What role does PR play in the political rhetoric that has convinced the voting majority to elect a President unproven in public office?
November 9 is a historic day. In 1989, one of the most symbolic political events of the 20th Century took place when the Berlin Wall, that had divided the democratic West Germany and Communist East Germany, fell. More accurately, the border points were opened, as the official demolition didn’t start until June of the following year, but to all intents and purposes, it was this date on which history was made.
Twenty-seven years later, we see the dawning of a new political era, this time on the other side of the Atlantic, with the successful election campaign of Donald J Trump. During his campaign, Trump famously promised, (time and time again) to build a wall. Not to protect against communism, but against illegal immigration from Mexico. While this is not physically realistic, it is symbolic of a different sentiment that has taken hold in the ‘Land of the Free’, and creates a juxtaposed political standpoint to that seen in Germany 27 years ago.
While almost all the polls and political analysts were predicting a Clinton victory (some polls with a probability of as much as 90%), it would seem the silent majority, the voters who didn’t respond to polls, the so-called ‘silent-Trumpers’ have thrown all the polls and predictions on their heads.
Donald Trump continually referenced ‘making America great again’ as a slogan that underlined his entire campaign, and that was a sentiment that much of the American populace heard and empathised with. There are wide swathes of the continental US that have record unemployment, abject poverty and hunger. To a certain degree, at least to the degree that is believed by those affected, this is due to a large hefty swing in production and manufacturing away from the US to emerging economies. Imports are at an all-time high, and that has resulted in unemployment growth back at home.
So, by harnessing those sentiments, and promising to revert to the America of old, Trump has swayed massive numbers of voters to his cause. Now he must deliver those promises. While he has the backing of both the Senate and Congress (both Republican holds in the election) there are many high-ranking, senior Republicans, that have been vociferous in their objection to Trump and his policies, who could yet derail his plans and promises.
But what role did PR play in the election campaigns?
While both candidates had a massive PR machine working behind the scenes, the true influence was PR’s somewhat immoral cousin, Spin.
Politically, spin is defined as a biased interpretation of an event to persuade public opinion in favour of one viewpoint. Both sides played this card, and at times both were at risk of edging towards slander – deliberate false communication – but the lines between these two, in politics at least, has always been slightly blurred.
There is a large groundswell of disappointment at the election result around the world this morning, and that’s to be expected when arguably the most powerful country in the world elects as their Commander-in-Chief, someone who has never held political office or served in a senior military position; both seen as providing a good grounding and understanding of international and domestic politics required for whoever aspires to sit in the Oval Office.
The issue here is that spin, and to an extent PR, has been directed largely at the candidates themselves on a personal level. With both sides trading insults instead of debating solely on policy issues, the result was always going to be hard to predict, and there is truth in the saying that mud sticks… throw enough mud at your opponent and there will be a taint on their character, regardless of the truth in the accusations.
Politics has never been a particularly ‘clean’ game, but what this campaign has shown is that as well as flinging large quantities of metaphorical mud, by tapping into popular sentiment, regardless of its founding principles, support can be gained and manipulated to your own goals.
Ethically, making promises that you may not be able to keep is against the code of conduct for professional PR practitioners, which is why PR as we know it has little to do with politics. The spin doctors that worked behind the scenes will have to answer to their own consciences as to whether their actions were ethical or not, and the rest of the world must put their trust in the political advisors and assistants that will now support Donald Trump in the White House.
The good news is for all the bombast and chest beating of the campaigners, no single person has the power to press the big-red-button without proper political process. America is a democracy after all, not a dictator state.
And on that note, of democracy, we should also bear in mind that Donald Trump won a democratic election – meaning he secured a greater proportion of the vote in a political contest operated under strictly monitored conditions. The will of the majority has spoken.