Monday, December 9, 2019

Hero, Knave, and Fool

Democrats are impeaching Trump because they say he is crooked, a knave

Click: Laughing at Trump

Biden's ad, showing foreign leaders laughing, calls Trump an embarrassing fool.

A one-two punch.

Political scientist Sandford Borins offers a framework for understanding the complex, policy-filled messages of political candidates. 

He writes that political messages boil down to simple judgements about the character and competence of political actors: hero, knave, fool. Some readers of this blog will feel the characterization insultingly over-simple. Those readers make a careful analysis of policy specifics and make rational choices to distinguish between candidates. I do not doubt that this is true. But all citizens--even those--make moral and value judgements about those policies, perhaps considering them signs of courageous truth telling--heroic--or perhaps considering them disqualifyingly foolish positions or evidence of dangerously corrupt intent.

We see Trump doing this branding right now. Biden, he says, is a fool, "Sleepy Joe." Warren, he says, is a fraudulent knave, "Pocahontas."

From the American point of view, the one-two punch can come across as muddled. Countries don't laugh at menacing knaves. They fear them. They laugh at incompetent fools. The Biden ad presented the Trump-as-foolMeanwhile, the Democratic House, this Monday morning as I write, is presenting a picture of Trump-as-knave, a dangerous man abusing his power to subvert the 2020 election by withholding appropriated funds to coerce Ukraine to assist his re-election. 

Fools and knaves are dangerous for different reasons. Currently Democrats are presenting both.

Sandford Borins is Canadian and he teaches at the University of Toronto. He is yet another college classmate. He received a Masters degree in Public Policy from the Harvard JFK School of Government and then a Ph.D. from Harvard. Like this blog, he writes about observed political narratives, but from a scholar's perspective, and a Canadian's. 

From the Canadian point of view, it would be best to lie low and not to star in any ad at all. Borins notes that Canada is one tenth the size of the US in both population and GDP. Canada exports 20% of its GDP to the US while the US exports 2% of its to Canada. The relationship is asymmetrical, Borins notes. Best not to poke the bear. Staying on good terms with the US is a central requirement of Canadian government. It made Trudeau look foolish, at least to Canadian eyes.

Guest Post by Sandford Borins

Sandford Borins
"In analyzing election ads, I have developed three archetypal stories, hero, knave, and fool. 

The heroic is the story a campaign tells about its own candidate, focusing on how the candidate has overcome personal adversity and/or had major achievements and how this is an indicator the candidate will help the electorate by enacting wise policies. 

Campaigns tell two stories about their opponents. The knave seeks office to enjoy the prestige and line his/her own pockets, while doing nothing to help the electorate (what the Democrats have long been saying about Trump). The fool is well-meaning but due to his inexperience or ignorance, also does nothing to help the electorate.

The Canadian Conservatives initially used the fool story against Justin Trudeau, as evidenced by the punning slogans, "just in over his head" and "just not ready." In the 2015 election, however, Trudeau campaigned energetically and debated effectively, and ultimately won. In the last four years, he has committed some gaffes that have brought the 2015 attacks back to mind. These included a visit to India in which he and has family cringe-worthily decked themselves out in ethnic garb and the viral pictures of blackface and brownface he wore in his youth. Seen in this context, gossiping in front of an open mic about President Trump reinforces the fool story. 

He will have to wear this long after US voters forget about Biden's ad."

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