Political Symbolism Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1798 Words
Date:  2022-03-09

The perpetuation and founding of American politics, in light of Murray Edelman's perspectives, is grounded on symbols, myths and political rituals which, in essence, ensue similarities in the functioning of politics and civil religion. In recent times, the political symbols have gained significant importance in running campaigns. Actually, the exercise of American politics entails the perpetuation of symbols and myths through rituals such as debates, political campaigns that are contested viciously to ensure political actors win. In that regard, political actors employ repeated ritualistic tactics that spell them out as symbolic holders of citizens' emotions, needs, and concerns that define the larger populace. However, Edelman's arguments are significant in defining the members of a society as the political symbols are often bound in secular ritualistic and mythical practices whose functioning is very much similar to American civil religion.

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The concept of politics, according to religion sociologists, has contributed to much inattention to civil religion which is elaborately characteristic of authoritarian and totalitarian states as opposed to democratic ones. Interestingly though, in the United States of America, the concepts of politics hinder analytical attention to the symbolic realm of politics, hence presenting civil religion within American politics. Edelman approaches the symbolic actions of politics in a manner that challenges the idea that political activities are defensible, logical and wholly rational. In his opinion, politics in most democratic institutions, are rather expressive and symbolic in functionality with the religious factors aligned with the religious dimensions of the general populace (Arnhart, 1985). Edelman furthers the idea through his argument that symbolic politics provide a cue to the mass public regarding their threats to security and status through government actions that evoke high expectations of deprivation, threat, peace or war (Couta, 2010). His ritualistic symbolism outlines foundational myths of the United States civil religion which are taught both at home and pervasive political rhetoric. The civil religion myths include the fact that America engages inequality before the legislative laws, fair allocation of economic and political values, as well as the accurate reflection of people's voice through government agencies. These civil religion myths have a number of political implications where legitimate authorities give credence to crucial factors and legitimate authority whenever a judicial system pronounces punishment on a criminal or the decision when to go to war. Take for instance the Supreme court decision of 2000 when the United States Presidential race was decided by 5 members of the court demonstrating the incredible power of their belief in the Supreme Court as the nation's arbiter of law and the citizen's belief and legitimate trust in the law (Couta, 2010).

In fact, they value the place of the officials grounded on the solidarity and stability that is derived from the American civil religion. While they had reasonable grounds to argue against the partialism and human biases of the decision, the fact that the decision was based on their faith in civil religion compelled them to accept and embrace the decision. This is a clear picture of the importance of the political rituals, myths, and symbols in the American political system which therefore means that the system is not unfounded amidst the general connotations that the belief is both mistaken and inaccurate. On the contrary, Edelman asserts that the myth and symbols provide boundaries and contours as well as access points for policies that are higher than the ordinary life that citizens aspire to live in. The symbols and rituals that are usually used by political actors inadvertently evoke varied symbolic representations that invoke the US civil religion to faithfully and fairly deliver on the promises of freedom, liberty, and equality (Arnhart, 1985).

In that regard, rituals and symbols can be employed in the expression of different beliefs that are bound within civil religion myths. Bush, for instance, employed his inaugural address to invoke and call for a gentler and kinder U.S., prompting a high level of voluntarism at around "1000 points of light". Contrary to the previous government run by Ronald Reagan, Bush used the mythical and symbolical expressions in his campaign to promote softer and different administrative policies, with the renewed emphasis on the American myth of compassion and lending out a hand to help those in need "selflessly". Far from this political and symbolic, cynical manipulation result in the invocation of rituals and myths that are often employed in making real the beliefs and values embodied in the US political bodies with civil religion as the central point. Notably, no political leader can come up with a myth, whether official, unofficial, formal or informal. All they do is call up the already existent beliefs amongst the citizens that, according to Edelman, are shared and shape the beliefs of their constituents compelling them to enforce policies that are either maintain the status quo or invoke transformational or incremental changes in line with the civil religion practices of the US (Sander, 1997). In fact, rituals and symbols provide ritualistic content although they have varied meanings that may be misunderstood in some settings.

