Posts Tagged ‘Enthememe’

Secular Talk on Trump’s Vagueness as Successful Rhetorical Strategy

February 20, 2016

This is a very interesting piece from Secular Talk, in which Kyle Kulinski discusses a piece in Reuters analysing the immense appeal of what looks like Trump’s poor rhetorical ability. Trump contradicts himself, he cuts himself off early, and he uses vague words instead of better, more descriptive vocabulary. The article cites as an example a sentence from Trump’s speech demanding that Muslims should be stopped from entering America. He stated ‘We need to do something, because something’s going on’. Or something like that.

Now instead of being the mark of a poor speaker, it’s actually a very persuasive rhetorical tactic with its own technical term: enthememe. It’s convincing because it makes the orators hearers persuade themselves by filling in the blanks in the speech with what they want to hear. And Trump throws contradictory statements about policy issues out willy-nilly. At one point, Trump will state he supports a single-payer healthcare system, or some form which supports the poorest in society. He will then go on to say that he wants more capitalism in healthcare, and for people to be able to buy health insurance over state boundaries. Complete contradiction.

It’s the same in Iraq. At one point he’s for going into the country and killing not only ISIS, but their wives and children. It’s a completely criminal attitude, as Kulinski points out. Then he says something completely contradictory, like America should Putin handle the situation, and America should concentrate on infrastructure.

Everyone listening to him comes away convinced that he stands for what they want. If they want single payer health care, they’re convinced that Trump wants it too. If they want free enterprise capitalism, they’re convinced Trump will give cheaper health care through free enterprise. And the same with Iraq.

Additionally, Trump convinces because he is aggressive, confident, and claims to be outside the system. He isn’t. He tried to get funding from the same corporate donors as the rest of the Republicans, and it was only when they turned him down that he resorted to funding himself. But it’s been an immense boost to his appeal.

Kulinski points out that this marks a change in what the public wants from politicians and their rhetoric. Trump and Sanders, although polar opposites, are winning over large numbers of the American public, because they both speak as if they’re off-script. Which to an extent they are. Kulinski states that he doesn’t know where this preference comes from, but he finds it more interesting on his programme when he’s speaking ex tempore on the show, and not from a piece he’s written earlier. This contrasts with some of the Republican candidates, like the Marcobot, Marco Rubio, where their speech is so scripted they may as well be reading it off a screen in their contact lenses. Their delivery is so scripted and stereotypically that of a politician, that it repels voters.

And now back to Hitler and Godwin’s Law. I’ve been saying all along that Trump’s vagueness and his multiple contradictions on policy are the same rhetorical strategies that Hitler used to appeal to different groups in Germany. In rural areas, where there was a hatred of Jews, he played up the anti-Semitism. In industrial areas, he stressed anti-capitalism. And when he was courting big business, he claimed that Nazism was also pro-business, and would defend the big combines from Socialism and Communism.

Also, Hitler continued to speak in the tones of someone from the Austrian lower middle classes. He didn’t use the polished, educated register of the upper classes. And so it gave the impression that he truly was ‘a man of the people’. As for his rhetoric, it’s been criticised for being convoluted, verbose and muddled. Yet he used striking imagery and very carefully noted what went down well and what didn’t with his audience. Vagueness and an apparently poor rhetorical style – though definitely not poor delivery – were part of Hitler’s appeal.

Just as they’re part of Trump’s. And like Hitler, Trump is another Fascist, who aims at further persecution and marginalisation of America’s ethnic minorities. His attacks on Mexicans and Muslims come dangerously close to Hitler’s policies at the start of the Third Reich, before he launched the Holocaust. For the sake of human life and decency, he must be stopped.