Canadian political strategists have little to learn from their U.S. counterparts


The Hill Times

PUBLISHED: Monday, July 25, 2016

TORONTO—I wasn’t the only one hooked on watching the Republican Party’s convention in Cleveland last week. Many Conservatives followed the convention and, while the Liberals expressed disgust at the tone of the speeches and surprise at the continued approach of throwing mud (and threats) at their opponents, they are also paying close attention to some of the political strategies used.

Even though many Canadians have also expressed displeasure with what’s happening in the United States, we still love them more than we’re willing to admit. I know many Canadian communication experts are eager to learn from the American political strategists and duplicate elements of their modus operandi here in Canada.

However, the sad reality is that the communication machines churning behind the two most important American political parties are trying to win the presidency by either convincing voters that one candidate should be in jail and that the other should be in a mental institution. There is not much creativity there; only the question of who has more mud and how hard they’re willing to sling it.

Republicans have called Bill Clinton a pervert and a con artist, Barack Obama a terrorist sympathizer, and have alleged that Hillary Clinton should be jailed—or in some extreme cases, shot and hung for treason.

Democrats, however, are second-to-none in the mud-slinging game.

They called George Bush Sr. a joke, and his son a devilish warmonger. Now, they have increased the rhetoric with Donald Trump. The communications machines of both sides are spewing out criticisms that are founded in taking advantage of the population’s fears, and both sides claim that the other will destroy America by way of letting terrorists flood in, or on the other side, by perpetuating hate and violence.

Dangerous and empty rhetoric on both sides while avoiding discussion of real problems or policies—like increasing violent conflict, and social and economic turmoil in both the U.S. and around the world—means there isn’t much to learn from the American ‘gurus,’ unless we are willing to become fear-mongering mud-slingers ourselves.

Even if I don’t believe that our communication experts have much to learn from their American colleagues, I fear that what they’ve seen over the past few weeks and will continue to witness in the months leading up to the November election will be perceived as useful examples for years to come.

I don’t know if the communications departments intentionally radicalize the rhetoric, or if the radicalization is caused by other factors, like the hunger for a sensationalized 24-hour news cycle, or the unpredictable effects of uncontrolled social media acting as legitimate news sources.

The reality is that these extreme views are dominating the political and social debate, and what we can expect in the future is much worse than we are witnessing now. If that’s the case, let’s be prepared in Canada for future campaigns that will tell us a lot about human failings and very little about the qualities of the people that should lead us.

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