle of the United States. I have another house right about here [pointing off screen]. The politics in that portion of Maine are about as different from the politics of Manhattan as you can possibly imagine.
It’s not because they’re bad people, it’s because they see a different America
than the one that I see from Greenwich Village. We need to think about this
when we think about the ways that political parties frame arguments. We
need to think about this when we understand what it is that unites us as
a people that can be described as a people. Right now, unfortunately, we’re
losing that march. I need to show you this slide because I think it says a lot
about people who would, remember, at the end of the day lead government. That’s
what the President does, right? At the peak of the– this is a Gallup
poll, by the way, and since the Eisenhower administration, Gallup has been asking
the question “do you trust the federal government to do the right thing all the
time, most of the time, some of the time, or none of the time?” At the peak in Lyndon
Johnson’s first year as an elected official, as an elected President as opposed
to a person succeeding John Kennedy, in 1965, 78% of Americans
trusted government to do the right thing all or most of the time. Think about
that. 78%, more than three-quarters, of us thought that
government do the right thing all of us at the time. Today that number is 18%. It has flipped. Now, if you don’t believe that the government is going to do the
right thing, do you want to elect somebody who is going to perpetuate that
government or do you want to elect somebody who’s going to blow it up? If you don’t necessarily want to elect somebody you believe actively invested
in blowing it up, are you really concerned if it doesn’t work the way
that it did because, right or wrong, you don’t believe it’s working now?
This creates a rhetorical landscape that I would argue we have yet
to figure out how to contain for people who want to work constructively with
government programs. Not, I would argue, the Trump agenda. Really quickly, on this
slide I just want to make the argument that one of the things that we see here
is a dramatic difference between people who actually vote and people who would
be eligible to vote were they to vote. We look at this across the board.
In each one of these cases by age, by race, by education, and by income, the left bar
are the people who actually vote and the right bar are the people who do not vote.
If we look at it by age, we see that there is a huge– we’ve got 33%
of the people not voting between 18 and 29. If they were to vote, Bernie
Sanders would have a very good primary. But, by and large they don’t. If we
look at, you know– if we go over to race, look at the white percentage of voters,
almost three-quarters, and we look at where whites would be in the non voters:
52%. Presented in the population right now is about 63%. You’ve got
big differences in how this works out and huge differences when you think
about income. This matters a lot. It is a hard ceiling to where you’re going
to see your voting numbers come out unless you can actually get the turnout.
One of the things that’s disrupted in this era are
models that political scientists and others use to predict who actually votes
and how elections turn out. Some have now moved to a notion that it’s actually
a matter not- I’m not endorsing this I’m simply describing it- it’s not a matter
of leaners and people who can be persuaded in the middle because people
are gonna vote majority democratic if they’ve done that in the past and
usually for Republicans if they’ve done that in the past. The question is who is
there? Who are you motivating to go to the polls? Then we get back to
Basil’s issues with regard to enthusiasm and vision or fear, you know, why are
they there and who’s coming out this cycle who didn’t come out last cycle?
I’m going to talk about political polarization real quickly. We have been polarizing to beat the band
for a long while. Party ID is shrinking for both Democrats and Republicans.
There are still a few more Democrats than there are Republicans, but people who
call themselves Democrats and Republicans are smaller and smaller as a
percentage of the entire electorate. What we see, however, is leaners. In the
light blue here, these are people who are consistently voting Democratic even though they don’t describe themselves as Democratic. In the
pinkish or the light red, 13% of the population, the voting
population, consistently voting with Republicans even though they don’t
describe themselves as Republicans. The actual middle the people who go either
way is very very small, okay? They are 7% of the voting population at this
point. When we start thinking about what’s locked in and what’s available
you begin to have another explanation for why the rhetoric doesn’t comprehend
the whole but pays attention to tiny fractions of the population, in this case
in the presumed middle. I’m gonna skip one slide, but I want to point this out.
