These Rhetorical Devices Help Trump Maintain Power
S1: It is my profound honor to be the first president in history to attend the march for life. We’re here for a very simple reason to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God given potential.
S2: The president’s obstruction is very much a constitutional crime in progress, harming Congress as it deliberates. These very proceedings and the American people who deserve to know the facts.
S3: A president who believes he can get away with anything and can use his office to conceal evidence of abuse threatens us all.
S4: Hello and welcome to Trump Cast. I’m Virginia Heffernan on the Mount Rushmore of Evil American Men. You might find the murderer, O.J. Simpson, the sex slave trafficker and child rapist, Jeffrey EPSTEIN. The sexual predator who’s been accused of sexual assault over 100 times. That’s Harvey Weinstein. And, of course, the president of the United States, Donald Trump. Also rans for this mountain might include Claus von Bulow, who poisoned his wife into a coma and got away with it, along with, of course, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. I think you know his record. Hey, does anyone recognize that quote? I think you know his record. Yes. It’s what Nicole Brown Simpson told the police when she called O.J. for hitting her again. This was before he killed her. She said when she called the cops, he’s O.J. Simpson. I think you know his record anyway. What all these men have in common is that they’ve been defended by one. Alan Dershowitz, the fancy famous lawyer who’s also accused of child rape by Virginia Roberts Gou Frey, one of the major whistleblowers in the EPSTEIN case. And like any good mafia or cult, Trump world and the abusers of power around him have their own in-house counsel. That’s Alan Dershowitz. He has just joined Trump’s defense team. The man who once said he wouldn’t have sex with an Abyssinian slave because he has a perfect, perfect sex life. He’s now teamed up with the president who made a perfect, perfect phone call. Donald Trump or kind of said Durst seems to be hanging back a bit. Our Dershowitz since Trump has brought on Ken Starr, who’s also famous for defending Jeffrey EPSTEIN. Just a reminder about Jeffrey EPSTEIN. He had that island called Pedophile Island, where he brought in girls as young as eleven to lock them up there so they couldn’t get away. One tried to escape by swimming, but they brought her back to keep raping her. He had a plan called the Lolita Express. So that’s Jeffrey EPSTEIN. Ken Starr defended Jeffrey EPSTEIN and so did Alan Dershowitz. It looks a little bit unsavory for Epstein’s lawyers, all to be going to Donald Trump, but at least for Trump, it’s on brand as Nicole Brown Simpson, who was murdered by O.J. Simpson 25 years ago, might say Donald Trump. I think you know his record. My guest today to talk about Donald Trump and his rhetoric, his way of talking is Jennifer Murquia. She’s a rhetoric professor at Texas A&M and she’s the author of Demagogue for President The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump. It’s out this spring.
S5: Dr. Mítya, welcome to Trump Cast. Thank you for having me. So Alan Dershowitz has joined and then distanced himself from Trump’s legal team. I guess he says he’s not a full fledged member of the defense team, but he is still consulting and he’s going to testify. I think he did this a little bit with O.J. but in any case, he wants his voice part of Trump’s defense team. And he has an interesting voice, very Trump. Right voice. And you, as a professor of rhetoric, as the author of the book on Trump and rhetoric, might have something to tell us about what we can expect from Dershowitz and the rest of the motley crew defending Trump in the impeachment trial in the Senate.
S6: Yeah, so far he’s had a lot to say about Trump in defending him from impeachment primarily. You know, he’s been using denial. He’s been saying it wasn’t something that is an impeachable offense. Yeah, he’s been using minimal isation. He’s been trying to say, oh, it’s like jaywalking. It’s nothing. It’s, you know, not a real thing that we should be concerned about. He’s particularly been using to quote Kwe, which is an appeal to hypocrisy. So they do it to is one way of understanding that. But also, you know, they’re liars. And when they say that they’re defending the constitution and the rule of law, they’re actually trying to subvert the constitution and the rule of law.
