Monday, July 11, 2016

VOTE 2016 - The Fear Mongers

"The history of politicians going way beyond the facts to court fear" PBS NewsHour 7/4/2016


SUMMARY:  Political candidates’ rhetoric often gets heated, even inflammatory on the campaign trail.  But when does it cross the line into the offensive or fear-mongering? Hari Sreenivasan gets a historical perspective from presidential historian Michael Beschloss and Beverly Gage of Yale University.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Candidates’ speeches on the campaign trail can at times get inflammatory with little regard for accuracy.  That’s not new.  But this election season has been marked by divisive language that some find hateful.

So, what is the line to be looking for?  And what lessons of the past can help guide us?

Joining me now to dissect the rhetoric on the campaign trail is presidential historian Michael Beschloss, and Beverly Gage, professor of American history at Yale.

Thank you both for joining us.

So, I want to ask.  I guess the first question is, when free speech intersects with fear-mongering, Michael Beschloss, how much is too much?  How do we figure out where that line is?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian:  Well, I think the one certain line is when you have a presidential candidate, especially of a major party, criticizing groups within American society.

That has happened in history.  You had, for instance, the candidate of the Know-Nothings, 1856, Millard Fillmore, a former President, who said if you allow people of Irish origin and others to run rampant in American society — he was also anti-Catholic — this will be a danger to America.

But I think most nominees of major parties through at least our modern history realize that this is a country that depends on all sorts of people living together under one umbrella, and they also realize that if you want to win, usually, that happens by not alienating groups, but by trying to bring them together.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Beverly Gage, is it easy to find that line?

BEVERLY GAGE, Yale University:  I think it’s not always so easy to find it, but it’s the sort of thing where people tend to know it when they see it.

And one basic measure is whether or not someone is telling the factual truth.  We would like to think that is sort of a baseline.  People don’t, of course, always adhere to that.

But I agree with Michael that one of the other lines that we are really talking about is vilifying whole swathes of people, creating a kind of conspiratorial language, a discourse that is about guilt by association.  Those can be very, very dangerous things, but they have been around a long time.

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