CMU professor weighs in on political rhetoric

Elections

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A professor at Central Michigan University is sharing perspective on political rhetoric and whether or not it’s fair to criticize those using charged and aggressive language.

Cherie Strachan has a Ph.D. in political science. One area she’s researched is women in politics and the higher rate of attacks they face over their male counterparts.

“It’s not at all surprising,” Strachan said about the terror charges filed against militia members last week. “Also given the reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the FBI, if you’re tracking and reading those reports, about the increased rates of militia groups and white supremacist groups.”

After federal and state officials addressed the foiled plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s leader and several other elected officials pointed to President Donald Trump and other GOP leaders for emboldening violent behavior.

Criticism, Strachan said, that’s justified.

“The tone comes from the top, right?” the professor explained. “And so, of course, that kind of language is not a direct call for violence, but it enables and emboldens people.”

She pointed to Trump calling Sen. Kamala Harris a monster in an interview last week.

“That kind of rhetoric dehumanizes people and that’s the first step toward being willing to commit violence and so the tone of civility and tone of respect for legitimate opposition have to come from the top and then if it doesn’t come from the top, I do think anyone else in a position of political leadership, and we have a lot of them given federalism, is actually obligated to point it out,” Strachan added.

On the flip side of that argument, the finger-pointing seems to be creating further division. Is it worth it?

“I think it’s hard not to point out particular individuals when examples are so recent,” Strachan responded. “If we lose civility and respect for legitimate opposition, the loss of our democracy and a stable democracy is not far behind.”

Strachan pointed to the late Sen. John McCain as an example of not feeding hateful rhetoric during a 2008 presidential campaign stop in which he addressed his supporters.

“I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not — he’s an Arab,” one woman said while holding the microphone.

The then-Republican nominee for president quickly took it away from her, shaking his head.

“No, ma’am,” McCain responded. “He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not. Thank you.”

“He got booed,” Strachan recounted. “But he did it anyway because that’s what true political leadership in the United States looks like. You win by explaining your policy positions, not by calling each other names.”

But Trump won in 2016 by calling people names, so can criticism surrounding his rhetoric carry any weight?

“We could have an in-depth, heated discussion about immigration. We could have an in-depth discussion and conversation about reproductive rights and access to abortion,” Strachan said. “I think we could have found ways to address those things without the rhetoric that is, in my mind, un-American in the big sweep of history.”

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