Just in this last year Republicans have become dramatically more homogeneous. We see significant increases in evangelical conservatives as a percentage of the
Republican base as a whole. It’s up to 1/3 of Republicans. They are evangelical
conservatives, overwhelmingly white conservatives. Moderates, they’re fleeing
the party in droves. Secular conservatives are fleeing the party in
droves. Tea Party and Catholic conservatives are beginning to come up
and those used to be reliable. Not the Tea Party, but the Catholic conservative
used to be fairly reliable Democratic voters and that’s no longer the case. You have a more homogeneous Republican Party and actually a more diverse
Democratic Party. Again, if we’re thinking about where you pitch your
messages to people who are geographically different, educationally
different, and regionally different, it becomes an extremely challenging
proposition indeed. Our partisanship is not just a matter of feeling differently
about politics, it’s a matter of feeling differently about one another. I’ll only
take the top line on this graph and that is among Democrats 27% are inclined to
describe Republicans as a threat to the nation, okay? Not my neighbor down the
street who disagrees with me or who is annoying at the party and you know we
have arguments over the jello mold every time we have a picnic, but a threat to
the nation. That is true of 36% of Republicans in the way that they
describe Democrats. You’re with me on this? This is another aspect
of polarization and the question is what do you put back in the bottle? This is
such a phenomenon that now among consistently conservative Republicans,
63%, almost two-thirds, feel that it is important for them to live in an area
that doesn’t have Democrats in it. An area that doesn’t have Democrats and doesn’t have
liberals. Now, that’s true for one in two liberals who don’t wish to be among
conservatives either. This is move you know– I’ve got to stress this
point here that we’re talking about a level of polarization that is not just a
matter of I prefer this kind of politics, but I prefer this kind of politics and I
hate the people who disagree with me. I hate them, I think they’re a
threat to the nation, and I don’t want them anywhere near me. They are not in my
discursive universe. Again, for a rhetorician, that presents a pretty
serious challenge if I’m trying to assemble them into a majority. This is a
slide that’s interesting that I’ll just mention and go right over. By
international standards, our parties have become extreme. This is particularly
true of the Republicans. That median party is that blind
you see about a third of the way from the left and this is globally that
you have liberal parties and you have more conservative parties. [pointing to screen] Right over here you have social democrats in Denmark, and you have a moderate party in Sweden. Here are the Democrats and a little bit left of that are Britain’s labor party over here. Look at the Republicans. The Republicans are over here. They are almost over too alternative for Germany territory. This is another indication. This is not just polarization within the context of US
politics. This is polarization with the context of democratic politics all over
the world. These are fairly significant pieces. Media consumption habits. I don’t
have time to spend a lot of time on these graphs, but television is
the preferred way to receive information for a dwindling minority.
There is no majority source of information. Now, you know, I’m ancient but
when I was in high school there were three places that you got your evening
news, right? It was on NBC, CBS, and ABC. It lasted for 30 minutes and about 140 million of the 180 million Americans who were
alive at that time watched the same news program. Then, you turned it off and
you got to forget about news except for your Washington Post or New York Times when you read it the morning. It’s very different today, right? You
have tiny audiences by contrast who are self selecting for largely the political
views that they see on that television source but online is growing. In the next chart I’m going to show you exactly how big that is.
These are the percentages of US adults who get news on the various sites
almost three-quarters, 71%, of Americans use
Facebook. Wow. Yeah, it’s big number. 52% of
Americans use Facebook to get news. Now, it may not be their most preferred
source, but they’re getting their news there. If you were, say, an autocratic
leader of a northern and eastern European country who wanted to influence
elections you might look there because that’s where the voters are. That’s
what they’re reading and that’s– and of course what they read is
what is linked. It’s very very powerful. Note on YouTube, there are
actually more people that is 3/4 of Americans on YouTube but- gesundheit – but
less than a third is actually using it for politics. Then you see the other
numbers here. I will just point out and this notion of polarization and where we
go to try to repair these rifts, look at how different the audiences for the
various platforms are. This is last summer’s information from the– by the way,
for the students out there if you want to know what’s happening with
regard to media consumption, please go to the Pew Charitable Trusts and download
their information. It has terrific material updated at least
annually to tell you where all these things are. But, if you look at Instagram
for a minute, almost two-thirds of people on Instagram are women.
If you look at the numbers they are overwhelmingly younger women, 18 to 29.
This is only adults, by the way, we aren’t surveying children in this one. But, if
you go over to YouTube 57% of the YouTube users are men. There are lots of them doing
stupid tricks in their backyards, right? I’m filming it and sharing it with
their friends. On Reddit, 70% are men so very– you know, if you’re asking
the question where as a speaker do I go to comprehend America? It ain’t there.
There isn’t a place to go. You have to go to a bunch of different places to pull
pieces of an audience that ultimately went and wind up where you want to be.