The most important property of political symbolism is the aggregation of commonly shared beliefs rather than the sharp articulation (Burnier, 1994). Ronald Reagan, in his campaign, employed three properties of political symbols: condensation, where symbols and myths were used to unify or represent meanings at individual levels; multivocality which entails evoking variety of meanings for various groups among the mass populace; and lastly ambiguity where his campaign strategy entailed applying uncertain and complex symbols that exceeded simple, precise, and concise meanings to the general populace. This ensues in arguments on political correctness where the different understanding of various symbols may cryptically express contemptuous figures of communication that oppose interpretation for the mass public's conceptualization. Despite the extremes highlighted herein, the tensions and contradictions in belief work in ordinarily providing vitality, relevance and importance to civil religion in America. Reagan succeeded in invoking the vocation of politics through the American civil religion. He understood that the United States was a superpower nation with many enemies to be combatted ultimately presenting it as a "city on a hill", a symbol suggesting that it is the hope of the entire world for moral freedom and an exemplar of liberation. Having won by 51 percent, Ronald Reagan came out as a media president who won the hearts of mass media persons for his capability to expressively share his opinions (Pistekova, 2009).

In spite of the fact that other presidents used and appreciated media's role in their political campaigns, Reagan exhibited unique, unprecedented ability in using the media to achieve his purposes so successfully that his media advisers gave conclusive remarks on the impact of his deeds, especially when he avoided black-tie dinners, instead opting to attend job-training centers to symbolically communicate the endangering levels of unemployment at the time (Pistekova, 2009). In other symbolic actions to win over the mass public during his campaigns, Reagan always announced any good news, speaking about issues from a general perspective to avoid partialness and partisan viewpoints. Interestingly, whenever there was bad news, his campaign team would disappear completely from the limelight and let the unidentified officials bear bad news, making him act as a popular television show host. His public appearances were always organized from a distance, far from journalists making it hard for them to ask him questions, yet he won the love of the media as they shaped mass and elite opinion such that the American elite either supported his policies or were too afraid to criticize his decisions.

It is indisputable that he won the hearts of Americans and the media at large as Washington Post's Ben Bradlee confirmed his success in gaining numbers among the media and the mass public asserting that the media was "kinder" to Reagan than they have ever been to any political actor in the American History. He mastered the art of employing communicative theory in his symbolic politics, where his focus was aimed at manipulating and defining his political surrounding. Essentially, through political communication, he was able to define and take control of the terms of any given debate, either in public or before the media. Reagan was good at striking abstract differences between political reality and symbolic construction or the presentation of his politics. Rather interestingly, there has been no neutral grounds on the reactions they evoke or their policies, on the contrary, they are considered as memorable personalities, arousing emotional feelings of biting disapproval or enthusiastic admiration (Pistekova, 2009).

Unconstituted leaders join political actors and public officials in invoking rituals, myths, and symbols in line with Edelman's assertions. In some instances, the officials offer counternarratives converse to the original ones. In Tiananmen Square, for instance, protesting workers and students presented their general demands in the dawn of June 1989, which entailed an end to official and select corruption, respect for personal liberties and freedom, political reform as well as the better consideration and treatment of professional intellectuals. Major points of issue in the protest involved the quest for freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, an end to the increasing levels of corruption that were ensuing in high levels of unemployment. They used symbols and ritualistic actions that provided defining meanings for the demands, often inscribed in English to figuratively attract the attention of the international community. Some of the placards had messages inscribed on them while some had figurative, historical features drawn all over them, raised high above their heads to ensure that the media cameras recorded every detail of their demands. Some placard inscriptions read "We Shall Overcome", "Give Liberty or Give Death" and "The Government of our People, By People, For People" (Burnier, 1994).

Inadvertently, these three symbolic expressions were inscribed in a manner that communicated symbolic representation invoking the three historical trials of the United States and its Civil Religion to faithfully deliver on its promises of freedom, equality, and liberty. During the protest, the students brought out a replica of America's Statue Of Liberty making dramatic and symbolic presentations compelling the state to act. The most outstanding figurative representation is the 3-minute standoff between a single man and a column of tankers that are now adopted as the symbolic power of individual and mass acts of resistance. The invocation of Edelman's symbols, the students were able to make real historically abstract beliefs and the American values that are embodied in politics, as a body and civil religion at its center. In this case, the ritual expressions and symbolic actions were an indication of the protesters 'belief in the civil religion of the US, its adherence and reverence to the rule of law and the primitive understanding of their belief that the government officials could actually come out, listen to their pleas, and provide their security (Couto, 2010). However, they were faced with the state's brutality and crackdown, prompting them to sing the anthem of idealist communism "T...

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