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MercatorNet: The rhetorical brilliance of Donald Trump

The rhetorical brilliance of Donald Trump

He has much in common with the great demagogues of the past.
Jennifer Mercieca | Dec 16 2015 | comment 1 

Donald Trump’s December 7 Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration has attracted worldwide disdain. Nearly 500,000 Britons have signed a petition asking their government to prevent Trump from entering their country. In the US, Trump’s comments have been denounced by Democrats, Republicans, the media and religious groups.

Yet a recent poll has found that 37% of likely voters across the political spectrum agree with a “temporary ban” on Muslims entering the US.

Trump possesses an arrogance and volatility that makes most voters recoil. So how has he maintained a grip on a segment of the Republican base that – at least, for now – seems unshakable?

And how has his support persisted, despite the fact that some have called him a demagogue and a fascist, or that political observers have found parallels between him and polarizing figures like George WallaceJoseph McCarthyFather Coughlin – even Hitler?

As a scholar of American political rhetoric, I write about and teach courses on the use and abuse of rhetorical strategy in public discourse. Scrutinizing Trump’s rhetorical skills can partially explain his profound and persistent appeal.

The rhetoric of demagoguery  

The Greek word “demagogue” (demos = people + agōgos = leader) literally means “a leader of the people.” Today, however, it’s used to describe a leader who capitalizes on popular prejudices, makes false claims and promises, and uses arguments based on emotion rather than reason.

Donald Trump appeals to voters' fears by depicting a nation in crisis, while positioning himself as the nation’s hero – the only one who can conquer our foes, secure our borders and “Make America Great Again.”

His lack of specificity about how he would accomplish these goals is less relevant than his self-assured, convincing rhetoric. He urges his audiences to “trust him,” promises he is “really smart” and flexes his prophetic muscles (like when he claims to have predicted the 9/11 attacks).

Trump’s self-congratulating rhetoric makes him appear to be the epitome of hubris, which, according to research, is often the least attractive quality of a potential leader. However, Trump is so consistent in his hubris that it appears authentic: his greatness is America’s greatness.

So we can safely call Trump a demagogue. But one fear of having demagogues actually attain real power is that they’ll disregard the law or the Constitution. Hitler, of course, is a worst-case example.

Amazingly, one of Trump’s very arguments is that he won’t be controlled.

On the campaign trail, he’s harnessed his macho businessman persona – crafted through social media and years spent on TV (where he was often the most powerful person in the room) – to make his case for the presidency. It’s a persona that rejects restraints: he speaks of not being constrained by his party, media, other candidates, political correctness, facts – anything, really. In a sense, he’s fashioning himself as an uncontrollable leader.

Using speech to demolish detractors    

But most voters would never want an uncontrollable president. So why do so many remain adamant in their support?

First, Trump draws on the myth of American exceptionalism. He depictes the United States as the world’s best hope: there is only one chosen nation and, as president, all of his decisions work toward making America great. By tying himself to American exceptionalism – while classifying his detractors as “weak” or “dummies” – he’s able to position his critics as people who don’t believe in, or won’t contribute to, the “greatness” of the nation.

Trump also uses fallacious and divisive rhetorical techniques that prevent him from being questioned or backed into a corner.

He often uses ad populum arguments, which are appeals to the wisdom of the crowd (“polls show,” “we’re winning everywhere”).

When opponents question his ideas or stances, he’ll employ ad homenim attacks – or criticisms of the person, rather than the argument (dismissing his detractors as “dummies,” “weak” or “boring”). Perhaps most famously, he derided Carly Fiorina’s appearance when she started to go up in the polls after the first Republican debate (“Look at that face!” he cried. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”).

Finally, his speeches are often peppered with ad baculum arguments, which are threats of force (“when people come after me they go down the tubes”).

Because demagogues make arguments based on false claims and appeal to emotion, rather than reason, they’ll often resort to these devices. For example, during his 1968 presidential run, George Wallace declared, “If any demonstrator ever lays down in front of my car, it’ll be the last car he’ll ever lay down in front of” (ad baculum). And Senator Joseph McCarthy resorted to an ad homenim attack when he derided former Secretary of State Dean Acheson as a “pompous diplomat in striped pants with a phony British accent.”

Trump will also employ a rhetorical technique called paralipsis to make claims that he can’t be held accountable for. In paralipsis, the speaker will introduce a topic or argument by saying he doesn’t want to talk about it; in truth, he or she wants to emphasize that very thing.

For example, in New Hampshire on December 1, he said, “But all of [the other candidates] are weak and they’re just weak – I think that they are weak generally if you want to know the truth. But I don’t want to say that because I don’t want to…I don’t want to have any controversies, no controversies, is that okay? So I refuse to say that they are weak generally, okay?”

