Public perceptions of hateful rhetoric

“I like Donald Trump because he is honest…unlike the people we currently have running Washington.”

Before I delve into my editorial, I would like to pose a question. How many times have you heard this statement or a similar one during this political election cycle?

I myself have heard it dozens of times, both from people I know and from those who I have seen on the internet or on television. Trump is, to many, the peak form of honesty in our current political landscape. He tells it like it is and does not sugarcoat his versions of the truth. I say “his versions of the truth” as his truths are often factually incorrect and, in my opinion, based off mindless group ideology and hateful rhetoric. Despite that, many groups praise Trump for his unpolished, blunt speaking style and way of interacting with others. This issue piqued my interest in public perceptions of political speech and made me wonder — why is it that we accept negative speech due to its supposed honesty and what are the ramifications of our acceptance?

Within our modern history, there has emerged a certain cultivated image of a politician — eternally prepared, polished and smooth-talking. Concurrently, we have experienced decades of political dissatisfaction and disdain for our politicians and their decisions. Therefore, it is not surprising to see why people have come to equate political tact and “smooth talk” from a politician as an indicator of a falsified or two-faced image. Trump, on the other hand, turns the standard image of a politician on its head. He is not especially polished and does not always know how to artfully respond to questions. He, and several other politicians, have brought about a new era of political rhetoric, eschewing the carefully cultivated image I spoke of earlier. This is not an inherently bad thing because all politicians do not have to fit into a single mold. However, their bluntness often crosses the line from “telling it like it is” to being tactless, insensitive and undiplomatic.

As we know, Trump has alienated several large groups of people (namely Hispanic people, black people, women, etc.) due to his fumbles in rhetoric. But this issue does not end with him. Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines spoke out about President Barack Obama. The two political figures planned to hold a bilateral meeting, and sources stated that Obama intended to discuss the issue of extrajudicial killings happening within the Philippines. Before the meeting occurred, President Duterte spoke candidly to the media regarding Obama’s concerns. He stated, “Who does he think he is? I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people. Son of a b—-, I will swear at you.”

Naturally, Obama did not condone Duterte’s threats and name-calling, and cancelled the bilateral meeting. The U.S. has long been an ally of the Philippines and as the two nations plan to ramp up military cooperation in response to the rising power of China, it is important for them to maintain friendly ties with one another. The erratic, reckless comments and speeches made by Duterte are complicating U.S.-Philippine relations and may lead to greater political ramifications in the future. So not only is this shift in rhetoric insensitive and often offensive, it is even affecting international diplomacy.

As a society, we need to stop mislabeling heavy-handed, thoughtless speech as “honesty.” It may be honest in some twisted way, but it is ultimately inappropriate and undiplomatic. We will not create bonds with other countries’ leaders by calling them names. We will not unite the people within our own country by insulting wide spans of people and their identities and heritages. Politicians need not be shiny robots who all communicate in double-speak, but they need to know how to interact civilly with the public and with each other.

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