From The New York Time’s “Room For Debate” Forum.

Do Politicians Exploit Grief?
Politicians have often relied on the stories of those who have suffered to help move or change the minds of voters. But is it right to do so?

Bethany Albertson, an assistant professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, is the co-author of “Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World.”

Politicians Should Connect Grief to Policies.

Neither political party has a monopoly on grief.

If politicians are going to politicize grief — and more particularly, the grief of others — they must offer a policy recommendation.

Individuals and families are free to discuss their grief any way they want to — and that includes toward political ends — because it is their pain and can inform their (and others) practical and moral decision making. But if politicians are going to politicize grief — and more particularly, the grief of others — they must offer a policy recommendation. Then, they are helping build concrete solutions, and not exploiting emotions.

Emotional appeals can be persuasive. When our country faces tragedies, politicians should bring them to our attention and let us grieve together. We might differ in terms of the subject of our sadness the same way we do over the subject of our fears: That seems inevitable in a diverse electorate. But politicians engaging in emotional appeals should connect them to policies. Politicians are generally more trusted when they connect threats to policies, rather than simply stirring up emotion. If they’re selling a political agenda, it better be in the service of change or progress.

Then, we can grieve with them, and perhaps accept the remedy they’re offering (or not). Our grief can inform our political decision making, but it doesn’t disable other aspects of our brain.

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