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?


One thought on “Responsibility

  1. I think this is such a great topic to bring up, especially seeing as we were deep in learning about rhetoric as Inauguration Day came and went. As important as this topic is, I can honestly say I didn’t even consider the idea of rhetoric in Donald Trump’s speeches until I read your post.

    I personally believe Donald Trump was able to win the votes of so many people because of his unique and arguably offensive use of rhetoric. That being said, I think he deserves major credit for walking the fine line of what many may consider appropriate versus inappropriate.

    I think our now president became such by surprising people with a rhetoric they haven’t heard and didn’t know they actually wanted to hear. When I have heard from people who support Trump, many of them say that his brutal honesty was refreshing to hear and may be what this country needs. This just goes to show the power of rhetoric!

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