I’m just going to go to two more slides and then I’m going to end and
we’ll talk. It used to be the case that Democrats and Republicans were concerned
about roughly the same issues. If we look in 1999, immediately before the 2000
election, of course, top priorities for Republicans was education, well it was
education for Democrats too, and crime for Republicans. Crime is on the top five for
Democrats. Social Security is tied for three. Morality was big on Republicans, but Democrats did not care so much about that. Health care is number two over there.
Four and five are the same. Look at top priorities that last year for
the 2020 election. There is no overlap. No overlap.
The top priorities for Republicans terrorism, the economy, Social Security, and
immigration of the military. For Democrats it is health care, education,
environment, Medicare, and the poor and needy. The President released his
executive budget last week. This is the Washington Post’s graphic showing what
happens in this. If you were trying to appeal to that Republican set of
desiderata, you would do this, right? You would diminish the money that goes to
the Commerce Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the
State Department and USAID, HUD, Interior, and Transportation. Essentially,
social programs and domestic programs are down, right? Where do you build? You build
NASA, you build Veterans Affairs, and you build Homeland Security. That’s
migration, right? You build Treasury. Those activities comport with this. I would simply point out when we look at the Democratic candidates
agendas, there could not be a sharper contrast. This is the nail that I
finally hope to drive through the the heart of this notion that there is
no difference between Democrats and Republicans. There is a really big
difference and we will tee up that difference in this election cycle when
we get to the general, whoever the Democratic nominee is, in a way that we
have never seen before. Let me just end with this thought. I’ll knock this out so that
we can have our conversation. I believe that the Democratic nominee that we see
ultimately will be the person who is successful in crafting a
language that can involve a larger base that can pull people who have been
economically disappointed into an environment where they can see hope and
concrete plans and it won’t be so scary to a group of people who are doing
reasonably well. Remember, Democrats pull enormously well with highly
educated and reasonably affluent audiences. How do you keep those
people on board while making sure that you can bring the country together again
and make it a more equal place? That’s a rhetoric that I’m not analyzing today
because we don’t have it but it’s going to be interesting to see who is best
able to embody it by the time we get to the midmitd to the convention in the
middle of the summer thank you very much thank you dr. Bert salt we have a
microphone that we can bring around all you have to come to the mic thank you
and if you have questions please come up and and ask so I have a question for David by the
way thank you for for sharing thoughts these were all really provocative and
and smart and I really appreciate helping me to clarify my thinking and
actually raising questions as well as answering them my question is
specifically for David and it’s about the last thing you said so we’ve got
people doing well I’ll count myself among them reasonably and and people who
are doing really poorly and I’ll count many of my family members among them
some of whom live in Michigan my cousins in the poorest County in the state so I
mean this question is really ultimately about the relationship between material
conditions and and rhetorical constructions I am a rhetorician also
right so how do we craft a rhetoric that does what you say it needs to do but
also really truly addresses the material conditions that we are faced with which
is extreme inequality I mean how do you craft a rhetoric that does more than
just promise but that actually delivers what people need and and so makes people
like me I so how do you craft a rhetoric of economic redistribution which is what
we need that gets people to say okay I’m on board with that because to me it
seems like to really redistribute economically somebody’s got to give
stuff up so I think you could be interpreted I don’t think you are saying
this but I think you could be interpreted as saying like so a rhetoric
that says to people don’t worry it’s not gonna cost you but we’re gonna help
these people I’m not sure that’s possible but what would that look like
rhetorically anyway if it were possible thank you Mary Ann it’s an excellent
question I’m not a political candidate so I don’t think it’s necessarily my job
to figure out what those political candidates could be saying but were I a
political candidate I’d be making the following kinds of arguments if you’re
doing well right now that success is under threat and it is under threat to a
certain extent because of the inequality that exists in this country today as I
mentioned I’m not young III need to make sure that a diverse America provides a
terrific set of jobs for a diverse population I need to make sure that that
diverse population is working and thriving well into my
I won’t say grain years because there’s less hair to gray but you know that as I
get older I need to make sure it’s a self-interest argument right that that
people have good jobs and are able to sustain a tax base I need to make sure
that we’re in a country that continues to be economically competitive and that
has the international partnerships and the supply chain relationships that it
needs to thrive this is one of the reasons that Xi Jinping is spending four
billion a part of a four trillion dollars on the belt and road initiative
we’re not doing anything even remotely close to it and we’re ripping up all the
trade agreements that secure the supply chains that we have today we need to be
out there doing that work we need to understand that if we do not thrive
