We had the pleasure of a visit from a long-time friend, Bill, this past weekend. One of the aspects of catching up and visiting with Bill is the wide range of topics that we explore together.
One area that inevitably arises is the state of politics. This is partly because of my wife’s 2004 book, The Politics of Hope and partly because we have share many similar perspectives on the topic (though we also honor a few divergent opinions, as well).
As we were conversing about the recently concluded U.S. elections, a new insight emerged in my mind about the relationship between the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) and the campaign messages and advertising we were inundated with. (This is a topic I have written about on several occasions here in “TED* Thoughts,” as well as in the monthly “TED* Letter.”)
Nearly everyone I know agrees that the level of vitriol and “going negative” in political messaging has never been louder or more prevalent in our lifetime as it was in the last election cycle.
It has always been the case (in my experience) that political campaigns revolve around the DDT and its roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. Citizens/the electorate is spoken to as the Victim. The candidate is presented as the Rescuer and their opponent as the problem (i.e. Persecutor).
Here is the insight and what I think has changed over the decades. It used to be that, by and large, the primary campaign message was framed as the candidate telling the voter/victim why they should be elected as the Rescuer.
What has shifted with the prevalence of campaigns “going negative” is that the message is now framed around pointing our why and how the other candidate (or political party) is the Persecutor – and how much damage they have done or will do or what their character flaws are.
This approach assumes that, if the Victim voter understands how much of a Persecutor the opposition really is, they will naturally want or need to vote for the candidate that is behind the ad as the (now implied) Rescuer.
Political consultants will tell you that the reason we see so many negative ads is because they work. They feed right off of the Victim Orientation in which the opposition is presented as the problem in order to raise the level of fear and anxiety of the voter so that they will react by voting for their candidate.
I long for the day in which public leaders raise their voices and campaigns to a higher plane in which they speak to that which they are committed to create for the public good and can hold the tension between being a Challenger of their opponent’s views, while holding them with respect and grace as a Creator in their own right.