With the inauguration in less than 24 hours, it seems appropriate to reflect on an election that was quite unlike any other. Donald Trump shocked the world and won an election using rhetoric that had never been used (at least successfully in a presidential election). Unfortunately, I feel that this was a scenario which proved Plato’s fears and misgivings of the power of rhetoric.
According to Herrick rhetorical discourse is defined as characteristically being “planned, adapted to an audience, shaped by human motives, responsive to a situation, persuasion seeking, and concerned with contingent issues,”. In the case of Donald Trump’s campaign, the campaign looked to persuade certain American demographics to vote for him; he did this by playing on the fears and frustrations of this demographic. This demographic was unsatisfied with the work of the current administration. Trump capitalized on this by using his rhetoric to stoke their fears, advocate their stances on contemporary issues, and demonizing his opponent. This rhetoric focused more on raw emotion, and was aimed at shaping opinions of candidate’s character as opposed to actual political policy.
In this sense it could be seen that the Trump campaign used the rhetoric methods primarily advocated by Gorgias, who felt that the easiest route of persuasion was to bring out emotion in your audience. It can be argued though that especially in cases of elections, this is a dangerous thing. Plato once criticized the Sophists because they sought persuasion about justice through changing public opinion; however he contended that true justice came from knowledge and secured the well-being of the individual and the city-state.
Plato’s main concern was the ability of rhetoric to “manipulate and coerce”. Do you think Plato would have considered Donald Trump a Sophist? Would he have approved of Trumps use of rhetoric? Do you agree that it was Trumps rhetoric that was the deciding factor in the election, or was it his policies?