together we do not thrive individually over the long haul next week next year
for the next ten years maybe but we need to make those investments and I think
that can be an appealing argument will it mean that I might have to pay more in
taxes yeah might it mean that I have to support people’s education other than
the education of my child yeah it might mean that but I think if we look at that
in in the positive glow of thinking of ourselves as a people but right now I
don’t know that we have the language to think of ourselves as a people so that’s
the first step is trying to reinvigorate a sense of the polity and our membership
in it if I can if I can add to that I think you’re right the problem is I
don’t know that we can convince someone of exactly what you said that I could
make someone’s life better without making yours worse right like do I take
away from you to help this other person that’s a fundamental problem that I
don’t know that we get through I don’t know how to get through that in this
cycle because if you’re if you’re a Barack Obama for example and you just
talked about hope and change then yeah that’s enough of a message that’s broad
enough that encompasses a lot of different types of people that’s true
but it was also very light on policy I mean it just was and that’s from a
campaign point of view that’s actually okay because you just got to get through
that process and then once you get to the White House of win your election
then you could start focusing on the details
I don’t know that there is a skillful enough we’re being taken out like I said
it already I don’t know that there’s a skilled enough candidate today that can
truly bring that same message of hope and change in an aspirational quality to
the campaign that someone who is not doing well can say I can do well under
this president and someone who’s already doing well saying you know what I think
my my prospects and the prospects of the country are going to be are gonna be
going in a positive direction it is it is an extraordinary skill that takes a
skilled politician to deliver and that’s in retrospect that’s the beauty of a
Barack Obama versus you know some of what we’re seeing I really was asking was are these actual
differences solvable I mean is it you know can the people who have no health
care have health care if I don’t have to give up my prep that’s what I like is
this not really a rhetorical problem is it something that there is no rhetoric
for because the the chasm is so that we are so economically divided that
redistribution has to involve taking away to give to other people okay I’m I’m an optimist and I happen to
believe that you know not only is it possible it has been done if we look
back to the tax rates that we had in this country in the 1960s we had you
know Alexandria Acacio Cortez lover hater was vilified by for talking about
a completely unreal situation where they would be a seventy percent tax rates on
how it’s tax rate on high incomes we had that you know that that was what the tax
rate was and the Johnson administration and and we could go back to many many
other examples we used to fund public higher education through state tax levy
resources that’s been cut back in 50 of 50 states we could go back to that and
make an enormous difference in the lives of people aspiring to jobs that are only
accessible with a college education we used to have a sense of shame about
people benefiting themselves at the expense of shareholders and employees
and corporations I mean the average multiple of a CEO salary if we go back
50 years from the lowest paid worker in that organization was under 10 now it’s
over 400 so yes we absolutely can do this now obviously we did not have
universal health care or any of those things at that point we had a whole
bunch of other problems and particularly racial exclusion although we can go on
to others as well but we can do something better I do think and with
respect to that chart that I showed and I think it’s the most important chart
that that loss of trust in institutions we can’t go back to anything and I don’t
mean to be understood and saying because we’ve
before we can do it we must find a better way to do it that is inclusive
that actually reaches every pocket that aspires for net for universal health
care etc but do we have the money to do it absolutely we have the money to do it
and do we have it in a way that would still allow everybody who is living well
to live really well yes we would I I don’t think there’s any doubt about that
if we run the numbers and I absolutely agree and I think part of the challenge
in getting us to that place is that voters vote against their interest all
the time and we have to figure out a way to not have that have that happen number
one and number two I think the arguments that are generated by this fear
particularly by this president are X ordinarily pervasive I can’t I can’t
under undersell that and I’ll give you an example an older african-american
gentleman the super of the building next to mine and I we talk all the time there
are a lot of conversations that I get to get into people who don’t know exactly
what I do and I feel that that’s helpful because I can get sort of raw
information from them but he has a sense and he he’s very upset at the Democrats
he’s not a trump supporter but he has said to me on many occasions that we as
a country shouldn’t be so focused on supporting immigrants because what about
us what about us and first he he’s he went to his first conversation was about
you know we open the door for all these Caribbean folk now my mom and I hear
where he’s a Jamaican I’m first-generation so of course at that
moment I was I wanted to walk away but I didn’t want to be impolite but but but
having said that I understand I hear that argument all the time there is this
that this this fear even for people that shouldn’t have that kind of fear it it
works and that’s the challenge that I think the Democrats have in this cycle
is to find a wait if not to undo it to at least to at least tamp it down
