Why politicians always talk about how great America “was”?



Inevitably, some politician, or political hopeful, invokes the “good old times.” It always happens. There’s that one candidate *cough, Trump* who just won’t let it go.

But really, candidates talk about this all the time, and I think it’s pretty annoying. BUT, it’s not a bad strategy, because I’m pretty sure the message hits home for a lot of people (namely, voting people — who are generally older).

Let me throw some thoughts out there about this strategy …

Well son, back in my day we …

Fill in the blank. Common line. And, it’s pretty much the same line some candidates and politicians use, buy why? Why not talk about how good the present is, or the future will be?

Picture this:

We all have that family holiday that everyone remembers as a good time. You know, the one where uncle Tom showed up with extra presents, and everyone laughed at family jokes at the dinner table. And there was a fire place, and everyone fell asleep to chestnuts on the open fire. … OK, this is a bit over-the-top, but there are some family memories that we all have, that we remember as good memories.

BUT, here’s what we don’t remember about the family party: In reality, it was horrible. While he did bring a few extra gifts, uncle Tom got drunk and spilled all the gravy on the table after insulting aunt Stephanie. The dog bit your hands and it bled. The fireplace was actually blocked up, and everyone woke up in the middle of the night to black smoke in the living room. … Or, for your actual memory, there are parts about your family memory that are blocked out, because that information isn’t necessary — because nobody wants to remember “bad” memories. People are only interested in good memories. Because we’re all positive thinking people.

The point is, our memories aren’t as reliable as the present. Memories have a tendency to parse out the bad stuff so that we only recall the good stuff. That phenomena is called nostalgia

… And people who run political campaigns know all of this.


A kitsch campaign …

Is everyone familiar with the term kitsch? It’s a German term. As a definition, kitsch means bad taste, or lowbrow and tacky art or objects. It also is art that plays to emotions, and has little substantive value. Think of a lawn gnome. It’s tacky, ugly, in bad taste (unless you’re a hipster, and it’s hip — more to come), and it has no artistic or substantive value. BUT, in some cultures, the lawn gnome was once a sign that the home it belonged to was a warm, welcome home to family, friends, and travelers. Hence, it has emotive value, but it’s tasteless and has not artistic value to most people.

Operating on that principle, political campaign organizers can successfully create a political kitsch, and the strategy plays to emotions without having any real substance to it. In this way, the political platform is policy-less, and propped up merely by emotional appeal. Does this sound like anyone’s campaign at the moment? … 😐

A kitsch applied to politics is as such: When a politician invokes a feeling, attitude, or outlook that he/she claims to be expressive, and original; however, in reality, the outlook only reinforces some abstract conception of national mythology, and the ultimate goal is to pacify people, rather than bringing about any real policy discussion.

Remember that family memory (where it really wasn’t as good as you remember)? That’s kitsch. It’s a memory. It’s stripped of substantive reality — because it’s already happened. There is no genuine understanding of the event, because nobody analyzes it, because it’s generally accepted as a good memory. Hence everyone effectively remembers the “good” times without remembering the bad. And candidates can tap into that exact phenomena.

Example: Citizen X’s Campaign …

Citizen X (who is X from now on) wants to run for office. X lives in a town of about 30,000 in a semi-rural area in Indiana. X wants to be on the city board, so she can make decisions about how to spend the city’s money (not to mention her friends own a few businesses, and she would like to see those businesses get some money – and those favors may come back to her somehow).

Now to decide the platform for her campaign. X hires a political consultant to help construct a campaign. The consultant advises X to run on a platform of “Restore Mayfield’s Glory,” (Mayfield is where X lives). The consultant advises X to be as straightforward as possible, and not to “sugar coat” her views. Nevermind that the “glory days” of the city, in reality, were actually repressive (no new ideas), racist, segregated, sexist, and unrelentingly intolerant of new citizens. Instead, focus on the prosperity, the good work people did, how past generations helped forge Mafield’s identity, and how that’s great about Mayfield is being stripped away by greedy little political pigs.

On her website, X wants to:

“… take back the City of Mayfield for the people. I want to see our city thrive like it once did. I want to ultimately put more money into the pockets of the families who need it. The Greatest Generation before us wouldn’t quit, and neither will I. I’m sick of this generation, and it’s lazy, anti-work attitudes. No more! And no more fat-cat corruption! No more unnecessary government intrusion! You can rest assured that if I’m elected, Mayor Y will have no influence over my voting record like all the current board members. We can take back this City and restore it’s former glory if we only have the will to do so!”

The consultant explains the following:

“You really don’t need to know all the policies in place. If you get into a bind at a debate, simply deflect the conversation to existing corruption and focus on how you’ll restore the city to what it once was. This way, you can avoid intricate policy debates. When you start seeing heads start shaking up and down, start the unfiltered tirades against politicians in office, and explain how they are robbing the citizens. Also, studies show that people value genuineness. So as long as you appear unfiltered, even if they don’t like you, they’ll trust you more. Because people trust others who are unfiltered — even if they don’t like what they hear, because they think you’re not lying. And people will always take a non-liar over a liar, regardless of what they have to say.

Always talk about how great the city was in the past, because, for the most part, older crowds vote. And, they value hard work, and remember the past very fondly. So don’t be afraid to play that up. While younger people are starting to vote more, don’t worry, they never pay attention to local politics. I think you have a great shot as long as the policy discussions don’t run too deep, and if they do, we can always take a few dings and make up for it later. The most important thing is to stay on message, because that’s what we want to deliver to the voting population.”


So there it is.

Why do politicians always focus on the past? Because it’s an easy platform. There’s not complex policy talk, it’s an easy-to-digest message, people eat up past victories, and it can appeal to a wide range of people even if that reality wasn’t as good as it’s marketed. Just like your own personal memories, they most likely aren’t 100% reliable, but they exist and are valued as good or bad nonetheless.

Also, there’s another side strategy, which is to make kitsch, hip. To make kitsch, hip, all someone would have to do is take something trivial, or negative, from the past, and spin it to be good. Like hipsters who take Lisa Frank backpacks (which are kitsch), and then spin it to make them hip. Applied to politics, someone could take a bad memory, flip it, and make it in fashion again.

Donald Trump tries to make champion Muslim banning as a viable policy — that would be an example of taking something bad, flipping it, and trans-valuing it as something good. Remember the racism against the Japanese in WWII? He pretty much retroactively legitimizes that with his Muslim stance. … I don’t want to say Trump is articulating a “hip” policy, but the principle still applies.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got. … Maybe you’ve seen this strategy before, or maybe not. Either way, it is a strategy that’s used, and it’s very effective.

So, as always, THINK ABOUT IT.



2 thoughts on “Why politicians always talk about how great America “was”?

  1. Pingback: CAMPAIGN ANALYSIS: This is Ridiculous. | Political Ideas and Education

  2. Pingback: What I learned from listening to Nigel Farage: Brexit, Trump, and the future he sees | Political Ideas and Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s