S5: So I want to interrupt you just because it. Yes. A little bit of a better sense of what you do. I should admit that my father is also a rhetorician who writes about emphasis, which is like a very weird Greek trope, a poetry about painting and visual arts. So the terms you’re using are Greek rhetorical terms mostly. Right. What was the one you just used to call Kwe?
S7: Yes, I think that’s Latin. Oh, sorry. They do it too, is how it translates.
S5: Oh, it’s an actual center. It’s like quid pro quo. I first heard about this on the show as a Putin thing of both sides ism. Yeah. And that may be how the English phrase for it, but I like yours much better. Yes. Has he said jaywalking?
S6: Yeah. He said jaywalking when the Cohen thing came out and looked like Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator. So at that time, of course, they were talking about campaign violations and whether it was illegal for Trump to pay off, you know, allegedly his mistress with campaign funds or whatever it that made some kind of campaign violation. Yeah. And at that time, he said, oh, you know, all campaigns do this. It’s really minor. It’s like jaywalking. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we see something like that in whatever he says to defend Trump, I think.
S8: Dershowitz, his former client, Jeffrey EPSTEIN, the serial sex slave owner trader, he also said that what he had done in listening an underage girl, the first things he was convicted of was the equivalent to stealing a bagel. So the minimization is everywhere. Do you think that Dershowitz is trained in classical rhetoric? I mean, I mean, do you think there’s a little bit of that at Harvard Law School when they talk about litigation and making opening closing remarks?
S6: Yeah, I mean, so trading and classical rhetoric used to be standard. Yeah. We all studied it.
S9: The Trivium with logic, rhetoric and literature and people who practice law and learn to practice law learn about points of Stacie’s which are points of stopping and how to construct an argument by answering, you know, questions that folks have been answering as points of Stacie’s since Aristotle. What is it? What happened? How should we understand it? What should we call it? What do we do about it?
S5: You know, those are very basic questions when you’re constructing a legal team or a legal theory or a defense, the what should we call it is an interesting one, because the Republicans in the House hearings is sort of faulted Democrats in the media and elsewhere for changing the term that was being used to describe either quid pro quo or bribery or sometimes extortion. So calling attention to the other side’s use of, quote, rhetoric as if it’s artifice seems to be part of the strategy going in of Republicans.
S6: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s really interesting to sort of watch how the frame wars play out and in some ways they reversed themselves. So typically the Republicans since Goldwater have used a line order frame. You know, we are here to uphold law and order. The Constitution and all of our policies are designed to protect law and order. But we’ve seen Pelosi and the Democrats using the law and order frame consistently throughout the impeachment inquiry where as we’ve seen the Republicans using a conspiracy frame. Yeah.
S5: What is a conspiracy frame in terms of formal rhetoric? What is it to sort of you invoke a. Cult, a cult presences or something that make narrative work in weird ways, you know.
S6: Yeah, absolutely. Conspiracy is fascinating for me, something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately and dominates our public sphere right now, along with appeals to hypocrisy and distrust and polarization, those kinds of things that all goes together. And a conspiracy frame is really interesting in that it’s unquestionable. It’s a narrative that you can never disprove. So information is not allowed to count against the narrative.
S8: Right. Like the flat earthers will tell you that the flight attendants and pilots who confirm that the earth is round are actually in on the conspiracy. So the second anyone says they have firsthand visual experience of the roundness of the earth, then they must be bought by the, you know, round earth, deep state.
S6: That’s exactly right. So information is either being suppressed or it’s being denied or conspirators would never tell you the truth. So we call that self sealing narrative. The logic itself of the narrative means that you can never controvert the narrative, which means that anyone who wields conspiracy puts themselves in a very powerful position.
