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In politics, the term “slash-and-burn” refers to a strategy of aggressively undermining existing policies or reputations to achieve a particular goal — often without much regard for long-term consequences.

It can be applied in various arenas, from legislative tactics aimed at dismantling existing laws and regulations, to campaign strategies that focus on aggressive negative advertising against opponents.

While slash-and-burn politics can be effective in achieving short-term objectives, they often come at the cost of eroding public trust and creating divisiveness.

The strategy stands in sharp contrast to political jujitsu.

Ramifications of “Slash-and-Burn” politics

For starters, the strategy frequently exacerbates political polarization.

By aggressively attacking or dismantling existing frameworks without consideration for compromise, it often widens ideological chasms, making it even more difficult to find middle ground or foster bipartisan cooperation in the future.

Secondly, the approach often leads to policy instability.

Quick reversals or dismantling of previous legislative efforts create an environment of unpredictability, deterring long-term planning and investment.

Additionally, slash-and-burn tactics can degrade public trust in political institutions.

When campaigns or governance are characterized by aggressive negativity or disregard for established norms, it breeds cynicism among the electorate.

This disengagement can manifest in various ways: lower voter turnout, decreased civic participation, or even public unrest.

More on “Slash-and-Burn”

An aggressive campaigning technique that presidential candidates routinely accuse rivals of engaging in.

“This is a choice in this primary: Do you want the same slash-and-burn politics or do you believe it is possible for us to bring people together?” Barack Obama said in attacking Hillary Clinton in April 2008.

The phrase actually has agricultural roots, describing subsistence-farming techniques, such as clearing forest land for crops by torching trees, that have immediate benefits but can trigger harsh consequences when practiced by large populations. The term was first used politically in 1946 and, like so many other extremely vivid expressions, has surged in use in recent decades, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer.

From Doubletalk © 2016 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Slash-and-Burn” in a sentence

  • The new administration’s slash-and-burn approach to environmental regulations alarmed activists but energized its base, who saw it as fulfilling campaign promises to reduce governmental red tape.
  • The candidate deployed a slash-and-burn strategy in the final weeks of the campaign, releasing a barrage of attack ads aimed at discrediting her opponent’s credibility and track record.
  • Observers worry that the legislature’s slash-and-burn tactics in cutting social programs will have long-term repercussions on societal welfare, despite achieving short-term budgetary savings.