enough that some voter is willing to take a chance on them and step away from
that financially everything you’re saying we can do this as a country but
we are we are in we have grown accustomed to voting against our own
interest that I don’t know if a singular campaign cycle can undo that and there’s
a big debate right in political science and communication in the public of
polarization and what it means for American politics one of the questions
today I think is whether the institutions of American politics need
to be changed this has been coming up in discussions the Senate demographics
right and and how our institutions represent those demographics do you
foresee for both of you is that necessary in the coming years to address
some of these problems and particularly with the question of messaging can can
there be messaging about institutional change in an election cycle or is that
something that has to happen outside of an election year but I didn’t talk about
the Electoral College the Senate and so forth thank you I’ll just do two quick
examples of it let’s talk about the electoral college I was an elector in
2016 I took that job very seriously and I know a lot of a lot of my colleagues
did as well I don’t think that’s changing anytime soon there was a
there’s a pact that some states have signed on to you and there’s a trigger
for when it goes into effect I just don’t think I don’t think it’s gonna go
and it’s not gonna go away anytime soon but I do think there is there is
momentum for some kind of some kind of fix because something that hadn’t
happened much in history has happened twice now in my truck in my adult life
by any terms of the popular vote in electoral thing you know the the one thing that I would
say about institutions is that as much as we sometimes don’t have a lot of
faith to them and in as many times as the I think this administration tends to
talk down to and even attempt to destroy institutions I I do feel it’s important
and I’d say this to voters all the time that the regardless of what you think of
Donald Trump the bureaucracy is still performing well or not as in the story
is up to you in some respects and you know we can talk about whether really
did really is or isn’t and I’ll give you an example in the in the eight years of
Barack Obama if I remember correctly there were some 55 federal judges that
he appointed in Trump’s three three and a half years in office he’s done 50
since the impeachment conversation started he has flipped appellate courts
to GOP control so the majority of appellate courts now in GOP control so
and and and think about the judges that are consistently being confirmed by the
Senate as we speak and yet we’re so focused
going back to your TV example all the conversation is on impeachment but the
there’s still work being done by this administration without real attention to
it and so my point is one of the yes we can talk about the institutions working
better for us on our behalf but I I think if if no other time in history if
we could become aware of the importance of elections it’s now because the people
that we put in place run Bureau a bureaucracy whether you’re if you’re a
president of your governor or mayor you run a bureaucracy that is still
functioning and it’s that the wheels are still turning so it really does matter
whose running it and the connection between
politics and governance if with no other point in time should be crystallized
because of this president I agree with absolutely all of that let me just add a
couple of things I think institutions do need to change but we also need to
change what we know about institutions the rate of civic literacy about what
our institutions do I mean look at the tremendous work that the Environmental
Protection Agency has done each and every day since since the 1970s the most
successful piece of environmental legislation arguably in the history of
the country is the Clean Water Act and the Clean Water Act has just been
significantly weakened at least as in a proposed executive order to stop
enforcing the Clean Water Act over wetlands that it is covered for 40 years
and and the implications could be profound we we have a federal government
that’s about the same size as it was in John Kennedy’s administration even
though the population is twice the size and the economy is six times the size as
it was in John Kennedy’s administration so government is not this bloated beast
it’s actually very mean by historical standards and doing terrific terrific
work it’s it’s a it’s a truism that good news doesn’t get covered right
so there isn’t that counter narrative and at the same time there has been a
narrative for a very long time that government is the enemy Ronald Reagan
told us that right but you know government is the problem not the answer
that the most frightening words in the American language I’m for the government
and I’m here to help you right I mean these were these were his campaign lines
and that has driven down the morale of public service employees and as to a
certain extent made it possible for people to deny even the successes of
government so Medicare is the most is the most popular government program okay
with Social Security right behind it and you may remember the very telling moment
of the campaign trail in 2012 when a woman came up to Barack Obama and said
seething you know frothing at the mouth you know get your government hands off
my Medicare ma’am that’s a government program right and there’s a wonderful
book obviously this year by Amy Lerman she’s a professor at the Goldman School
at birth what she has done is looked at the image
of government over the course the last 60 years that that phrase good enough
for government work used to be a line of praise at the end of World War two it
meant had to be perfect because you were going to war with the munitions that
were made good enough for government okay it was turned fifteen years later
in the Goldwater campaign into a term of a program the government work was bad
but this we need to reveal our sense of what these institutions do as well as