S5: Are there risks, though? Because I see it seems to offer and we’ve been recently talking to Steven Hossen, the expert on cults. It seems to offer a kind of seemingly axiomatic way of thinking that protects you in the short term. But the springs can pop out of it and it does demand. It’s like the opposite of Ockham’s Razor, right. Like if you have to say that the flight attendants are in on the conspiracy and here’s the thousand reasons why. And here’s where they got their training. And all of a sudden you have them in a training camp that you have to make up increasingly weird ways of accommodating new information.
S6: Yeah, that’s right. It’s not going to be persuasive to anyone who it’s not persuasive to if that makes any sense. What do you mean? So if you are someone who doesn’t believe the conspiracy either because you have your own facts, you you are outside of the sort of information space or propaganda space where that narrative makes sense. You’re not going to be persuaded by it. And in fact, it’s going to continue to erode or undermine your faith in that president or that person who’s wielding the conspiracy. So Alex Jones and Infowars is simple. If you’re outside of the Infowars InfoSpace, if you watch him, he seems, you know, perhaps like clownish or, you know, definitely not a truth teller. Yeah, but if you’re in the Infowars InfoSpace, then, yeah, you think he’s telling you the truth and that he’s heroic for doing that.
S8: There does seem to be something else at play with an Alex Jones or a Devin Nunes, which is some kind of patho. So I might be getting this wrong. But just if you’ve read in some kind of Turner Diaries book what Alex Jones said, you might be struck by how illiterate it is and contradictory and it doesn’t even grab you by the lapels in the first paragraph. It just slides off the page. But when you see them, you’re caught in an emotional frenzy. I mean, he and Nunez and Jim Jordan, they tend to yell and perform a kind of anger. Look, you almost see Jim Jordan says he rolls his sleeves up and he Argo’s just in shirtsleeves into Congress, breaking all tradition because in some ways he’s spoiling for a fight with the wrestler he once was. And he wants to make it look like men. He can pop off at any minute. His veins are bulging. He’s gonna clock the witness in the face. And that, I think, is something that they try to make compelling is kind of the use of their bodies.
S6: Yeah, absolutely. It’s political theater and it’s well orchestrated, whether it’s Jim Jordan or whether it’s Alex Jones or whether it’s Donald Trump. Right. They are at the stage. They care about the lighting. They care about, you know, the angle of the camera. The jump cuts, whatever it is, they’re really into the stagecraft of what they’re doing.
S5: Yeah, we even saw Lindsey Graham do that at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Just turn up the volume from three to eleven as if, you know, he couldn’t help himself. He was so overcome. I think that’s something, you know, somewhat new to see from Republicans who are getting used to it.
S4: But just the sudden pathos, whether think Mark Meadows nearly cried during the Cohen hearing and just pulling out all the stops on tears and anger and fear and hatred, contempt seething. I mean, what is that like? Does that fall in to patho, sir? Am I getting this wrong?
S6: Absolutely. You’re getting it right. And it’s a part of the outrage media entertainment complex. Yeah. People who watch cable news or who listen to conservative talk radio or Infowars, they’re used to a way of receiving information that is designed to keep their attention. Right.
S7: That’s designed to outrage them and make them act so that they sit still through the commercial breaks. And they. You know, yeah. Don’t change the channel. Yeah. And so we’re seeing more and more performance that allows for that kind of outrage from audiences.
S5: I want to hear more about these classical tropes. So you even say that Trump in some ways has been framed. This is in the book with the anthology, the anthology of Trump’s rhetoric. You say that he’s been framed as the anarchist and also the sun king.
S8: And I will say Joey Ito used to run the M.I.T. lab until he was driven out for his connection to Jeffrey EPSTEIN said took up the anarchist thing when I first talked to him in January before the inauguration. And he said, Trump is so punk rock. He’s so Sid Vicious, you know, and he wasn’t supporting Trump. But like other people begrudgingly admire him, like Scott Adams, he was saying there’s something kind of cool about this. You know, something rebellious about him. I find that especially maddening. But anyway, tell me about Anarchist and Sun King.
