Why Is Outrage In Public Discourse Acceptable?

For my sins, I recently found myself watching Donald Trump on the U.S Republican nominee trail. It was complete car crash television but I had to admit it made for compelling viewing.

One of the key topics the candidates spoke on was immigration, in particular the American border with Mexico. The candidates, led by the hirsute Donald Trump, then went off on what at best could be described as a peculiar tangent embarking on a game of one upmanship, culminating in Mr. Trump promising to “build a wall” to stop the Mexicans entering the country!

I could dismiss this as a one off moment of madness but then one of our own politicians described a media outlet as having a ‘jihad’ against the government. Again, the use of extreme language and a concept that appears on the surface to be a stratosphere away from a position of reasonable dialogue.

It seems to me that outrage, confected or otherwise is being seen as a completely legitimate tool in public discourse. If you aren’t seen as getting ‘cut through’ in a debate, outrage and particular rage directed from those in a position of power is becoming an increasingly common way to dehumanise and belittle an opposing point of view. The more polarizing the view the stronger and more aggressive the language.


Two things spring out to me about this:

  1. Is this use of outrageous response and language simply designed to shut down any discussions by upping the ante to such a point that dialogue is not possible?

My take on this is a resounding yes. This type of language is designed for the 24 hours news-cycle and intended to be on the front page and before the first ad break. It is adopting the position to be the toughest on crime, the strongest leader and the one in charge. To me however it screams the opposite and it bold letters says – INSECURE!

  1. Where does that type of rhetoric leave us in terms of meaningful engagement?

To put it simply – this leaves us back in the dark ages. It is language used to create a binary position of right and wrong, left and right wing, good and bad. It’s simplistic nonsense that takes us all for fools who are incapable of understanding a nuanced issue.


I believe that as an engagement and communication specialist there is a role for professionals to play in calling out this type of position as inflammatory, exclusionary and plainly unnecessary. We have learnt that through effective engagement notice of emerging issues puts governments in a better position to deal with those issues in a proactive way, instead of reacting as anger and conflict arise.

In our work at Articulous we have worked with organisations on challenges such as housing planning for the next twenty years, water security, energy supply, flood prevention and more, all of which have benefited from the knowledge gained through effective engagement with the public. Positive public discourse that encourages engagement and input from stakeholders is truly the most effective way to drive meaningful policy development.

We live in a society that has increasing levels of expectations from our democracy, yet we seem to be heading down a path of readily accepting aggressive and exclusionary language from our political leaders designed to shut down those conversations. It’s up to all of us to tell our political leaders that we demand better.