what they do in certain circumstances question please okay
we have a potential very eventful 12 months ahead of us perhaps like no other
in American history and I say this with some trepidation so let me present you
with two scenarios one the election campaign runs its course and it comes
out on the eve idiolect well at election night with results very similar close as
they did last time except the results are reversed whoever the Democratic
candidate is he wins so now Donald Trump who decides to tell
us that there are irregularities and he’s not leaving because he’s
essentially already told us that he told us in in 2016 that that you know the
election was probably rigged and if he lost he really didn’t lose okay
you know and and and and since then he’s told us that prep when President Xi was
elected president for life gee that was a good idea maybe we should try it
chuckle chuckle chuckle but it really wasn’t a joke okay scenario way what
happens if that happens quick very quickly scenario B Trump stays in office
one way or the other and we know that he’s very enamored
loyalty loyalty of from on the part of his subordinates but let’s say that that
carries over maybe in a rather maniacal way to his subjects the rest of us and
somehow that translates into loyalty oaths for teachers and that teachers
whether de jure or de facto maybe it doesn’t matter and that teachers are you
know or required or maybe on their own tell their kids hey if you hear your
parents expressing any discordant views about the president just tell us on the
side etc etc etc obviously this isn’t totally fictional because it’s happened
in other places and other times scenario B responds Wow so let’s see what do we
do if he loses the election and he doesn’t want to leave office is
essentially your first question I mean there have been movies made about this I
guess I don’t know I don’t know but look I I guess owing to a point I was making
earlier the government will continue to function and it the bureaucracy will
move and if he doesn’t move he will be moved out of office will he be moved out
of office and there be some it and and and I guess one of the things that there
folks have batted around this concern what you’ve asked is not something that
I’ve not heard this for the first time today it’s it’s come up quite a few
times the truth is I think he’ll be fine
leaving office because then he’ll be unplugged so to speak and he’ll be able
to go off and do and say whatever he wants now having said that don’t think
he’s not gonna do that now that he’s been acquitted after impeachment right
because now you have a president who is essentially Unchained and you saw this
in the recent sort of firings and I expect if he throughout the rest of this
year and if he gets another term he will do more things that will
probably be in beatable right because that’s who he is but if he leaves off if
he is voted out of office I think he’ll be glad to leave because he’ll take his
support with him and probably be a thorn in the side of whoever else is there
number one number two the what was it it was loyalties well you know if you look
at going back to television if you look at Sinclair broadcasting and there was a
point some years ago when all of their networks had to read a statement on air
at the exact same time in some kind of allegiance to a particular sort of
essentially a sort of a loyalty oath I I do think you’ll see that happen much
more frequently and that is scary and and I think it goes into professor’s
earlier points about people choosing to choosing where they live based on
political ideology and that probably would exacerbate the situation
substantially because why would I want to be sort of in living in a place where
you know teachers have to teach only teaching certain things or I’m only
going to see certain things on on television so on and so forth right so I
think that exacerbates an already existing problem but I frankly if he if
he were to win another term it is I think this division and polarization
gets substantially worse before it gets better
I just just pick up on that last piece and I will I agree that a second term
would hollow out the bureaucracy I’m a little bit less optimistic about the
ability of the bureaucracy to respond people have been leaving government in
droves particularly the federal level you see a very different scenario at the
state and local levels and I think that’s important to a certain extent
we’re flipping the order of priority and federal versus state and local activity
for preservation of some of the kinds of norms and routines that we’re talking
about and also have more possibility of change but if we look at who’s departing
and who’s coming in to do that work those institutions are more and more
strained and if we had that crisis I would
concerned I strongly recommend a book by Levitsky and Zim black called how
democracies die it’s one of the hot academic bestsellers there are such
things and you know in this last couple of years but what they do is go through
authoritarian governments around the world and show exactly what you’re
talking about that transition from you know to a kind of post electoral or a
sham electoral strategy and they’re looking Fichter are bound and blood of
your Putin and several probably go to territory and several other folks it
could happen here and you know to be honest with you and I’m starting to
thinking through again based on what you just said because look what just
happened when the president stepped in with this Roger stone exactly exhaustion
sentencing and what is it six or so or lawyers that were attached to that case
have walked away that’s that is that is absolutely troubling so you know what
you might you might be right thank you all both very much
seldom do I see everyone stay for when we run long so I thank you all for
staying and I thank you both for for your time dr. Burt so and out and dr.
Michael I know have a great day thank you very much

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