By Paramjeet Singh Berwal
“If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don’t even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that’s the job of dressmakers.”
– Saadat Hasan Manto
While growing up, I remember my dad telling me to never use inappropriate words to put forth what I had in my mind, to argue, debate or even to express my intense feelings or emotions in a causal setting. He always said, and still does, that words lose their meaning, depth and content if the language coarsens. This is what everybody should teach the coming generation. One would expect that this model behaviour becomes even more important when it comes to political leadership and statesmanship.
Trump’s demeanor, including his words, during an interaction with CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a White House press conference reflect a totally different approach. I know politics is considered a very dirty thing in popular context, but in a democratic setup, leaders are looked upon at and are expected to maintain a decent political discourse.
It is true that foul mouthing has never been absent among world’s top leaders and CNN’s report is proof of that. The trend continues, reports The Washington Times. Regardless, in earlier times, bad mouthing was either discarded from popular political discourse or, at least, frowned upon; but, now, the same has not only become accepted by masses but is also getting rewarded.
There are various dimensions to the issue. Profanity is easy and puts an end to further discussion or deliberations, argues philosophy professor Andrew Fiala. Does this help politicians? In a way, it does. When you take out reasoning and logic from any debate, there is nothing left to address, and the measurement criterion becomes focused on who can use the most inappropriate language. Therefore, foul language is a veil to cover one’s ignorance and shift the attention from reason to flimsy but effective ground of feelings and emotions. It is reported that “Plato saw Reason and Emotion as two horses pulling a chariot in different directions, while the charioteer struggles to get them to work as a team”. David Hume, the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, considered reason a slave to the passions. Emotional speech works more than reasoning does.
Another aspect takes us to profanity reflecting attributes like authentic, unfiltered and tough, according to an article in Politico. Ordinary people have always felt the distance between the ruling elite and themselves but when the power-elite, on public platforms, ‘stoop’ to the level that is considered to be an affair of the ordinary, the average person finds that gap narrowing down. There is an inherent dialectical contradiction here in the sense that the ordinary people are the ones that do or are taught or expected to pay more heed to ‘moral’ dimension of life, as does the Calliclean view reflect. The language that the ordinary people want to or do use to express their anguish against the status quo, i.e. what ‘the ruling elite’ represents, is used as tool by the people like Trump in their political discourse to challenge the ruling elite. This brings Trump-like leaders and the ordinary closer, but only notionally, to the extent that the latter feel represented by the former. In reality, however, the gap remains.
There is an issue with the bad language. Earlier, the obscenities of politics were hidden behind the veil of statesmanship and generally decent political discourse. This has now been discarded by mainstream politicians who talk trash. The current situation is worse because the ‘bad’ run free. Some may call it a move towards a liberal and freer society but then one needs to ask the question: is political discourse all about how it is perceived by people or should there be some element of more substantiality to it?
Paramjeet Singh Berwal is a lawyer, an invited lecturer at University of Georgia, and a doctoral candidate at the Tbilisi State University.
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