The Tale of Two Speeches and Two Americas

The Tale of Two Speeches and Two Americas

Is Democracy being reduced to meaningless hyperreality – a simulacrum for the monkey mind of the common man entrapped within a world that is increasingly virtual, untrustworthy, unsafe, lonely, and ambivalent?  

The Context & the Divide

This blog leverages textual analyses of two speeches given by Joe Biden and Donald Trump at their respective conventions – each presidential nominee seeking, exhorting, and demanding a stance from the people of USA in what is being termed as the most important elections of US history. Each nominee has positioned his message for not just the loyalists on respective sides – the loyalists were satiated by a smorgasbord of speeches by others who joined the Biden or Trump platform; each nominee sought to evoke, influence and address a larger milieu – betting on a version of the American dream – a dream that would energize and inspire people to rise up and vote for one or the other.

What stands out is the stark contrast between the two Americas that Biden and Trump have carefully constructed as a dream to believe in – a chasm that threatens the nation itself when it comes to values, beliefs, and role-taking.

Democracy in USA has been reduced to an either-or between the two competing narratives – the polarization is implicit, systemic, and institutionalized as democracy compels every citizen to choose one over the other. I believe that mere deployment of suffrage is not enough to heal and revitalize – for this process only accentuates the deepening split that divides the nation. The aftermath of days post November 3rd looks darker no matter who wins, and thus democratic process of exercising Vote alone is dysfunctional.

Even if you are not an American citizen, and I am not one, it is important to understand how the current political drama is so relevant for many democracies the world over, which seem to be, perhaps, as sharply divided as America today. There is a certain divide at a collective level that appears to be a universal theme connecting all of us – it manifests when we speak of our local and global stances on the environment, on the mis-management of Covid-19 pandemic, on economic development and failing market mechanisms, on oppressive and protectionist policies underlying international trade, on the ever-rising gap between the rich and the poor etc.

In the USA, there is a messaging and a positioning of a miracle cure that other countries seem to be enthralled with –  of a right persona and a leadership style sought from the man in charge. The rise of hypermasculine leadership across democracies, may have to do with what is being seen in USA.

Part 1

Analyzing the Two Speeches  

Each speech seeks to articulates a ‘reality’ as idealized and experienced by the respective leader, allowing me to examine how the context is getting split, what aspects of it are owned as well as denied, and the nature of projection on to the Other.

Analyzing was fun and yet there were challenges!

Each speech contains text that no longer stands for what it was originally meant to signify – as a simulacrum, there were many words that not only distorted the reality these signified, but there were many that had no link with it original meanings. While one can understand the necessities of political discourse – I had to use a construct that allowed me to access this simulacra and explore multiplicity inherent in the themes. The EUM framework has been a key constructs that has enabled a deeper enquiry into the nature of speeches, the messaging content, and the nature of American Dream.

I built a dictionary of themes for the multiple universes as illustrated in the table above, and loaded it on LIWC – a software for text analyses, and generated figure 1. I have also retained some of the original analytics that the software offers.

Part 2

The TWO Americas          

Theme 1

Institutional Control versus Humanistic Activism

Despite high scores on the first strand (The Family), Biden is seeking to address an America that is not infatuated with Control – of Police, of Immigration et al, and but a nation that wishes to be more inclusive, dialogic, and equalizing (High Ecology scores + High Arena Scores).  Biden is also speaking to an America that recognizes and values the diversity within the Democratic party. As AOC stated – it is only in USA that she, Sanders, and Biden can be a part of the same party. Biden’s America is humanistic and yet is also galvanized by intense passion and courage.

Trump’s America has been constructed on the notion of establishment control (High Clockwork scores + High Arena Scores), and of the significance of boundaries containing anarchy, and I am not just talking about the great Mexico wall here. Trump also leverages and reinforces a class hierarchy that supposedly promotes stability, and yet cannot be dismantled. Trump is seeking to speak to an America, where institutional control is more important than anarchy that accompanies activism. It is a no-brainer, that he would want to promote narratives of conflagrations and chaos in key states to demonstrate the importance of policing, army etc. Trump emphasizes on the need for judges, justices in the supreme courts, tariff structures, policing etc. – clearly implying that regulatory and institutional control are the foundations for a democracy.

In many ways, Trump’s America was brilliantly summed up by Heath Ledger as the Joker in the Dark Knight trilogy, as he designs a fiendish version of prisoners’ dilemma between the ‘free’ denizens of Gotham and the institutionalised prisoners.