S6: Yeah, whatever. I’ve mentioned the fun Twitter. I get anarchists who get mad at me. So I apologize to real anarchists who don’t want to be associated with Trump. Yeah, but what I meant by that is that if we think about Trump’s political program, you know, in terms of a historical narrative, he wants to return us to a time before the sort of dominant liberal view of the world. Right. So prior to f.d.r.’s New Deal, prior to the World War to consensus about international relations, and he’s very much against all of the things that were settled and sort of normal in American political discourse. Yeah, in a lot of people like that. Right. A lot of Trump supporters hear that and they don’t hear it as necessarily anarchy, but they think that those things were corrupt or were corrupted over time and that we need to go back to a purer time. Right. We need to make America great again like it once was.
S8: Interestingly, that pure time is not like some peaceful route sofiane idea where we all lived in harmony in a Garden of Eden. It’s a more Hobbesian view. You know, so it’s it’s a strange thing to be nostalgic for because it’s in some ways the part of the Nazi Party that was for Preez civilization for two towns, just warring tribes warring in the forest. You know, androgens on display where no one could hold you back if you wanted to beat up a protester at your rally. Sometimes we think Make America Great Again means white picket fences. But I sometimes think he means what he envisions is some kind of place where war criminals are real men and and violence and violent sexuality are the watchwords of the day for sure.
S9: It’s Hobbesian. Trump sees himself as the leviathan. He wants to control everything. Yeah, he wants to be unquestioned. He’s unquestionable. Yeah. I mean, if you remember his RNC acceptance speech, I can’t think of a more Hobbesian presidential candidate or a presidential speech in the history of American political discourse. It’s rough, you know. Yeah. And it really appeals to authoritarian voters who see the world in these kind of Hobbesian, you know, political real ism terms. They have been prompted to see the world through this kind of outrageous, scary media that they listen to and they watch as a terrible, terrible place.
S10: And so they’re looking for someone who can be the leviathan and make everything okay for them.
S8: I’ve seemed to have accepted wholesale from graduate school the idea that on some level the language speaks us, the language is bigger than we are, and that Trump is not a great artist of the language the way Scott Adams would have him, but rather someone who’s been swept up in a set of tropes that belong together, that once you sort of press play on them, the next one’s all. They all tumble out, you know. So if you’re gonna do projection, that looks a particular way. I know that’s not a rhetorical trope, but if you know, if you’re gonna flip something over and say everything you say bounces off me and sticks on you, then that comes with a playbook. He does a lot of vice signaling. I saw someone called vice signaling, like, how evil can I be? I mean, pardon? Death camp, Joe. And I’m gonna pardon a war criminal. It’s like Milton’s Satan or something. I am going to reverse everything you’re supposed to do. And I guess that’s what you mean by anarchist.
S6: That is what I mean by anarchist. But also, you know, so Trump hasn’t released his college records, so we don’t know if he ever took a rhetoric class.
S11: You know, there’s rumors that he may have studied Hitler’s speeches. Fine. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. But what we do know is that he’s a marketer. Right. Like he has this will to market himself. He seems to be incapable of admitting ever that he has done anything wrong. He has spent a lifetime figuring out ways to prevent himself from being held accountable for his words and actions. And so he’s just developed like a repertoire of things, a menu that he uses in these situations.
S7: So, you know, I’ve been studying his rhetoric closely since late November of 2015. Wow. And yeah, you know, and I wrote this book and he does the same things over and over and over again. You can really predict what he’s going to do.
S10: He thinks he’s unpredictable, but he’s absolutely predictable.
S8: Something that John de Domenica Hoods are voice of Donald Trump. He does ah Donald Trump impersonation for Trump cast. He says that Trump actually changes in small ways just when you think you have him down. So there’s also a way that he’s he’s repetitive and he seems to stay in a box. He has certain especially physical gestures, but they’re little things like once something gets parodies like tremendous or big Lere China, he manages to slip the knot, he finds something new. And that is so maddening about him. So, yeah.
