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The Civic Context of Political Campaigns

Political campaigns always occur in some context, and it turns out that the context makes quite a difference.  I will use the communication model developed by W. Barnett Pearce in his book, Interpersonal Communication: Making Social Worlds, to explore these differences.  His model includes the world in which communication happens, the occasion of it happening, the relationships among those involved, and the self-image of the communicator or speaker. 

If we imagine a civic context for political campaigns that would encourage a climate of justice, we might come up with the following picture:

 Let’s define the world of political campaigns as a contest between different persons, policies, and parties to gain the votes of citizens.  The occasions are various campaign events where candidates try to persuade citizens to vote for them and their policies instead of their opponents.  Because the candidates participate in a civic context, they treat each other with respect.

The candidates can develop their self-image from the other aspects of the conversation –world, occasion, and relationships—or they can bring their own self-image into the conversation and define a world, occasion, and relationship for themselves.   In such cases, it’s not the context that controls the conversation, but the candidate. 

For the sake of democracy, the civic context matters more than any candidate. The world of a Civic Contest is different than the world of sports or horse racing.  Although it’s OK to steal a ball in basketball, or to lie in poker, it’s not OK in a civic contest.  In essence, a political campaign should encourage a climate of justice rather than destroy it.  That will never happen, of course, unless the candidates practice mutual respect.

Whether Trump portrays himself as a strong man, a gangster, or a Christian savior, he behaves in the political context like a bull in a China shop.  Behind his masks, many professionals see him as a psychopath, which would explain his total lack of shame or empathy.  His lack of respect for others, as is often the case, probably matches his lack of respect for himself. 

Let’s remember that democracy is not a monument or a memorial.  It is an on-going conversation that calls for mutual respect among all who belong and want to belong to a civic context. 


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