Citizen Realism, 1; Hegemonic Discourse, 0

Beatriz Gallardo Paúls

7 mins - 3 de Agosto de 2023, 19:00

Since President Pedro Sánchez announced the 23 July elections on 29 May, the public discourse has evolved into an information spiral that took the change of government for granted. The fact that this prediction was contradicted by the votes is evidence of a considerable gap between the apparently majority public discourse and the citizens’ decision on the direction of the country. Of course, the factors that converge in the electoral result are multiple, and discourse is only one of them; attributing specific achievements to it in terms of (de)mobilisation or persuasion is always tentative, as each political discourse is always filtered through the individual biography of the listener. Nevertheless, we can describe the most visible ingredients of the public sphere in the electoral period.

The dominant discourse was undoubtedly the one that predicted a comfortable victory for the PP and its government pact with the far right. This message has been dominated by a negative, tense expression, to which the discourse of the progressive bloc has responded with more skill and creativity than on other occasions, turning the insult around and generating positive arguments. Moreover, it is conceivable that this generalised opinion ignored two things: that the government pacts that emerged in May (and their decisions) could serve as a polygraph for the statements of Alberto Núñez Feijóo and Santiago Abascal regarding the general elections of 23 July, and, above all, that the general elections have a different parliamentary arithmetic to the autonomous regional elections.

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Even so, with the general framework of the PP’s triumph, the July campaign has stretched the hegemonic discursive frameworks of the elections of 28 May to the maximum: issues such as ETA terrorism, the use of the presidential plane or squatting. Conservative parties have united their voices in a chain of accusations that criminalised the chosen date (“an election set as not to go”, tweeted a leader of PP), the functioning of the postal vote (“I ask the postmen, regardless of their bosses, to distribute the entire vote”, said Feijóo), or even the breakdown of the Valencia-Madrid AVE high-speed train on 23 July. Along with this self-serving interpretation of reality, hoaxes and lies have invaded the conservative campaign discourse, which was not deployed in defence of its own electoral programme, but against the coalition government. Nor was there any lack of fallacies, such as the repeated invocation of the victory of the list with the most votes in a representative system.

This discourse, so unpolitical, so indebted to the personalistic and frivolous hypertrophies forged in the era of television spectacle, became dominant when amplified by a parallel media voice which, from radio, television and opinion texts, assumed its magnified and uncritical dissemination. The fetish themes have been repeated as true glossomania, with moralistic messages that avoided talking about political initiatives and masked the obvious limitations shown by the supposed winner in his or her communicative performance. This work has been constant on the part of the media aligned with the right since the 2018 motion of censure and has gained intensity in the 23-J campaign, to the point that a milestone of the campaign was the appearance of a public television journalist Silvia Intxaurrondo professionally exercising her control function. Her interview set the pace of the campaign precisely because the predominant voice in the public sphere is that of certain media whose political alignment (deployed as true activism) eclipses the voice of professional journalism, which carries out its work without histrionics. It is also significant that these conservative opinion-generating media are mostly based in Madrid, with an outlook that tends to ignore the plurality of the country and only turns to the peripheries in search of votes.

Apart from the choleric tone, this propagandistic discourse is notable for its conceptual vacuity. What does “sanchismo” mean, for example? What argument could those young people recorded in the Xàbia discotheque give to justify their insults to the president? What do all those who have repeated ad nauseam the slogan bearing his name know about the terrorist García Gaztelu, alias Txapote? In reality, all these elements function as interjections. They are war cries whose only communicative function is to convey a negative emotional state; there are only offences, disqualifications and contempt because anger and rage phagocytise any rationality. The lack of underlying argumentative content is also present in the voices that promote these messages from the media. Thus, the day after the elections, one of the radio broadcasters most aligned with these positions called the Prime Minister a “psychopath”. And a regular author of opinion columns brimming with bile expressed - and he was not the only one - his astonishment at the fact that the electoral reality did not conform to that prescribed in his texts. Mariano Rajoy, in his first interview after his election in 2011, also stated with astonishment that it was reality that had prevented him from fulfilling his electoral programme. Stubborn, as we know.

All these opinion-makers seem to be prey to the magical thinking that, according to Michel Wieviorka, characterises populisms; the same that, by the way, leads certain progressive leaders to defend that being a man or a woman is a matter of individual and subjective choice, a position that has also had an electoral impact. In both cases, it is being pretended that language creates reality, but this, we know, only happens in spells and sorceries. The same aspiration - albeit cloaked in a mythicised scientism, which pronounces demoscopy with a capital letter - corresponds to the use of electoral polls, treated by politicians and the media as veritable prophetic oracles. “PP would obtain an absolute majority with Vox and they would add 181 seats, according to the Gad3 poll”, a conservative media outlet headlined at the close of voting. The truth is that the informative function of polls is lost from the moment that many are published without a fact sheet, as their dissemination is more prescriptive (performative) than descriptive; in the same way that the fake media basically serve to provide false news that is then published on networks and instant messaging, polls are disseminated to pre-identify a winner.

It has not worked. It would seem that, with their vote, Spaniards have defied the “democracy of the credulous” described by Gérald Bonner, and have preferred to ignore the majority discourse that ensured a government formed by the PP and Vox. In this sense, the votes have been lost by the brassy and unhinged discourse that the conservative bloc has cultivated throughout the legislature, the one that follows the propaganda manual of populism, slogans built on cruelty or editorials based on personalistic insults; a discourse very similar, with nuances, to the one that failed before in the left-wing options. When it comes to pacts, the most relevant aspect of these dynamics is probably that, by entrusting their electoral success to this type of message that discredits the institutions, Feijóo and his team have disregarded the importance of discourse as a key element of the sense of State. His ultra discourse has led him to burn bridges with almost the entire parliamentary arc, a luxury that, in a democracy, no election winner, not even with absolute majorities, should allow himself.
Se puede leer el artículo original en español en El País

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