Political Feuds Are Increasingly Out In The Open Thanks To Social Media

Politicians are not new to violent feuds. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were bitter enemies, but eventually became close friends. The bad blood that existed between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams lasted for many years.

There was also the feud between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, that led to Hamilton’s death.

Although it’s unlikely we will see any duel between U.S. senators today, some may never be friends. These feuds have been hidden for most of American history. Politians could smile, ignore and go about their business: lawmaking.

Public attacks

Social media has made it easier for lawmakers to attack one another in public.

It is evident in the recent Twitter exchanges between Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York and Republican Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia. The pair, although they don’t appear to speak face-toface, engage in social media conversations.

They are far from being the only U.S. legislators to openly confront one another.

Julianna Kirschner is a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Master of Communication Management program. She said, “Social Media and Politics are often in sync because both seek engagement or attention.”

Kirschner stated that “politicians use social media platforms to communicate their beliefs for years.” However, social media content with a celebrity following tends to gain traction. This includes politicians. Some content also gains attention due to its tone and framing. This is especially true if it contains hateful or inflammatory rhetoric.

Name calling and worse

It is not about ideological or political differences. However, as the legislators often post, it appears that there is an overall dislike of each other. It can lead to insults or worse. We would expect our lawmakers to be professional – but at times, they’re anything but, especially when they make the attacks so personal in nature.

“Name calling” is relatively new. David Jacobson of SMU’s Cox School of Business, professor of global strategy and business management said that the name calling started with some extreme-reactionary republicans screaming at President Obama.

James Bailey, professor of Leadership at George Washington University School of Business stated that “it is not pleasant to watch people spat in front.” “Airing grievances can be a healthy thing, to be sure – but when disputants act out in public they’re being both childish and selfish.”

It’s not an argument when it is publicly shown, even via social media. Instead, argumentative people can’t help but to express their opinions as superior to others.

Bailey stated that today’s politicians are unable to control their impulses or defer their gratification in order to hide their grievances until the right moment like on Congress floors or Senate floors. My eight year old knows better than to raise his grievances at the dinner plate.

Bad For Democracy

This kind of open hatred is not helpful for democracy because it targets people rather than ideas.

Kirschner stated that “ancient rhetoricians believed attacks on people rather than ideas were the most anti-democratic thing a speaker could ever do.” Personal attacks can be a norm and nothing of significance is promoted. This has rewritten the age-old adage that disagreeing is not necessarily disagreeable. Instead, disagreeability or argument for argument’s sake has been prioritized.

This is made worse by the fact that misinformation could be used to support a point in this age of social media. As social media becomes such an echo chamber, these half-truths or outright lies are easy to amplify.

Kirschner stated, “While one defends himself, responses to personal attacks might unintentionally lead to an over-amplification the original fallacious contents.” People who don’t know the reason for such an action might search out the original post to gain more engagement.

Many times, these actions are simply to play to their bases. Kirschner noted however that while politicians often speak loudly, they also back it up with factual evidence. Others simply talk loudly, performatively argue and don’t actually say anything.

It’s unlikely that it will change anyone’s mind or result in meaningful conversations.

Bailey said, “It is just massaging the feet their constituents.” This is a very sad state of affairs. “I’m tempted by the idea of a PAC to support campaigns for politicians that don’t use social media.”

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