Posts Tagged ‘Reuters’

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.


Anthony Sampson on the Meanness of the Rich

April 10, 2015

Anthony Sampson in his book Who Runs this Place? The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century has a passage discussing the way 21st century Britain is now far meaner and much less generous than in the 19th century, and America today. The people most willing to give money to charity, however, are the poor. The rich are the least likely and willing to give to charity. He states:

While the rich in Britain have become much richer, they have not given more away. Their incomes relative to the poor have increased, but they feel much less pressed than their predecessors to share their wealth, whether prompted by social obligations or by a religious conscience. The connections between business and philanthropy which were so marked among Quakers and other practising Christians have largely disappeared. ‘As inequality of wealth balloons back to nineteenth-century levels,’ wrote Will Hutton in 2003, ‘there is no sign of nineteenth-century levels of civil of engagement and philanthropy by the rich.’

It is a striking fact that 6 per cent of the British population provide 60 per cent of the money given to charity, but it is more striking that the poor give away proportionately more of their money than the rich. ‘It’s more surprising because the rich can give away without noticing it, while the poor make a sacrifice,’ said one charity chief. ‘But the poor have more empathy with less fortunate people.’

The big corporations have been equally reluctant, and most boardrooms have shown little interest in charities. In 1986 two leading businessmen, Sir Hector Laing, a committed Christian, and Sir Mark Weinberg, and ex-South African, set up the Percent Club to urge companies to devote 1 per cent of their pre-tax profits to charity, but they soon had to reduce the target to 0.5 per cent, and their results were still disappointing: by 2001 the top 400 companies were giving exactly the same percentage, 0.42, as ten years before. A few big corporations stood out above the average. Reuters gave £20 million in 2001, amounting to 13 per cent of its pre-tax profits, which were sharply down. Northern Rock, the mortgage company based in Newcastle, gave away £15 million, or 5 per cent of pre-tax profits. Other big companies provided gifts in kind, rather than money, though they were not always as generous as they looked. (Sainsburys gave away food that was past its sell-by date, which avoided the cost of dumping it in land-fill sites.) Most companies have shown little interest in more giving.

‘Corporate donations … are worth less now than they were in 1991,’ said Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. ‘Clearly it is time for the government to get tough with the business sector.’ But the New Labour government showed little desire to get tough.

By 2000 the two chief overarching bodies for charities – the NCVO and the Charities AID Foundation – were so concerned about the lack of funds that they approached Gordon Brown at the Treasury. His budget provided major tax concessions to donors – which are now as generous as the Americans’ – and he also helped to finance a Giving Campaign, chaired by the former head of Oxfam Lord (Joel) Joffe, an unassuming but persistent South Africdan who worked closely with Weinberg. The campaigners have had some success in giving more prominence to charity, but donors have been slow to exploit the over-complicated system of tax relief; and the charities are still very disappointed by the response, both from corporations and from individuals – whether entrepreneurs, corporate directors or the million-a-year men in the City.

Joffe, like other heads of charities, is struck by the contrast between attitudes in Britain and America where giving is part of the culture. ‘If you’re rich in America and don’t give,’ he said, ‘you’re regarded as an outcast.’ Americans give on average 2 per cent of their income to charity, compared to the British figure of 0.6 per cent. The British have often argued that their governments have take over the roles of philanthropists in health, education and social services, to which Americans devote much of their giving. ‘People still expect the government to pay for the basic social and artistic causes,’ says Hilary Browne-Wilkinson, who runs the Institute for Philanthropy in London. But the expectation is much less realistic since the retreat of the welfare state and the lowering of taxes, while the rich in the United States remain more generous than the British, and more systematic and effective in attaining their objectives. ‘British charity is more reactive, sometimes responding quite generously to television coverage of famines and disasters,’ says Joffe. ‘The Americans have a more strategic sense of what they want to achieve and plan their giving accordingly.

Many of the American mega-rich a century ago, like Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford, converted part of their fortunes into foundations which today provide a powerful counterweight to the prevailing profit motive. ‘He who dies rich, dies disgraced, ‘said Andrew Carnegie, who gave away his fortune to finance free libraries and a peace foundation. More recent billionaires like George Soros and Bill Gates, have continued this tradition. When Ted Turner, the founder of CNN television, gave a billion dollars to the UN 1997 he quoted Carnegie and mocked his fellow billionaires: ‘What good is wealth sitting in the bank?’ The rich lists, he said, were really lists of shame.

But there are only a few comparable British bequests, like the Wellcome, Sainsbury or Hamlyn foundations, and most of the old rich feel much less need to commemorate their wealth through charity. The British aristocracy have traditionally seen their main responsibility as ensuring the continuity of their estates and families, in which they have succeeded over the centuries, helped by the principle of primogeniture which allows the eldest son to inherit the whole estate. Their argument can appeal to anyone who values the timeless splendours of the countryside, with its landscapes of parkland, forest and downland which owes much to the protection afforded to large landowners. Old money in Britain has been interlocked with the environment as it has never been in most parts of America, where land is less valued, and where the rich have more urban and nomadic habits.

But the argument is less valid today, when much of the responsibility for the environment has been taken over by English Heritage or the National Trust. Many old families with large estates still have incomes which greatly exceed the cost of their upkeep, and they still have responsibilities to contemporary society. Many of the new rich are happy to follow the earlier tradition, but they are still less encumbered. Most people of great wealth in Britain today show a remarkable lack of interest in using their money to improve the lives of others.

Above all they feel much less need than their predecessors to account for their wealth, whether to society, to governments or to God. Their attitudes and values are not seriously challenged by politicians, by academia, or by the media, who have become more dependent on them. The respect now shown for wealth and money-making, rather than for professional conduct and moral values, has been the most fundamental change in Britain over four decades.
(pp. 346-8).

So the rich have become much meaner, while the poor are the most generous section of the population. Charitable giving has declined along with notions of Christian morality and an awareness of need. People still expect the government to provide, despite the attack on the welfare state. The aristocracy don’t give, because they’re still concerned with preserving their lands and titles. While the new rich are feted by the media and society, simply for being rich, without any concern for morals or charity. And because universities and the media are dependent on them, they are reluctant to criticise them for their lack of charitable giving.

This was inevitable. Modern Conservative ideology was all about greed, shown most acutely in the Yuppies of the late 1980s and 1990s. And because the Tory attacks on the welfare state concentrate on attacking the poor as scroungers, there’s no incentives for people to give to them either. If someone’s labelled a scrounger or malingerer, giving to charities to support them is just as bad as government tax money.

This marks another, massive failure of Thatcherism. She thought that if the welfare state was rolled back, charitable giving would increase. It hasn’t.

Thatcherism has made the rich meaner, and the Tories continue with the same attitudes and visceral hatred of the poor.