Trump’s Rhetorical Strategy Clumsily Broadcasts Dangerous Messages
October 5, 2016
There is a certain artistry in the way politicians go about crafting their public statements. It can often be a rhetorical balancing act as these figures attempt to appeal to and persuade different factions within the general population. Hillary Clinton, for example, wants to illustrate how dangerous Donald Trump supporters are, but when she uses a charged word like deplorable to describe them, she risks alienating voters who are still on the fence. The struggle to say the right thing at the right place at the right time is one that both parties grapple with, but this delicate balancing act is lost, however, to the bombastic figure that is Donald Trump.
It is an acknowledged truth that Donald Trump does not play by the traditional rules of politics. While some of his supporters tout his lack of self-censorship as refreshingly honest, many others are able to see it for what it is — an alarming refusal to adhere to the most basic of standards that respects the humanity of all people. He doesn’t find it wrong to disparage a gold-star family — a historically taboo move. In his twisted reality, Alicia Machado was the worst pageant winner ever because she committed the grave sin of gaining weight like a normal person. Each and every day, Donald Trump says or does something that would destroy another candidate in previous election cycles. For some reason we have now decided that this brand of discourse is acceptable in American politics, and as a result America’s collective moral compass runs the risk of being skewed beyond repair.
Further, Donald Trump pays no attention to laws of speaking and language. Over his entire campaign, linguists have cringed as they try to decipher his bizarre speaking pattern. His speeches are marked by incoherence, peppered with frequent interruptions and digressions as well as nonsense phrases like “believe me” and “yuge.” Be it a scripted speech or an off the cuff remark, Trump subverts standards of honesty by employing what he himself has deemed “truthful hyperbole” — or, as normal people call them, lies. Indeed, Trump’s rhetorical strategies in last Monday’s debate were heavy-handed and schlocky. When he alluded to Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions without mentioning them explicitly, he was using a centuries old tactic known as paralipsis, which involves a speaker raising an issue by saying that he will not raise it. When an experienced speaker or leader does this, it often slides by without notice. In Trump’s case it was executed so clumsily that it mostly backfired, but it’s a cheap shot nonetheless.
Donald Trump has a lot of very bad ideas communicated in a lot of very bad ways. He and his campaign cannot seem to either effectively articulate or compile any sort of logical policy positions or plans. In short, he’s flailing, and when you’re flailing on the world stage, people notice.
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