Trump’s ultimate fallacy  

Let’s return to Trump’s December 7 2015 statement about Muslims to analyze which rhetorical techniques are in play:

Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again.
In this statement, Trump immediately makes two things axiomatic (or unquestionable): American exceptionalism and Muslims' hatred for America. According to Trump, these axioms are supported by the wisdom of the crowd (ad populim); they are “obvious to anybody.”

He also defines Muslims in essential terms as people who believe only in jihad, are filled with hatred and have no respect for human life. Trump uses Reification – the treatment of objects as people and people as objects – to link his axioms together and support his case: “Our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad.”

Here, he personifies “our country” by presenting the nation as a person. Meanwhile, he uses “that” rather than “who” to signal that Muslims are not people, but objects.

His underlying logic is that our nation is a victim of these “objects.” Objects need not be treated with the same amount of care as people. Therefore we are justified in preventing Muslims from entering the country.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Trump’s use of evidence is incomplete and biased toward his point of view. His announcement cites a survey of American Muslims “showing 25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified.”

The polling data came from the Center for Security Policy (CSP), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an “anti-Muslim think tank.” Furthermore, Trump fails to report that in the same survey, 61% of American Muslims agreed that “violence against those that insult the prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islamic faith” is not acceptable. Nor does he mention that 64% didn’t think that “violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.”

Unfortunately, like a true demagogue, Trump doesn’t seem all too concerned with the facts.

The ConversationJennifer Mercieca, Associate Professor of Communication and Director of the Aggie Agora, Texas A&M University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the-rhetorical-brilliance-of-donald-trump/17354#sthash.Wo6d0f5N.dpuf

MercatorNet: Our ‘dignitarian of the year’ nominees

Our ‘dignitarian of the year’ nominees

Six people who exemplified the best of the human spirit in 2015
Staff of MercatorNet | Dec 16 2015 | comment 1 

MercatorNet stands for reframing ethical and policy debates in terms of human dignity, not dollars and cents or political calculation. We place the person at the centre of media debates about popular culture, the family, sexuality, bioethics, religion and law. We don't want to be trapped on one or the other side of the culture wars, but if you want a label, try "dignitarian".

Every year we highlight a handful of figures in the news who have lived these ideals. Among the hundreds of people whose names have crossed our desks, a few have stood out for their commitment to human dignity in 2015. At no small cost to themselves, they have stood up for unpopular causes or risked their lives to do what is right.

Here are six nominees for “Dignitarian of the Year”. Many others are equally worthy. But we want to highlight the pressing need for people like them, people with conviction, courage and compassion.

On Friday we shall announce this year’s award.

Antonis Deligiorgis: rescuing refugees

Antonis Deligiorgis only appeared on the front page of the world’s newspapers once, in April this year, and it’s unlikely that he will ever do so again. He is a 34-hyear-old Army Sergeant stationed on the island of Rhodes, just off the Turkish coast. He had stopped at a seaside café for a coffee with his wife when a boat laden with 93 refugees from Syria and Eritrea hit rocks in front of them. It sank almost immediately.

Deligiorgis stripped off his shirt and shoes and waded into the water. Single-handedly he pulled 20 of the floundering people to safety in the heavy surf. One was a pregnant woman who named her child after him. Another was a young woman whom he slung over his shoulder. That was the picture which went around the world. “I’m a human being; I’m here to help people,” he told the BBC.

Deligiorgis represents the thousands of people who have welcomed and helped the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have stumbled into Europe this year. Politically, the flood of humanity is a deeply contentious issue. But the refugees, often exhausted, hungry, cold and sick, are human beings. The generosity shown by him and many others  is a heart-warming affirmation of human dignity.

Helen M. Alvaré: Women Speak for Themselves

If you are a woman and are sick of reading headlines about what “women want” over stories full of things you do not want, Helen M. Alvare is the doctor you need. A professor at George Mason Law School, she is also a champion of women who want to speak for themselves on headline issues.

In the United States the Obama Administration has made contraception one of these by making full coverage of contraception compulsory in health insurance plans (the contraceptive mandate). Any employer who opposes this mandate on conscience grounds – be they a hobby store or the Little Sisters of the Poor -- is waging a “war on women” according to the administration and its supporters.

Dr Alvare, a teacher, writer, public speaker and member of several consultative bodies, knows a lot of women, and hears from even more. They have told her, “This imposition is outrageous. It does not represent us.” So, with fellow lawyer Kim Daniels in 2012 she launched the movement Women Speak for Themselves with an open letter which today has over 41,000 signatories from all over the US and various political and religious backgrounds.

Between them these women have produced hundreds of letters to the media, dozens of published editorials, town hall meetings, letters and meetings with congressional representatives, social media postings, and the occasional protest, all in support of women and religious freedom. Last year they filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court case over Hobby Lobby.

