Observations of an Expat: Megaphone Politics of the Deaf

May 20, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Tom Arms

I call it megaphone politics of the deaf. Its methodology is quite simple: Opposing sides, shout at each other without listening to a word that the other is saying. They accompany their bellowing with a host of gross exaggerations, outright lies and sometimes physical brawling.

Megaphone politics is becoming all too common in countries espousing democratic values. This is a worrying trend.

Others may say that such “heated debates” are just part of the cut and thrust of everyday political life. They are what transforms politics from yawningly boring to vote-winning entertainment. That the only way to drag a jaded electorate to the polls is with increasingly outrageous behaviour.

A sterling example of this outrageous behaviour is a recent debate between Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen– the two candidates in the Austrian Presidential elections scheduled for May 22nd. Some bright spark from Austrian television decided to try something different. He or she sat the two candidates in opposing chairs with a table between them. A gong was sounded, there was a few minutes  of verbal sparring and then what one Austrian newspaper described as a “verbal slugfest” erupted in the studio. Both men were shouting at each other so that neither could be heard, and at one stage Van der Bellen flicked the finger at Hofer.

At the end of the 45 minutes a shamefaced journalist from Austrian Television came on screen to state the obvious: “Both candidates have disgraced themselves, the office of the president is damaged, that was disgraceful.” The Viennese newspaper Kronen Zeitung the following day asked: “These two want to be president?”


Britain is noted for its civilised debates. Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons can become a bit heated, but always within respectable boundaries. However, civilised discussion has been thrown out the window during the great Brexit debate on whether to stay in or quit the European Union.

Recently former London Mayor Boris Johnson– a leading Out campaigner– claimed that the European Union is pursuing Hitler’s goal of a powerful German-controlled super state. I recently met one Out campaigner who claimed that key EU figures were secretly building prisons in which to lock political prisoners.

Britain’s BREXIT campaigners are a good example of the parallel deafness that accompanies megaphone politics. The Remain camp points out that every world leader except Vladimir Putin—who is not exactly a friend of the United Kingdom—has urged the British electorate to avoid disaster and stay in the European Union. The response of the Out campaigners: “They are all wrong.” “They clearly do not know what they are talking about.” “They are only thinking of their own national interests.” And finally, the ultimate debate stopper: “I know what I want. I know what I believe and I don’t care what anyone else says.”


Megaphone politics is not restricted to one side of the Atlantic. Donald Trump is now a household name around the world because he has dragged the US presidential campaign to a new nadir by bellowing either totally false or outrageous claims. He has pulled out the old canard about Obama’s birth certificate, linked Ted Cruz’s father to Lee Harvey Oswald, called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers and proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US.

Again, world leaders have called him “ignorant and divisive.” But his supporters refuse to listen. They retort: “We don’t care what others think. Their opinions do not matter.”

The problem is that democracies rely on civilised and informed debate to reach a consensus that allows government to move forward. If the debate becomes uncivilised. If the politicians and their supporters stoop to megaphone politics and stuff their fingers in their ears, than it undermines the basic structures of democratic systems.





Tom Arms broadcasts on world affairs for a number of US radio stations including WTKF at http://www.wtkf107.com/. His Weekly Viewpoints discussion programme can be heard at 1830 EST on Wednesdays and his LookAhead at the next week’s main events on Fridays at 1800.


LookAhead Radio World Report for week commencing 23rd May:






Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

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