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Divisive Rhetoric: The political messages limiting our democracy

The Extreme Rhetoric of Contemporary American Politics, by Joseph Zompetti
The lack of unity within American politics is a growing problem. From the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., to average citizens speaking out against a broken system, the United States is becoming more divided.

Many people want to understand how the American political system has become so divisive. Clearly, there are social pressures imposed on people involved with politics to align with either Democratic or Republican groups. While Americans spend a lot of time supporting only one side of the political spectrum, they often speak poorly about those on the opposite side. Therefore, division is caused by the ways average people communicate about politics.

“What came as kind of a shock to me is that most people, both in the political science and communication worlds, don’t really focus on the communication part,” said School of Communication Professor Joseph Zompetti.
ake reasonable and independent decisions.

Zompetti has been a long-standing professor within ISU’s School of Communication. 


His research expertise involves rhetorical theory and political communication. Additionally, Zompetti has years of experience competing and coaching collegiate-level debate.

While teaching and researching political communication at ISU, Zompetti stumbled across a book called Wingnuts by John Avlon. Avlon’s book discusses how prominent political figures and commentators— referred to as “Wingnuts”— fall on extreme sides of the political spectrum and hijack American political discourse. Overall, its central idea discusses how political figures become talking heads of the nation and maintain a dominant influence in mainstream political conversations.

Zompetti, however, recognized political divisions within discussions of average people. “What Avlon’s book does not explain is how ordinary, common people communicate about politics,” said Zompetti, “I realized that there needs to be an explanation as to how real people discuss political information.”

According to Zompetti, polarization is a complex phenomenon, but it is essentially the extreme divide between liberal and conservative ideologies. This divide is widening based on the competitive, “us-versus-them” mentality communicated to political audiences. These mentalities are often stubborn, aggressive, and fail to include other perspectives. Several communicative factors within American society that have contributed to this divide are addressed in Divisive Discourse.
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