Thanks to Dr Alvare’s leadership and expertise tens of thousands of American women have asserted their idea of dignity and the dignity of the individual conscience.

Khaled al-Asaad: martyred archaeologist

The thugs of the Islamic State have murdered thousands of people for petty crimes, for being Christian or for holding anything other than their own sectarian beliefs, for being women, for just about anything. Khaled al-Asaad died to protect Syria’s history.

For 40 years the father of 11 was head of antiquities in Palmyra, ancient trading centre with extensive Greek and Roman ruins which is a UNESCO world heritage site. In May troops of the Islamic State approached the town and al-Asaad helped to evacuate treasures from the Palmyra museum. But the 81-year-old refused to leave his home town and was arrested as soon as ISIS arrived. It was reported that he was tortured to reveal where more antiquities were hidden, but he refused. On August 18 he was beheaded in front of a crowd and his body was hung from a traffic light.

Archaeologists around the world were shocked and the flags of all Italian museums flew at half-mast in his honour. At a time when extremists, both in Western democracies and in he Middle East, are trying to erase history in the name of political correctness or religion. people like Khaled al-Asaad bear witness to the nobility of defending humanity’s cultural heritage.

Brittany and Brendon Buell, and Baby Jaxon Strong

In the spring of 2013 Brittany and Brandon Buell of Tavares, Florida, were just another couple excited to be expecting their first baby. Then they got the results of Brittany’s 17-week scan and discovered there was something seriously wrong with the baby’s development – a neural tube defect diagnosed some time after birth as microhydranencephaly.

Despite being warned that their baby might not survive pregnancy, or could die at birth, or survive but with profound disabilities, the Buell’s rejected the “option” of abortion. They did not want to “play God” with the child they had been given, but to “give him a fighting chance.”

Born by caesarean on August 27, 2013, Jaxon, dubbed “Strong” by his parents, has vindicated their faith and love by showing a fighting spirit that has amazed doctors. Despite the fact that much of his brain and skull are missing, Jaxon is very much his mom and dad’s little boy and has charmed the hundreds of thousands of people who follow his development on Facebook.

Brittany and Brendon are everyday heroes of parental love and human dignity. As we said back in October, “Let’s stop judging people by their mental and physical constitutions and accept every human being as an equal member of the human family.” The Buells have shown us how positive and inspirational that approach to life can be.

Kim Davis: taking a stand

At least in 2015 Kim Davis was the most famous Kentuckian since Jim Bowie. As the elected country clerk of Rowan County, she issues marriage licenses which require her signature. After the US Supreme Court decision legalising same-sex marriage, she refused to sign them. “I can't put my name on a license that doesn't represent what God ordained marriage to be," she told the media. "So you have millions of Christians who object this whole same-sex marriage issue. Are their rights invalid? Are their rights not worth anything? It's a valid point and it's a fight worth fighting for."

The courts ruled that she had to sign them, she refused – and ended up in jail for six days. Worse than jail, perhaps, was the ridicule and scorn heaped upon her by pundits across the country

Before the facts about the paperwork became clear, MercatorNet thought that Ms Davis was simply being inflexible. But she was right to follow her conscience. There is no more important issue than the future of marriage because marriage is the future of our children. Kim Davis was a bit player in a huge drama but she played it well.

Eva Kor: Holocaust survivor and forgiver of Nazis

In April this year a moving scene was played out in a German courtroom: 81-year-old Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, who had come to testify in the trial of 93-year-old former Nazi Oskar Groening, offered him her hand. He took it, drew her close and kissed her on the cheek. She told him: “I appreciate the fact that you are willing to come here and face us.” Groening had been a functionary at Auschwitz, the death camp where Eva and her twin sister Miriam, 10 years old, were subjected to medical experimentation by the notorious Dr Josef Mengele. He has accepted his moral complicity in all that went on there.

What human virtue is more difficult than forgiveness? And what modern injustice more unforgivable than the Holocaust with all its cruelty? Yet Eva, a Romanian-born Jew, has lived to forgive even Dr Mengele, as a 2005 film records. In fact, her decision to forgive the Nazis goes back even further. In 1995, at Auschwitz, on the 50th anniversary of its liberation, she amazed the world and shocked some survivors of the Holocaust by reading a confession of guilt from Dr Hans Münch, one of Mengele’s assistants, and then declaring: “In my own name, I forgive all Nazis.”

A number of Auschwitz survivors have done their best to avoid her. “The pain and anger is just too deep. Can one really forgive pure evil? By doing so, does one not exonerate the murderers and torturers who ran the camps?” But Eva has persevered on the path of forgiveness, one of the greatest manifestations of human dignity. As she has said, in her matter-of-fact way, “The best thing about the remedy of forgiveness is that there are no side effects. And everybody can afford it.”

