Media and the manufacturing of the American president

 08 Nov 2016 - 11:55

Dr Noureddine Miladi

In spite of the turmoil that has been engulfing Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the American presidential elections seem to be attracting lots of media attention.  In global media the race for the White House is turning, as ever, into a media event. Passionate reporters in the west as well as many other parts of the world closely follow the day-to-day developments of the campaign namely the significance of the opinion polls and candidates’ televised debates.

This unabated interest is understandable due to the power of the US which makes its president probably the most powerful leader in the world. What happens in the US is therefore watched by a global audience.
However what is striking is that the race to this influential position has become not about portrayal of the candidates’ charisma and skills in solving local and world problems, at least where the US is involved, but about sensational and sometimes trifling issues.

The making of the American president is not anymore about the presentation of what distinguishes each candidate for instance regarding their policies in decreasing unemployment rates, solving the ailing health system, boosting the economy, fighting corruption and fixing the American foreign policy in various parts of the world, to name a few.

But the presidential campaign has become more and more about how to invest in the weakness of the opponents even if it is through defamation or demonisation. The campaigns’ content has become about trivial issues which do not amount to anything except tabloid celebrity gossip.

The race is about waging major multi-million campaigns in order to win the hearts and minds of the electorate through skillful marketing and the branding of candidates. The American public is bombarded with trash media content which is certainly not helping to choose the right person to fit the job.

Campaign managers tend nowadays to capitalize on image making and branding of the candidates where televised debates have become major influence on the voters. In fact this was introduced to American politics since 1960 in the first presidential debate televised on American media between Sen. John F Kennedy, a Democrat, and Vice President Richard Nixon, a Republican. Kennedy, a young candidate, won the elections because he performed better and he looked smarter; whereas Nixon looked exhausted due to his illness at the time. His performance was not as good as his opponent. The candidate who was expected to win the elections lost the media test in the debate and ultimately he lost the race to the White House.

However, nowadays social media have added even more fuel to image branding, and to the virtual wars between the candidates. Campaigns strategists have to capitalize on reaching out to the public and defame the opponents through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all available social media networks. As of 1 November 2016, Donald Trump had 6.9 million followers on his Facebook page, 12 million on Twitter, whereas Hillary Clinton had 3.1 million on her Facebook page, and about 10 Million on Twitter.

Yet, how significant this media event has been to the Arab world, and how important has been the Arab world in the candidates’ agenda?

In the current US presidential campaign the Arab world has been reduced to fighting ISIS from Syria and Iraq. A vague sound bite type of discourse about the ‘Middle East’ is all we hear from American politicians, and would be presidents, which does not unveil their true plans for the future of this region. The regional dynamics and changing geopolitical realities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen for instance are not apparent in what we hear today. The complex problems that the region is witnessing are simply brushed with one colour- fighting Daesh.

The same goes with the Palestinian issue. For decades the American government’s position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been characterized by unwavering support for the Israeli government, which the US seems to feel it needs to do. The unremitting support takes various forms such as military supplies, funding, as well as political approval. Various US governments have been upping the military capabilities of the Israeli army including the settlers. There have also been continuous attempts to block any initiatives in the UN or other international policy bodies to condemn Israel’s continuous expansion of the settlements, at the expense of Palestinian land and demolition of houses.

In sum, on the foreign policy level there is very little difference between the candidates. Whoever becomes the next presidential will typically adhere to the strategic interests of the US.  
These strategic interests of the US foreign policy will not change because of a choice between Clinton or Trump. Whatever the ballot boxes in the US presidential elections disclose today, the Arab world will not see a difference!

The writer is Professor of Media and Communication. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]