America divided concept, American flag on cracked background
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Barth Keck

The rhetoric during this election season has been emotional, to say the least. Take this excerpt from a Hartford Courant op-ed by Leora Levy, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Connecticut:

“America is under attack from out-of-touch Democrats embracing a woke socialist ideology that indoctrinates our children, while spending our nation into economic ruin … Our families don’t feel safe in their own communities. There is general lawlessness, encouraged by the left with violence on our streets and in our communities. President Joe Biden and Sen. Blumenthal have created and encouraged an invasion, mayhem and death on our southern border, threatening our safety in Connecticut.”

Wow! Strong words. But I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.

Wait a minute – I actually have seen this movie before! It’s called “Good Night, and Good Luck” and my Journalism class just watched it because Edward R. Murrow’s “independence and incisive reporting” brought heightened journalistic stature to radio and television.”

In case you haven’t seen it, the film features Murrow’s investigation of Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator who capitalized on the fear of communism in the 1950s to gain influence and power. Murrow’s revealing interviews and detailed reporting on “See It Now” were key factors in exposing McCarthy’s self-serving tactics.

Just three years after his now famous “Enemies from Within” speech, McCarthy was named chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, which he used as a platform to expand his crusade against “alleged communist infiltration.” After Murrow doggedly questioned his methods on “See It Now,” McCarthy responded with a logical fallacy known as “tu quoque” by turning the criticism back on the questioner:

“Murrow is a symbol, the leader, and the cleverest of the jackal pack, which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose individual communists and traitors.”

Sounds a lot like today’s political rhetoric rife with logical fallacies, foremost among them the “appeal to fear.” It starts at the national level, as emphatically demonstrated by former Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s recent Twitter announcement:

“I can no longer remain in today’s Democratic Party that is now under the complete control of an elitist cabal of warmongers driven by cowardly wokeness, who divide us by racializing every issue & stoke anti-white racism, actively work to undermine our God-given freedoms, are hostile to people of faith & spirituality, demonize the police & protect criminals at the expense of law-abiding Americans, believe in open borders, weaponize the national security state to go after political opponents, and above all, dragging us ever closer to nuclear war.”

Credit: Courtesy of Twitter
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

Whoa – that’s a mouthful! Unfortunately, such bloated and intentionally frightening language is not limited to national politics. Here’s Laura Devlin, running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, on the issue of crime in Connecticut:

“What I can tell you is the people in this state do not feel safer. Carjackings are becoming the norm. Your car stolen out of your driveway has become the norm. Shots fired in neighborhoods is starting to become the norm in suburbia.”

Never mind the recent release of data indicating that “overall crime and violent crime declined.” Granted, a closer look at the data provides a more nuanced view of crime in the state, including an increase in rape. But that’s just it: “a closer look” or a “nuanced view” are nowhere to be found when fear is much easier to stoke.

To be clear, both parties are guilty of glossing over details and employing logical fallacies. Here’s incumbent governor Ned Lamont’s own take at the admittedly “incomplete statistics” of the crime report: “These numbers are not just relatively positive year-over-year but over the last 10 years, over the last 20 years, over the last 30 years. And I think it’s testament to one of the best police forces in the world right here in Connecticut.”

Without providing any specific evidence, Lamont is himself committing the “hasty generalization fallacy.”

Still, it’s often the party running from behind or without clear policy solutions that’s more likely to resort to emotional and irrational language. On Oct. 6, for example, the national GOP tweeted a meme criticizing the government for labeling parents who question school boards “domestic terrorists.” That claim had been debunked seven months ago, but it didn’t stop the Connecticut GOP from retweeting it.

In the end, facts and policy proposals have never won elections. Instead, it’s a candidate’s image that matters, a concept crafted largely through language. It worked for Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare until Edward R. Murrow exposed him.

Times, however, have changed. People have created their own realities now, thanks to the internet and algorithm-fueled echo chambers. It makes one wonder if the fear-mongering that eventually dismantled McCarthy will soon become the go-to strategy for all politicians.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 32st year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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