It is said that the outcome of the upcoming 2020 presidential election will define the future of our nation. Will America remain faithful to principles of capitalism under a Trump-Pence Administration or seek a turn towards democratic socialism under Biden and Harris? It is important to choose well as our path will influence everything from foreign policy to health care and the economy, trickling down to details such as how much we pay for gas at the pump. But can you trust the media or the last-minute campaign messages to paint a truthful picture of what lies ahead? I say, “No!” Americans cannot lay trust in sources that employ tactics geared at mind manipulation.
For decades, psychologists have studied the human psyche. They have discovered that people have an instinct to avoid danger. It is surmised that the human craving of safety has enabled us to survive and thrive. The media effectively uses our evolutionary need for protection against us to manipulate our senses. Nearly every time you read a political news article or see a campaign ad, fear mongering is being used to influence your thinking. The news will play up stories involving safety, including everything from traffic accidents to terrorism. While these shock-value filled stories generate public attention, this tactic can greatly increase public stress.
The term fear mongering is defined as the deliberate act of arousing public fear or alarm to deliver attention to a subject. The practice is aimed at influencing people and swaying public opinion, sometimes in a secretive or sinister fashion. Fear mongering plays a substantive role in modern-day politics as given in these examples. A pro-Biden campaign ad centered on the impact of climate change suggests that farmers need to vote democrat to “continue to produce food for Americans and the whole world.” A pro-Trump campaign ad centered on the economy suggests the need to vote Republican to stop Joe Biden who has “…been digging a hole for American workers” due to his purported ineffectiveness in serving as an elected official for nearly half a century. Each of these ads plays upon fears. Will our agriculture be destroyed? Will our economy be ruined?
As election day draws nearer, both sides of the political aisle are ramping things up. Biden bought TV advertising time during the World Series and other sports games to garner support of male voters. Trump launched a major commercial campaign for the two weeks leading up to the election. As of October 25, per the LA Times, more than 5 million campaign ads have appeared on tv screens, twice as many as in 2016. With fear mongering at the forefront of most ads, it is up to the public to separate truth from fiction and avoid being handed opinions from non-neutral media sources such as NBC, ABC, CBS, and others. Voters must do their homework to avoid being swayed by clouds of misinformation and last-minute smear campaigns.
Fear mongering is not new to politics. In fact, a 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson campaign ad called “Daisy” is often referenced as an example of the chilling way that fear mongering is used. The commercial ad features a little girl standing in a field counting the leaves of a daisy. The one-minute commercial starts out seemingly innocent and leads up to a dramatic nuclear explosion. While it only officially aired once, many people believe it contributed to Johnson’s landslide victory over Goldwater. To this day, that political commercial remains among the most controversial in American television history.
Political ads and even campaign slogans have varied through the ages; some positive, some negative. Abraham Lincoln ran on the encouraging platform of “Union, Liberty, Peace,” in his 1864 campaign for reelection. Theodore Roosevelt also led with an inspirational motto, “National Unity, Prosperity, Advancement.” And Theodore’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, utilized an upbeat theme, “Happy Days are here again!” in his successful 1932 presidential campaign.
Negative slogans are also employed by politicians, mainly to discredit their opponents. “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” was used by supporters of James G. Blaine against Grover Cleveland in response to allegations that Cleveland fathered an “illegitimate” child. Upon Cleveland’s presidency, his supporters added these words to his opponent’s slogan “Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!” As history shares, James G. Blaine’s involvement in a business scandal had led to this exchange, “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the State of Maine.” Typical in realm of politics, Cleveland’s campaign attacked Blaine’s character to secure a victory.
As the future of our country is at a crossroad with election day around the corner, we must harken back to the resounding message of our Forefathers; to not be bound by tyranny, oppression, or influenced by other people’s thoughts or threats of fear, but instead to think for oneself and vote accordingly.