S6: I mean, he’s he’s actually really great at reading a room. So his rallies, he’s testing material. You know, a lot of them now are written speeches, but he’s doing asides. He’s commenting on the written text. You can definitely tell when it’s Trump and his voice versus the voice of Stephen Miller. Whoever has written his speech that night. Yeah.
S10: And yeah, he deviates.
S8: You said something about his refusal to cop to having done anything wrong or said anything wrong unless there’s a gun in his back. I was rereading the apology. I guess you would say for the Access Hollywood remarks. And I mean, man, that he had to be Ventrella khweis. Hard to say. You know, I’m sorry for those remarks. They’re not who I am, where they were, so clearly who he was. But he won’t apologize under anything but extreme circumstances or admit imperfections. And in fact, uses that word perfect. And this kind of goes to the Sun King thing. He’s continuing to insist as the call he had with President Zelinsky of Ukraine looks increasingly damning and smoking. And now we have all these witnesses around us giving context to how criminal it was and how much misconduct seems to have been at play. And he keeps using the word perfect to describe that phone call. I mean, what do you make of that?
S6: It’s, of course, Trump branding, right. So the call is perfect. That’s the call. The call is perfect. So he’s just going to repeat that over and over. You know, I mean, you know, if you think about perfection, there’s nothing perfect except for what is godly or, you know, the sun king, right? Yes. We don’t really believe in the divine right of kings anymore. But Trump seems to have been defied. He defines himself. Whenever he refers to himself as the chosen one. Yeah.
S9: If you have been paying attention to. And I’m sure you have to. How evangelicals have been talking about Trump and how religious leaders have been talking about Trump. The deification of Trump is fascinating to me. And it’s something that I’ve really noticed over the last few months as he’s become, you know, more in trouble, I guess, imperiled as a president.
S5: Remind listeners of who the sun king was and how he came by that name.
S11: Good question. So the thing that, you know, everyone knows about him was that he liked gold gilding and made that sort of a signature thing of his reign. Likewise, Trump has made gold gilding sinkin chair of the Trump brand. Yet in his apartment, the thing that everyone knows about him is that he said late. Same why I am the state historians actually debate whether he really said that. So sorry.
S5: Well, that’s the nature of rhetoric, right? Did anyone really see any video of each heath like that? We just to move on. All right. So, yeah, the state is me. Yeah, but he’s coextensive if he does it, the state does it and vice versa.
S11: Right. So we hear that argument a lot right now, especially from Dershowitz and others who are defending Trump that say if the president does it, it’s not a crime. Yeah, right. The president can’t be wrong. Yes. Later them. Why? It’s the exact same argument. And that’s not how we think about, you know, the president in American government. You know, we we think that everyone is accountable to the rule of law. So, you know, really what we’re having is a crisis in the theory of the unitary executive. Yeah. Right. We’re seeing Nancy Pelosi trying to reclaim some of the power that Congress has. And she’s making arguments about Congress being a co-equal branch of government that has oversight and accountability of the president that she has to make arguments for.
S5: That is somewhat is that’s should be self evident, but it should be self evident.
S7: But Trump and his propagandists are denying it.
S8: Yeah, I actually keep thinking about we hold these truths to be self-evident as such a wonderful phrase because you need a starting point for that document and you need something to just agree on. I think Richard Rorty called us your final vocabulary. Like what can we backstop everything against? Trump has questioned the truths we hold to be self-evident. There’s some way that I think Scott Adams says he punched a hole through reality and questioned the bedrock common sense of people. Reasserting the stability of the language is something I think you and your colleagues have done very well. These tropes have been tried before.
S5: And no one person is going to undo the whole English language or the framers idea of what this country is, which has a lot more literature to back it up than the brief Trump cult’s speeches, one hopes.
S9: When I think of Trump as pre Cartesian. Oh, all right.