The implications of such a civil society for democracies are tremendous – if Trump’s America were to win, democracy as an ideology is on life support, for without humanistic  activism it runs the risk of losing its soul.     

Theme 2

Does Science matter?

For the number 1 economy in the world that houses some of the state of art research and development centers, and the highest community of scientists working on multiple frontiers of AI, robotics, hi-tech, gene therapy one would expect its leading presidential nominees to talk about Science.

However, data suggests otherwise.

Surprisingly, Biden remains almost as quiet about science as Trump – though the latter pays  some lip  service to it by talking about space and 5G. The Network scores that also reflect an allegiance towards data, science, positivism, determinism, scientific purpose etc. are low for both the nominees – though Trump’s scores are abysmally lower.

Biden’s America still scores higher given his emphasis on ecology scores, and adding the two (0.19 {Network} + 0.34 {Ecology} = 0.53). Figure 2, for example, sees Biden’s America more energized by a focus on the present challenges of Covid-19 pandemic, belief in testing etc. as well as the future.

Trump’s America has low scores (0.13 {Network} + 0.11 {Ecology} = 0.24) and seems to be entrenched in the past (Figure 2), demonstrating scant concern either for the present challenges or the future. Trump remains silent on what science has to offer, and chooses to rally the masses with lines such as given below, emphasizing perhaps more on the colonizer identity of the nation as opposed to its legacy in the field of science.

Donald Trump: “…Our American ancestors sailed across the perilous ocean to build a new life on a new continent. They braved the freezing winters, crossed the raging rivers, scaled the rocky peaks, trekked the dangerous forests, and worked from dawn till dusk. These pioneers didn’t have money. They didn’t have fame. But they had each other. They loved their families, they loved their country, and they loved their God. When opportunity beckoned, they picked up their bibles, packed up their belongings, climbed into their covered wagons, and set out West for the next adventure …”

The implications of ‘Does Science Matter?’ are tremendous for those democracies such as India for it assumes that its people are not mature or individuated or evolved to understand and engage with the dilemmas raised by an elite minority of scientists – whether these challenges be in robotics, or Artificial Intelligence.

Theme 3

Diversity, Inclusivity & Racial Justice versus Othering – Denial

This is fairly obvious to anyone following American politics and there are not many surprises on this front.

Biden’s America is built on compassion, empathy, and inclusivity – this America is willing to own up both the light and the shadow of its past and present. Biden’s America remains committed to the eradication of racial injustice. High scores of ecology reinforce this belief. Added to ecology these scores, is also Biden’s emphasis on Affiliation > Power as shown in figure 3. Biden’s America is willing to own up its inequity through affiliative and community processes best summed up in Biden quoting John Lewis who passed away recently.

Biden: “ …Maybe John Lewis’ passing the inspiration. However it has come to be, America is ready to in John’s words, to lay down “the heavy burdens of hate at last” and to do the hard work of rooting out our systemic racism…”

Trump’s America on the other hand, appears to be in denial of its sordid past and present, and is entrenched in ‘Othering’. All problems emanate and originate from the outside – from cohorts of violent Mexicans, to plague bearing Chinese to miserly Europeans unwilling to foot their own bills … the list goes on. Trump’s America is caught up with the idea of centrality of power- as if wielding power would enable the resolution of all its problems.

The implications of which America wins on November 3rd are crucial – were Biden’s America to win, it would imply hope leading the way for most democracies. It would also mean victory for the meek, the decent folks and the power of the diverse collective.

Both the speeches show low achievement orientation as opposed to power and affiliation – almost signifying that achievement makes little sense today to the people of nations. It also perhaps reminds us that the achievement card hardly makes sense in capitalistic economies where the gap between the rich and the poor has only widened and only affiliation may heal this hurt.

Just two days ago, the Indian National Congress (Cong -I) as a body sought to kill internal questioning and democratic processes – much like Trump’s America where power becomes more important than affiliation and achievement.

Theme 4

Do we eschew leadership that demonstrates tentativeness?

Omnipotence is celebrated by Trump and his nation – it comes with high Arena scores, high Clockwork scores, and celebrated through ‘Certain’ Leaders who are sure of where to head, leading parties and nations.

Biden’s America seems to be more open with tentativeness, dialogue and affiliation – perhaps more willing to escape the clutches of hypermasculine leadership. The Certain leader and the Tentative leader are not seen as either-or in Biden’s America.

