I am posting this for Elvira Narvaja de Arnoux, Professor Emerita of Linguistics and Sociology of Language at the University of Buenos Aires who has published widely in Spanish on political discourse. Her comments here indicate that replacement of truth by emotional “truthiness” noted by comedian Stephen Colbert is a widespread political phenomenon.
On a recent speech by Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina
On September 3 of this year, after a major run on the exchange rate, President Mauricio Macri outlined to Argentinians in a recorded speech the plan he would implement and that the Minister of Finance would share before his trip to Washington to complete negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. As was reported by La Nación, Presidential speech writers Julieta Herrero and Alejandro Rozitchner had worked intensely on the speech. The speech was then reviewed and revised by Macri as well as by his chief of staff Marcos Peña and his main consultant Durán Barba, delaying the scheduled presentation.
In response to members of the Partido Radical, part of his political alliance, asking for a “more emotional leadership,” Macri added two sections focusing on the affective dimension. So clearly the Executive assigned great importance to this speech and prepared it with much thought and care, particularly in the way it represented and evoked emotions through words, gestures, facial expression, posture, and dress.
Analysis of Macri’s Speech
My comments will focus on the opening, or exordium, in which enlisting the good will of the audience, or captatio benenvolentiae, and the forecasting of the contents, or partitio, intertwine. The audience is addressed emotionally as “queridos” (dear ones) establishing an intimate personal relationship, not as the official voice of the Executive Power reporting to citizens. The President reinforces this by identifying himself with the experiences and emotions shared by all his fellow Argentinians:
Queridos argentinos, qué semanas y meses hemos pasado desde abril. Sé perfectamente todas las cosas que deben estar pensando y sintiendo, y las sé porque yo también lo siento. Por eso voy a explicarles por qué estamos pasando lo que estamos pasando, por qué cuando parecía que veníamos bien sentimos que volvemos para atrás. Y les voy a hablar desde el corazón con la verdad como siempre lo hice, y también con la convicción de que si seguimos adelante vamos a lograr esa Argentina que soñamos hace mucho, mucho tiempo.
Dear Argentinians, what weeks and months have passed since April. I know perfectly all the things that you must be thinking and feeling, and I know them because I also feel them. That is why I am going to explain to you why we are going through what we are going through, why when we seemed to be doing well, we feel we are going backwards. And I am going to speak from the heart with the truth as I always did, and also with the conviction that if we continue forward we will achieve that Argentina that we dreamed of a long, long time ago.
We find in this fragment an appeal to feelings, identification with the audience, articulation between what is believed and what is felt, the weight of subjective impressions, and the truth associated with the heart as the center of feelings: “I’m going to speak from the heart with the truth as I always did.” As the truth is linked to subjective impressions and the emotional universe, we cannot ask about the truths from the heart that had no correlation in reality (such as those heart-felt truths said in the electoral campaign, which later turned out to be wrong) nor of the measures that led to the present situation. Instead, feelings of “what we are going through,”and the desire that “we will achieve that Argentina we dreamed of” generate a new story based on simple personal certainties, but with no foundation in established facts.
Throughout the discourse, all emotions are positive, consistent with virtuous behavior: solidarity, tenderness, love, trust, certain naivety, confidence in the legitimacy of the objectives, hope, optimism that everything is going to improve, moderation, and the capacity to “give my life for you.” Even when he is affected by negative emotions, he is burdened with sadness. He regrets that “we have to live with terror,” or with evident shame: “Argentinians want our country to be more, much more than a collection of scandalous notebooks” referring to the written notes of a former president’s chauffeur about bribes that led to multiple corruption investigations. Even in the face of such insults, his speech follows the norms of moderation, avoiding an excess of passion and cultivating “peace and love.”
Post-Truth And “True” Feelings
It is not difficult to recognize, even as a caricature, the features of the political discourse of parts of the current Argentine ruling class that replaced the Kirchner administration. In this era of post-truth objective facts have less importance than emotions and personal beliefs presented as “true.” The opposition truth/falsehood becomes irrelevant and what rules is the subjective experience of reality. Macri evokes that idea in the beginning when he says “when we seemed to be doing well we are feeling we are going backwards.” And he closes his speech emphatically within the universe of beliefs: “I continue to believe without hesitation that we have everything to get ahead, absolutely everything.”
Perhaps this emotional tide reinforces subjective connections with emotion-driven supporters. But, to those who hold other positions or simply seek to learn something, this emotional appeal awakens a rejection of the entire discourse, making it seem tenuous, not grounded in reality or an analysis of objective data, nor following proposals of those who are knowledgeable.
—-Translated by C. Bazerman with the help of F. Navarro