Nothing really. Both are commitments to do something and both are not legally binding. One is used more often than the other but they sort of mean the same thing. A pledge does seem to have an air of formality which a promise doesn’t though. For example I would never make a pledge to buy my kids an ice-cream but I often promise it.
During the 2010 UK Election the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Nick Clegg made a pledge not to raise university tuition fees as part of his party’s campaign manifesto. Subsequently, as part of a coalition government the Liberal democrats did nothing to stop the tripling of tuition fees. In short, the pledge or promise they and he made during the election was broken.
Or to put it another way, and looking at it in retrospect, he lied to get votes.
But this will comes as no surprise to anyone, a politician who lies to get votes is just doing whatever every other politician is doing. Right?
I was thinking about this in relation to the worsening state of the Republican nomination elections going on right now the other side of the Atlantic. For the most part Europeans are watching on with disbelief as the rhetoric keeps being ratcheted up to what would normally represent politically suicidal levels, but oddly as it does the cheers just get louder and the votes keeps coming in.
I am of course referring to the leading candidate Donald Trump and how he is managing, almost single handedly, to turn politics on its head.
He himself recognises it and, not possessing a single modest cell in his body, is also very happy to shout about it.
The old adage; no publicity is bad publicity, has never really applied to politics. If, for example, you were photographed masturbating with an orange in your mouth whilst wearing a KKK smock this would normally spell the end of your political (or other) career.
If it was Donald Trump however he would probably get extra votes from orange farmers and white sheet manufacturers.
The statements of fact about what he will do when he becomes president are clearly un-doable. He is making pledges or promises now which everyone knows cannot be done.
- Ban Muslim people from entering the US. How?
- Build a wall with Mexico and have them pay for it? How?
- Kick the Syrian refugees out. Where to?
- Shut down parts of the internet. How?
- Bring back jobs from China. How?
Everyone knows these statements are lies already but contrary to the normal rules of politics people are lapping them up and continue to vote for him. They don’t seem to care if he is telling the truth or not.
For what its worth I don’t believe Donald Trump will become the next president of the US, no matter how popular he appears to be right now. The joke will eventually wear thin and when push comes to shove Hillary will end up sitting in the oval office wondering what else her husband got up to in that very seat.
So is there anything good to come of it all other than a few comedic months before the reset button is pressed?
I think so because I don’t think there is a reset button.
If its possible to put the borderline racist, misogynistic and frankly stupid statements aside for a moment, he is shaking up the established order and this can only be a good thing. I like it because once the hoo-ha has died down and he goes back to just being a bit of a dick with stupid hair someone else could come along, someone less like Trump, who might actually benefit from the change. Suddenly not only is it ok to depart from the party line, it seems to be the way to go.
Most democratic countries around the world have a very similar operating model.
Most countries have one, two or three major parties and a lot of minor ones who will never stand a chance of ruling. Mostly these parties are formed around a fundamental principle or two such as the conservative party or Labour party in the UK. These parties have inherent rules which members must follow even if they disagree with them – the party line has to be adhered to at all times.
What this means in practice is the general population have very little choice. Yes you can vote for the green party or UKIP if you like but deep down you know your party will never be able to put into practice the policies which you hold close to your heart.
Whatever you think of Trump he does appear to be appealing to the broad masses and whether you like it or not isn’t this the point of democracy?
Maybe, just maybe, the legacy here will be that a less offensive version of Trump will come along, a Trump-light say, who can actually give the broad masses what they want without alienating the whole world in the process and when he does the established order won’t be able to stop him, or her.
But back to a pledge vs a promise. How can it be that a party or politician can campaign and promise or pledge everything and when they actually get into power not do half of what was in their manifesto? How can it be that they seem to be continually getting away with it? Conning the electorate that is.
Shouldn’t this be illegal? Shouldn’t the election be annulled or something?
If, for example, Trump was to actually win the election he would find himself sitting on a long list of un-executable promises.
The Mexicans would say go build it yourself. Muslims would just say no when asked the key question at immigration. The Greeks or Turks would refuse the plane(s) carrying the refugees back. Someone would actually point out its impossible to shut down the internet, the Chinese would just keep manufacturing and America wouldn’t be great again.
How would his screaming, dribbling, greasy finger-licking, supporters feel about that?
So if I was to be advising him right now I would tell him to continue being loud, keep the hair and the brashness but promise nothing. Nothing at all, other than promise to hold everyone else to their pledges or promises, and if they decided to do a U-turn they would be fired immediately.
How about that for a novel way to hold our respective leaders to account?
It would never pass any party committee test but if Trump has shown us anything over the last few months this isn’t totally necessary to catch the imagination of the electorate.
And maybe I’m just a bit old fashioned but at the end of the day aren’t these the people who should really matter?