Opinion

Evil constructing evil: Trump’s exploitation of negative partisanship

Trump's showing in the first presidential debate only added to his extensive record of name-calling and othering.

Trump's showing in the first presidential debate only added to his extensive record of name-calling and othering.

Image By: Michael Vadon

President Donald Trump has an extensive track record of name-calling and othering, and the 2020 presidential election season has provided no exception. His portrayal of Democractic candidate Joe Biden as a “radical leftist,” among other things, has made this more and more clear as election day draws nearer.

Not only is this classification of his opponent utterly untrue, but a reliance on this sort of rhetoric should be considered a major weakness in Trump’s campaign; its use to further divide Americans ultimately demonstrates his incompetence as president and as a candidate for reelection.

While it is stated on Biden’s campaign website that he supports the expansion of new clean-energy technologies, recommitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change and conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030, he said during the 2020 presidential debate that he does not support the more liberal Green New Deal

While he supports the ban of assault and high-capacity magazines, regulation of existing assault weapons and the reduction of stockpiled weapons, he does not go as far as saying that the Second Amendment should be repealed, the most extreme form of gun control. 

While he supports a free two years of community college, tuition-free four-year public colleges and universities for all students with household incomes less than $125,000 and student debt relief, he does not believe that public colleges and universities should be completely tuition free and that all student debt should be cancelled like democratic-socalist Bernie Sanders.   

These are only a few issues that illustrate Biden’s overall moderate democratic stance, but they aid in showing that Trump’s claims about his opponent being a radical leftist are simply untrue – they might as well be added to his long-running list of false or misleading claims.

In addition to being dishonest, the sheer amount of time Trump has committed to making these sorts of claims is a glaring weakness in his campaign, given that they take away from talk of actual policy. Dedicating so much breath on scorning — and obfuscating —  his opponent instead of highlighting his own beliefs and politics should be a very concerning point for voters. 

For instance, in his GOP acceptance speech on Aug. 27, Trump mentioned Biden’s name 44 times. Biden did not once reference Trump by name in his speech at the Democratic convention a week earlier.

How can voters really know who they are voting for when a candidate is running a campaign that is so reliant on diverting the focus onto someone else?  

A large portion of that speech was devoted to all the ways in which Biden would be, in the words of Trump, “the destroyer of American greatness” if elected. This was a cultivation of negative partisanship, or “voters who are motivated to vote by their fears of the bad things the opposition party will do then they are the good things they hope their party will do” as defined by Eric Black of MinnPost

Trump used this same strategy in 2016 when running against Hillary Clinton. He portrayed her “as an ethically compromised, out-of-touch establishment figure,” according to Holly Otterbein and Alex Isenstadt of Politico. And it obviously worked. 

Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster cited a rise in negative partisanship and its prevalence as a driving force behind votes in their study “Negative Partisanship: Why Americans Dislike Parties But Behave Like Rabid Partisans.” They wrote that “it is likely that this new style of partisan behavior has led to a series of deleterious consequences for governance and representation,” including citizens’ loss of trust in their governing institutions.

Further, Jennifer McCoy, Tahmina Rahman and Murat Somer found that people are more likely to accept illiberal measures like restricting freedom of expression or using force against political opponents when they see leaders and supporters of the other party as villains who are out to cause harm to their nation. 

Trump’s rhetoric of Biden, and many others for that matter, has done just that: “He is the destroyer of America’s jobs” and, “we have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years” are just two ways in his 2020 GOP acceptance speech that Trump attempted to illustrate Biden as a sort of evildoer to his listeners.

There’s certain irony in portraying one’s opposing candidate as “evil” when that portrayal has been found to cause rifts in democracy. Especially when misinformation is an added component. Presidential candidates should be strategic, but opting for a strategy that causes “deleterious consequences” and encourages people to tolerate illiberal measures is unacceptable. 

Casting an opponent in an untrue light while compromising the opportunity to express one’s own beliefs should not be the norm of American politics. A presidential candidate should make clear what they plan to do if elected to the office, not hide behind a shield they created out of another candidate. They should aim at unifying a nation, not at actively creating mistrust and polarizing two sides for their benefit.

Call me an idealist, but I believe America can do better than a leader chosen out of fear for the other.

Haley is a senior studying Journalism, with a certificate in French. What are your thoughts on Trump’s strategy? Do you think negative partisanship is harmful? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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