In this ‘Crazy Campaigns’-series, Medium presents political campaigns that strike attention. This week: Why we should invest in journalism
If 2016 were to be described in the history books as a year of chaos, with Brexit and Trump as two prominent features, 2017 would probably be dubbed “The year of elections.” These are turbulent times, not only politically, but also when it comes to campaigning. Breaking through the noise on social media, battling the spread of fake news, even hacker attacks from foreign territory are all features that are relevant in analysing campaigns in 2017. So how are politicians responding to this changing environment? In this series of articles, we’ll examine a few creative attempts to reinvent political campaigning. This last week, we’ll move beyond the national borders, examining the spread of an identity war.
When talking about politics these days, it seems as if there has been a paradigm shift. No more talk of taxes, elderly care or educational systems, but rather about building walls, surging populism and preserving identity. That last concept, the seemingly very fragile identity, threatened by Mexicans, Muslims or the European Union, is what the political battle has been centred around. There seems to be a surge in debating about who we are rather than practical legislations governing our life. If we can agree on this thesis, that identity is the political topic of the century, we can also agree on that this has very little to do with national states. An American conservative would probably have more in common with a German conservative than with an American liberal. They fear the same things, have a common enemy and could be assumed to share solutions for their perceived problems. This becomes very evident when you look at how extreme-right parties in Europe have common meetings, where they happily shake hands and drink on the death of the European Union.
If we assume these two premises to be true, namely that identity is the “hot-topic” of politics, and that these identities do not limit themselves at constructed national borders, we can look at for example Russia’s interference in elections in another light. If campaigning is no longer about numbers and figures, then why should the Russians limit themselves to campaigning within their nation? Maybe there is a bigger campaign plan, to spread Putin’s preferred conservative identity and its values across the globe. Maybe, Putin has understood something that we still have a hard time to grasp. Maybe, this is the future of politics.
Maybe there is a bigger campaign plan, to spread Putin’s preferred conservative identity and its values across the globe.
Let’s look at it this way: governing identity could be an extremely powerful tool. By means of soft power (diplomacy and transnational cooperation) you could achieve a great deal. Yes, you could look at the Russian interference in the American election as a means to gain influence on the US’s hard power (e.g. armed forces). But what if it didn’t stop there? Imagine if we get used to Russia Today and Sputnik News spreading their questionable stories around the globe. We are sceptic at first, but we weaken and start to internalise their world view. Slowly, what used to be a political stunt, spreading fake news stories about candidates unfavourable to Russian politics (such as Macron), becomes an accepted reality. Already, Swedish media have used questionable Russian sources, discovering too late that they are spreading disinformation.
It’s clever. Political trends acknowledge no borders, so why should political campaigns? And Putin is not the only one looking one step beyond the national state. The Netherlands was facing great diplomatic turmoil this winter when they banned a Turkish minister from having a campaign meeting in favour of Erdogan on Dutch territory. The US has a long history of intervening in South-American elections, to make sure a candidate liked by the US administration is elected. This is what true political campaigning is about. It is not about being elected that one time. It’s about making sure that as many people as physically possible share your view of the world, and the problems and solutions surrounding it. Only then you can secure your power beyond electoral cycles.
So what does this mean to us? I’ll try to end this sequel on a happier note than the usual “Be afraid of the establishment!” theme. The solution, (as always when you ask communication science students), is to invest in critical journalism. The truth is sadly not out there for everyone to discover, but we need people to help us do that. Get a subscription of a newspaper. Talk to your friends about news events. Compare worldviews. Think twice.
The independent mind is a force to be reckoned with. But sometimes, it needs a little help.
Cover: Tamar Hellinga