The Martyrs of Sirte: dying for their faith

The Twenty-One Martyrs of Sirte sounds like the commemoration of deaths in the great Diocletian persecution of the early 4th Century – so fierce that the Coptic Orthodox church uses the year 284AD as the beginning of its calendar. However, the Twenty-One died on February 15 this year at the hands of a Libyan affiliate of the Islamic State.

Twenty of them were poor Egyptian construction workers. One was a man from Ghana, Matthew Ayariga. Their captors dressed them in orange jumpsuits, brought them to a Mediterranean beach, lined them up on the sand, and beheaded them. Why? Because they were "people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church”. ISIS made a terrifying video of the event.

Details of the event are sketchy, but the basic facts are beyond dispute: 21 inoffensive men accepted death rather than betray their Christian faith. Martyrs are not shadowy figures in the distant past. Many Christians have died at the hands of ISIS; hundred of thousands have fled their ancestral homes. The Twenty-One represent the noblest act of the human spirit: to die for the truth. 
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/our-dignitarian-of-the-year-nominees/17358#sthash.8MQhvyH3.dpuf

Ageing population = low economic growth

Welcome to Demography Is Destiny. We launched this to counter two media memes: that humans are a cancer which is destroying our planet and that world population is spiralling to unsustainable levels. The real story is that intelligent and inventive human will rise to the challenge of climate change and that our real problem is the coming demographic winter. The editors of Demography is Destiny are Marcus and Shannon Roberts, who live in Auckland, New Zealand. Send them your comments and suggestions. 
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/demography/view/ageing-population-low-economic-growth/17356#sthash.wqPzBPY4.dpuf


Ageing population = low economic growth
comment print |       

The impacts of an ageing population will be felt in all manners of areas of society, including, but not limited to, the economy. In the US the retiring baby boomers are starting to make their impact felt in the economic sphere. It is a phenomenon which is one of the reasons for the current economic doldrums that the US has been stuck in for the last few years – and one of the reasons why the economy has not recovered very quickly or strongly after the GFC. As the Business Insider explains:

[Ed] Keon [managing director and portfolio manager at QMA, a business of Prudential Financial] writes that, one, a large population of older folks are earning a greater share of income and wealth in the US, and, two, they are changing investing and spending habits. And he suggests that these two factors have contributed to the current economic state.”
The recent recession has concentrated more wealth and income into the older age brackets. Thus, the proportion of those held by those 55 years and older increased from 61% to 73% between 2007 and 2013, while the corresponding figures for those in the age bracket 15-54 fell from 39.2% to 27.5%. Further, while all age groups below 65 saw a drop in mean real income, the income of those aged 65 or older went up between 2006 and 2014.

According to Keon, this all has an impact on the world of investments. Older people tend to (and tend to be advised to) reduce their risk in their investments by moving from shares to fixed incomes. As Boomers have reached the threshold of retirement they have been moving their money from stocks and the equity market to the fixed income and safety of bonds. Thus a greater percentage of the nation's wealth has moved from stocks to bonds. This has the effect, at least in part, of contributing to weaker economic growth and lower interest rates. In the years ahead we are likely to see these demographic trends increase. This will help keep interest rates, inflation and economic growth below the levels typically seen in the last 70 years. (Indeed the high growth, high inflation and high interest rates of the post-WWII years might have been partially caused by the baby boom as well...) If this is right, then it's a good time to be borrowing to buy a house, or to be living on fixed income, but not so good to be living on interest from savings. Alternatively, we might all be about to fall off the cliff again, which won't be good for anyone...
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/demography/view/ageing-population-low-economic-growth/17356#sthash.wqPzBPY4.dpuf


Every year at this time we select a handful of people who represent what MercatorNet stands for -- human dignity. We're firm believers in the greatness of small achievements, so we're not trying to out-do Time magazine's Person of the Year. Our nominees for Dignitarian of the Year represent unsung acts of heroism which probably won't be recorded in the history books. Nonetheless, most of our history is forged by humble people with convictions. We'd love to get some feedback from you on our selection. On Friday, we'll announce the winner. 

Michael Cook



Our ‘dignitarian of the year’ nominees

Staff of MercatorNet | FEATURES | 16 December 2015
Six people who exemplified the best of the human spirit in 2015

Is there room for mercy in an unjust world?

James Schall SJ | FEATURES | 16 December 2015
Yes, if we ask for forgiveness.

The rhetorical brilliance of Donald Trump

Jennifer Mercieca | FEATURES | 16 December 2015
He has much in common with the great demagogues of the past.

Ageing population = low economic growth

Marcus Roberts | DEMOGRAPHY IS DESTINY | 16 December 2015
Is the USA's slow economic recovery due to the retiring baby boomers?

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