The Rhetoric of Trump

There’s been a lot of talk about Trump rhetoric, but I haven’t heard people discussing Rhetoric in the talk of Trump.

I know of two contrasting types of rhetorical argument: demonstrative and deliberative. You expect to see argument while political campaigning is going on, but with Trump in the picture, both types are easily identifiable.

There are politicians campaigning now who see major issues as debatable. They do not claim to have all the answers. They ask their audience to look at the likely consequences, including personal or emotional consequences, of various actions and they recommend their preference. They use future tenses. They keep focused on choice; the choices that could solve the problem. In other words, they use deliberative argument.

Trump uses a different kind of argument. He presents topics as moral or value-related, and inarguable. To make such pronouncements, you need the present tense. He identifies for you (often through name-calling) who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong. He does a lot of blaming, so he also makes ample use of the past tense.

His rhetoric fits the pattern of demonstrative argument. It’s tantamount to a fight. If you respond to him, you can choose to meet him on the demonstrative-argument floor, and fight, or bring him over to the deliberative-argument floor, and argue. I haven’t yet seen anyone do the latter successfully.