Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Blog Post #4

In Lizabeth Cohen “A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption” the first few pages explain how marketing changed and mass consumption of goods increased after World War II. Cohen quotes a sociologist and states “Americans were increasingly becoming consumers of politics”(332). Cohen also states that mass marketing techniques in the political environment were seen back in War World I with advertising techniques to get women out to vote. The marketing technique was just the beginning of something much bigger later in the years. For example the television helped Kennedy’s campaign. Where he reached voters and Cohen goes on to say that his physical attractiveness made female voters excited. 

The part that caught my attention was “Americans were increasingly becoming consumers of politics”(332). Cohen also states that Americans value “charisma and glamour over more rational self-interest”. To break this down I think she tried to say that Americans care more about how a politician presents themselves compared to what the politician has to offer. In recent years we saw this with Donald Trump where his supporters voted for him because he was Donald Trump, a businessman that owns a business and knows how to make money. He became president and made a lot of false accusations on different minorities. Republicans voted for a racist and gave him power to make major decisions just because he was Donald Trump. 

In the present time we see a lot of this where people give popularity and support to someone because of how they present themselves. As a society we need to look past the “glamor” and choose leaders who are going to help society prosper. These past few years with Covid impacted everyone and many unemployed. We yet to see what our current president is going to do about unemployment and businesses closing.

One thought on “Blog Post #4”

  1. A thoughtful post, although you might have connected some of Cohen’s points about politics to her previous argument about the rise of market segmentation. I think you’re right that Trump represents the latest iteration of the long-standing obsession with celebrity and the rise of post-WWII media like television (Trump was, after all, a reality TV show star as well as a businessman); however, I’m not sure it fully explains the Trump phenomenon.

    Cohen’s quote about “rational self-interest” reminds me of the oft-made remark that (usually white) working-class voters who vote for Republicans are “voting against their own interests.” While this may be true on some level, it seems to me to be both elitist and dismissive of other factors—are working-class voters not able to determine for themselves where their self-interest lies? Or are they trying to tell politicians that their understanding of their own interests may be different from what political consultants, the media, and academics think they are? This is not to dismiss your point about the role of racism, by the way; I agree that it has been an important factor both recently and throughout much of American history. But while it’s important to stick to principles and not simply cater to voters (as the market segmentation approach seems to encourage), it may be that progressive politicians and others who refuse to listen to voters and fail to explain how progressive policies will benefit them will have a hard time getting those policies in place.

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