Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Political extremism is a marketing tactic

Illustration+by+Sasha+Zirin.
Illustration by Sasha Zirin.

These days everybody is doing the most. New products aren’t just new: they’re The Best And Most Exciting Thing You’ve Ever Seen With Your Own Two Eyes! Video captions aren’t just video captions: they’re OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS INSANE VIDEO IT’S LIKE SO INSANE, I ALMOST DIED (NOT CLICKBAIT!!!). 

And most importantly, politicians are no longer politicians. They are caricatures of politicians, competing every single day to be the most outrageous, outspoken, and opinionated person in the room. 

Politicians embody their own personal brand, a brand they are trying to sell us—and they’re only as helpful as the amount of votes we give them. The same way corporations try to sell us the best shoes or another timeshare pyramid scheme, politicians are selling us their policies, regurgitating that they are not just the best policies—but the only policies that matter. 

We are naturally drawn to things that catch our eye. If it’s outrageous, vibrant, unique marketing that draws us to consider products, why wouldn’t it be the same for politicians, who essentially are a product?

Politicians are under an intense level of scrutiny from the public, which tends to keep them from making obviously provocative TikToks like Duolingo or Ryanair—though Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ 2021 ‘Tax the rich’ Met Gala dress does toe this line … They often have to advertise their brand through speech. 

This is no easy task: words are an open medium, and when they are taken out of context—such as when Newsmax journalist Grant Sitchfield claimed that Biden said the United States was doomed because of African-Americans, when in the full quote Biden was actually speaking to the necessity of racial equity—it becomes even more difficult appealing to an asynchronous audience of voters from all demographics.

If I am a politician, and I am granted one chance in every person’s day to share my message, whether it’s in their morning newsfeed or their daily TikTok doom scroll, I want to make what I say stand out among the thousands of other voices doing the same exact thing.

Politicians cannot rely on tried and tested statements like an “economic mess” or a “long-term economic plan” that vaguely address the state of their potential voters. They are fighting a losing battle against shortening attention spans of the digital media age—the average political soundbites now lies at about nine seconds, whereas in 1968 it stood at 43 seconds—and in order to stay relevant they say things only to grab attention. A notable example being former President Donald Trump claiming that “Shortly after I win the presidency [in 2024], I will have the horrible war between Russia and Ukraine settled.”

Politicians like Trump excel at rallying voters around extremist causes, usually just because they need the attention. We may not like Trump, and can objectively say that most of his speeches lack substance, but the fact of the matter is that he built a successful personal brand and made that brand interesting and unhinged enough that he was able to compel voters with bright, simple, and flashy slogans. Where his speeches as a whole may be seen unsuccessful, there is no doubt that the attention he grabs with buzzwords and keyphrases like “America First,” “Build a Wall,” and even “Make America Great Again” make what he says and the image he is portraying memorable to an impressionable public. 

Any politician who chooses to compete with this level of extremity has no choice but to meet this insane precedent. This is the battle we currently face between Trump and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, who are waging a war of extremities. The election is suddenly about who can say the most racist and xenophobic things? Or who can support and implement more anti-LGBTQ+ policies

We want to see someone win, but at this level of extremism there is no room for a middle ground. Within that framework there is nowhere to stop and consider where the endpoint of this competition should be.

This is no longer just an American issue. In New Zealand, we recently had our general election and preliminary election results released on Oct. 14, showing Labour losing 29 seats in parliament, a significant number. While many of these votes did go to National, many also went to the Green Party, including the long Labour-held Minister of Parliament seat for the Wellington Central electorate, which will now be held by Tamatha Paul, the first Green MP ever to represent Wellington. 

Labour, previously led by Jacinda Ardern, is perhaps the most centrist party in New Zealand, and does its best to cater to people with different political views. The move away from Labour either way to National or Green speaks to the lack of effectiveness a centrist campaign holds in swaying people today. By trying to appeal to a majority, they instead end up appealing to only a small minority who is satisfied with the mediocre results a party trying to appeal to too many people’s wishes incurs. 

In some ways, extremism is leading us towards more tangible results. It should encourage us to confront the ideas being fed to us. We are no longer satisfied with long-winded promises and results; we are demanding instant results and clear, fruitful statements, which politicians must deliver if they expect to keep voters.

On the other hand, a vicious cycle exists within extremism where once it promises more harm than good with their extreme appeals, it is very difficult for the cycle to be broken. When each politician has to make a promise more sensationalized than the last, we are forced to ask ourselves: When is it too much?

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About the Contributor
Ella Duggan
Ella Duggan, Opinion Co-Editor

Ella Duggan (she/her) is a sophomore communication studies major from Wellington, New Zealand, with minors in public relations and business studies. Outside of the Beacon, she is assistant music director for the Emerson Acapellics, an avid reader of romance novels, and loves hockey - Go Canucks!

 

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