26 December 2019

Hatred as a factor in presidential politics

Make what you will of this. In the modern era of partisan polarization, which can be dated back to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, only the president who was arguably the least hated, George H.W. Bush, was denied a second term. The others overcame intense hatred and were returned to office. Why should this be? Probably it's because the hatred of some groups for a president, or maybe for anyone, signals to other groups that that person deserves their love. You could take this idea further back in time. Who were the most hated presidents before Reagan? Lincoln? FDR? Nixon? All were reelected, Roosevelt three times. It was he who said of his bitterest and most entrenched critics, "I welcome their hatred." The current President may be too thin-skinned to echo Roosevelt, but he may yet find solace in FDR's example.

Some might ask, "But aren't the incumbents who lose obviously the most hated?" They shouldn't mistake disdain or contempt, which have undone their share of incumbents, with the passionate hatred so many modern presidents inspire. Presidents who seek reelection and fail have been judged for what they've done, not who they are. The haters try to convince voters to see the incumbent as they've see him all along, as they think he has always been, when the important thing is to convince people that the incumbent is a failure. Haters will say, "Of course he's a failure," but the rest can tell what they really mean.

Of course, failure these days depends on the eye of the beholder, and it's less certain than ever that passionate partisans can be convinced that their favorite has failed. But it's still the wiser course to try to prove the incumbent a failure than to try to prove him a menace. Since everyone is presumed to speak only for himself and not the country, calling the incumbent a menace will only show that he's a menace to you. Worse, it may only reconfirm a belief that you -- whoever or whatever you are -- deserve to be menaced or humiliated or simply defeated. The opposite approach might have better results: don't take the incumbent so seriously, and -- just maybe -- neither will his supporters. In short: 2020 could use more laughter than it'll probably get. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"... that person deserves their love"

What's love got to do with it?