Daily Rhetricks

Daily Rhetrick: October 28, 2018

October 28, 2018

Rhetorical Bolt-holes and Rhetorical Bolts

Once again the man who got elected US President shows his incapacity to empathize with victims of violence or to sympathize with the survivors. Yesterday he suggested to reporters that the solution to incidents such as the mass-shooting inside the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue was for the Jews to arm themselves. “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a very much different situation.”

Note the “maybe” in this remark. Trump habitually protects his bizarre positions with reservations: “Might have,“ “I’ve been told,” “It’s an option,” “I think.” If need be, he can escape to them later.

Note also, however, a rhetorical sequence he has perfected. (1) Position presented, (2), position qualified, (3) position re-stated without reservation. He makes sure to end on an absolute. For instance, here was Trump yesterday on the death penalty as another prevention of violence:

“Anybody that does a thing like this to innocent people that are in temple or in church—we had the—so many incidents with churches—uh—they should be—[1] they should really suffer the ultimate price. They should suffer the ultimate price. [2] I’ve felt that way for a long time. [2] Some people disagree with me. [3] I can’t imagine why.”

Rhetorically, this way Trump can use his memory lapses to advantage (“we had the—so many incidents with churches—uh”). Out of his nebulous mind can emerge, with clarity and force, a bolt of lightening from Zeus.

This is also the pattern of his tweets. It is a rhetrick often parodied, good evidence that it works. Reagan proved it works long ago.

2 thoughts on “Daily Rhetrick: October 28, 2018”

  1. On one level this verbal tic — or should I say verbal schtick — of Trump’s is formulaic along the lines of the simple “they say, I say” pattern described in Graff-Birkenstein’s popular rhet/comp handbook by that name.

    But if you turn to the field of linguistic pragmatics, you find a long history of studies underscoring the “dog whistle” nature of this Trumpism. For example, there’s Austin’s groundbreaking 1962 formulation of “illocutionary force,” followed by Searle’s conceptualization of indirect speech acts, Grice’s 1975 maxims of conversation, then Sperber & Wilson’s relevance theory (1987), etc.

    In short, Trump isn’t fooling anyone with his dog whistles. He may make some halfhearted gesture of “thoughtful consideration,” but I think everyone gets exactly what he’s really saying.

  2. On one level this verbal tic — or should I say verbal schtick— of Trump’s is formulaic along the lines of the simple “they say, I say” pattern described in Graff-Birkenstein’s popular rhet/comp handbook by that name.

    But if you turn to the field of linguistic pragmatics, you find a long history of studies underscoring the “dog whistle” nature of this Trumpism. For example, there’s Austin’s groundbreaking 1962 formulation of “illocutionary force,” followed by Searle’s conceptualization of indirect speech acts, Grice’s 1975 maxims of conversation, then Sperber & Wilson’s relevance theory (1987), etc.

    In short, Trump isn’t fooling anyone with his dog whistles. He may make some halfhearted gesture of “thoughtful consideration,” but I think everyone gets exactly what he’s really saying.

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