It is important to admit that politics has facades that are not strictly either pragmatical or theoretical. I am to blame for not acknowledging the other facades of politics, but I have come around to recognize and incorporate them in my way of seeing politics. When I say that there is more to politics than theory and policy decisions, I am referring to all of the intrigue and charisma that involves politics.
Democracy is a big evidence of this, since candidates need votes from the people, the more charismatic they are the better. And let us remember all the cults of leaders in kingdoms, dictatorships, and even big democratic countries. Some examples would be Stalin in the Soviet Block, Salazar in Portugal in its right wing dictatorship and the parliamentary example of a big democratic leader, and a following cult, would be Atatürk, which his name alone means “The Father of the Turks”.
This leaves us with the recognition that there are types of politicians, and ways of doing politics as well. I shall give an example from Portuguese politics.
The Ex-Prime Minister José Socrates was considered as a political animal. And by this, the media meant that Socrates knew how to do politics, how to debate, how to win these debates, show evidence and be the better democrat in the Agora. He is known for his amazing political strategy of diverting voters from the party left to the Socialist Party by bringing the social topics to the socialist party and thus emptying the competition. I do not want to seem like a supporter or a fan of Socrates, as he has a story of fall from grace akin to Lucifer. Knowing how good of a politician he was, he started threading over democratic principles and showing up in corruption schemes, now being involved in many judicial cases, super cases as they are called in Portugal due to their immensity and years of research.
The successor to Socrates, António José Seguro, was known to be a “weak leader”, not opposing the Prime Minister Passos Coelho, even if the job was as simple as pointing out all the economic struggles that were happening in Portugal and the suffocating austerity that was put in Portugal by the IMF and the then current Government.
The conclusion to this tale is that Socrates, up to this day has a voice in newspapers even if suspect of crimes, while José Seguro was forgotten after losing to the current leader of the Socialist Party and current prime minister of Portugal António Costa.
A Charismatic way of doing politics is important and makes people remember politicians. And that is why I want to point out a new way of doing politics in the world, that I would argue was pioneered by Donald Trump.
It is already known, through James Poniewozik’s book Audience of One, how the TV media has shaped American society, culture and Politics, and how Donald Trump in many ways is a product of that and has a very tv way of doing politics. If Europe’s politics are predominantly done through Newspapers and investigation journalism, in the US we have that plus the immense research that TV stations do. In many ways, newspapers in the US have become more like a website due to the progressive moving over to online forms of journalism.
I would like to showcase Trump’s awareness of social media culture and how fast the interconnected media between TV and Interned is. If we take news just like the article the New York Times did on the Tump’s business in China, and with the Chinese government, we would think that this is a piece that would have had relevance in the US elections, but Trump knows that this can be ignored or shoved away with a more controversial statement. One statement that could be used is the “coyotes” statement presented during the last presidential debate.
While talking about the separation of children from their parents at the border, Trump mentioned some entity that brought children over to the border as the “Coyotes”. When Trump mentions coyotes, it is ambiguous enough for these coyotes to be the parents of these children or cartel members that use these children as mules for drug trafficking (a narrative used widely during the 2016 election). The difference is the ambiguity. Because the statement is not clearly offensive, people will talk about it for a week while forgetting Trump’s business with China, and in the end trump can shove the subject to the side and say he was mentioning cartel members as coyotes thus making this a non-controversial scandal.
The problem with these tactics is to believe that the internet does not revise information. The internet is like a very fast flowing river of new information that grabs people’s attention to new things every day. But it is also a big lake of archiving of all these moments, if someone is willing enough to compile all the really polemic cases that involve Mr Trump then all those will be big news once more, but this time without the possibility of creating a big enough polemic statement.
People used to politics may say that this is an old tactic of diverting attentions, but diverting attentions could only be done in the past with a controversy big enough that made the newspapers talk about it. With the internet and social media like twitter, all one needs is a polemic statement vague enough that erupts conversation on social media long enough to make the journalism either give up on their piece, or comment the controversy since it is what everyone is talking about.
I would like to conclude by saying that politics has a very human side to it, and this means that as people’s ways of living changes, so does politics. If we want to be more responsible political spectators, we should separate what type of debates in social media are important and which are not. Most polemic statements reveal themselves as a cry for attention or a firework to divert our minds from what are the important issues. By this I do not want to imply that Mr Trump’s business with China is the important subject. It is but another proof that Trump does not live by the things he preaches. But the fact that Trump is that way, that is an important subject for voters.