Figure 4 below summarizes how Biden is able to co-hold certainty and tentativeness – yes there is a heavy price to pay. Biden and his followers would often be criticized of being weak, scared (lurking in basements during Covid-19 pandemic), unsure and ambivalent.

Trump on the other hand would be compulsively demonstrating power and certainty in his style creating an infantile dependency in his followers or worse still – an all engulfing cynicism of how the GOP has to demonstrate and showcase the façade of potency.

The implications of which America wins are tremendous. Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has already and very aptly demonstrated how potency and tentativeness can be co-held, offering a much-wanted feminine touch to governance.

The current Indian Prime Minister is perhaps more aligned to Trump’s America, labeling his opposition as weak and tentative, and incapable of leading the nation. And that there are a majority of Indians who subscribe to this kind of leadership.

Theme 5

Scaremongering wins Votes!

Textual analysis has only supported our intuitive understanding of Biden and Trump’s Americas.

Biden’s America seems to be more moved by positive emotions and Trump’s America is swayed by negative emotions. Within the emotions, as revealed by Figures 5, 6, and 7, Biden’s America is galvanized by rage and sadness at the state of affairs;

Trump’s America is moved by fear / anxiety and rage of what may happen or unravel – a paranoia that is compelling to get your vote.

Lastly Trump would use brimstone and fire through messaging on the fronts of religion and death – the last resort of the scare-monger to get your attention and votes.

Biden had a shorter speech, of 3200 words, where he spoke for 40 minutes working with sorrow, righteous rage, and yet with a sense of hope.

Trump on the other hand, and aided by real-time applauding spoke for 71 minutes for a speech with a length of almost 7000 words – but the emotionality that he seemed to be counting on was negativity, darkness, fear and paranoia and rage.

The implications of which leader wins are enormous for democracies world over. Politicians and political parties would recalibrate their political positions, their speeches and messaging.

Conclusion

November 3rd is a day that would determine which America wins. This day can be a harbinger of hope for the rest of the world and especially for democracies. Just like how  President Obama resurrected the faith in American economy, Biden’s America can reinforce the hope in nation-building, inclusivity, environmental solutions etc.

It can, on the other hand, also unleash a darkness and kill the soul of democracy. It is not just I who is keenly watching American politics, but also the likes of Putin, Erdogan, Xi Jinping and others who are betting on the system, If not intervening already. Trump’s return would only hasten the decline of faith in democracy.

I began this blog with a reference to Simulacrum – a construct reinforced by Baudrillard where he speaks of how words and symbols that signify a phenomenon have an entropic  life cycle. There comes a stage when the word not just represents a distorted meaning, but becomes meaningless.

I would like to emphasize that Trump’s America is betting on using such words and phrases that not just distort what they are supposed to signify but often stand for the very opposite. MAGA for example is one such phrase that is meaningless – Trump has not referred to when America was great – was it in 1950s leading the globe after WWII, was it in the 1980s under Reaganomics …

I quote a part of Trump’s speech to illustrate the nature of simulacra as well as the gibberish:

DT: “…In the new term as president, we will again build the greatest economy in history, quickly returning to full employment, soaring incomes and record prosperity. We will defend America against all threats and protect America against all dangers. We will lead America into new frontiers of ambition and discovery, and we will reach four new heights of national achievement. We will rekindle faith in our values, new pride in our history and a new spirit of unity that can only be realized through love for our great country.

Because we understand that America is not a land cloaked in darkness. America is the torch that enlightens the entire world. Gathered here at our beautiful and majestic White House, known all over the world as the people’s house, we cannot help but marvel at the miracle that is our great American story…”

November 3rd would perhaps also decide which voter is likely to succeed – Trump’s victory would only, and sadly so, reinforce that the modern man and woman is enslaved to the monkey mind – willing to forget facts, history, critical thinking, and willing to collude with a phantasmagoria of biblical proportions.

Notes

  1. The EUM Framework as a construct has been designed and created by Ashok Malhotra, and has been deployed across hundreds of organizations and thousands of managers and leaders across the world. For more information please visit http://www.eumlens.in
  2. Text analysis has been facilitated by LIWC – a software offered by Indian School of Business, Hyderabad to me in my research journey during the EFPM course.
  3. For my take on Simulacra – please read my blog on ‘Disneyland, Selfies, and Simulacra – Remembering Baudrillard‘

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