S8: So Cartesian is Descartes, right?
S9: Yes. Descartes. So right. So Descartes famously was like, let me strip away all of the knowledge that has been given to us. Let me like go up into the mountain and sit in my cabin and stare at this candle and like, figure it out. And I’m going to take away everything and I’m going to try to figure out what do we know? Yeah. And so he says, oh, wait, I am a being who thinks. Why do I exist just when I think. No. Hey, I know I exist where I’m not thinking, but I I think therefore I am right.
S8: The only real evidence that I exist in the world comes from the fact that I think.
S9: Yes. And so that changed everything. Right. And starts the enlightenment, which is what you see in the Declaration of Independence. Right. These foundational truths that you’re talking about.
S7: Yeah. Well, Trump is pre Cartesian. Yes. He’s like, you don’t think and you don’t exist. I think for you. And that’s why you exist. I am the alpha and omega of all knowledge. I’m the beginning and the end. I say what is and what is not another biblical phrase.
S8: Fascinating. Do you think this has always been there for him? Or does he need to find increasingly grandiose and almost satanic rhetoric to make sense of the tangle? That is his personal story now. You know, because he’s had to paper over so many crimes and misdeeds and affairs and whatever his whole life, dodging the draft, dodging taxes, cheating on his wives that he needs like a unified field theory. And the unified field theory is I’m God or something like that.
S9: Yeah. I write about this in my book about Trump’s hero narrative and the way that he narrated his campaign throughout his campaign. And I’m only saying this because of what we’ve been talking about if context. But the way he talks about it is that he entered the escalator in Trump Tower on the day that he makes his announcement speech corrupted as this political insider who’s just as bad as everyone else, just, you know, he knows all the tricks because he did them himself and that he gets purified by the escalator and by the time he reaches the stage. Right. He is now America’s hero who’s been purified by the process of being brave enough to make the speech to save the nation. Wow. And every presidential campaign has a hero narrative you like Obama had won. You know, McCain had won. Every every candidate who runs for office tries to create the sort of impression, you know, that there Cincinnatus. Like who? Someone who’s been called to save the republic. So it’s not unusual that Trump would present himself this way. But, you know, it’s. Absolutely fascinating to me that, you know, the way he narrates it is very much drawing on those biblical themes.
S8: You know, Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, he’s trained as a hypnotist. Yes. And yet huge admirer of Trump. He began by simply admiring his, like, diabolical skills, like the way when the movie is shown. From the point of view of the serial killer, you start to be like, oh, he’s so clever. But then that tilted into, as it sometimes does, actual admiration for him. He began to sort of share these culty views that he, Scott Adams, was being persecuted by fans of Hillary, who he actually began to think we’re going to murder him. This is Scott Adams for anyway, Adams believes the Trump is just singularly powerful as a rhetorician and potent as a rhetorician. And that ends up doubling, as I said, as admiration for him. So I sometimes worry that when we talk about what a twisted person he is, we start to think that he’s a genius like he wants us to think. And Russians say this about Putin. Please don’t talk about Putin as an evil genius. He’s a washed up KGB officer who’s just grabbing it, whatever he can and throwing spaghetti at the wall. And every time in America we talk about him as our president’s overlord, we give him more power. And sometimes I worry that we do that with Trump.
S9: It’s a good worry. Yes. Scott Adams definitely has a very instrumental view of rhetoric or propaganda or wizardry. I teach him and my propaganda class and writes about Trump and it’s very instrumental, like he’s just interested in effect. And so he admires Trump because he’s effective. People like me worry about, you know, what’s good for democratic deliberation and what’s good for the viability of the republic and stability. That kind of stuff. So we worry about other questions than he does. But I’ve learned a lot from from listening to why he thinks Trump is effective. But to your point about whether it’s dangerous to praise Trump or to call him a genius for what he’s been able to do. I worry about that, too. You know, it’s part of the book title that I have. And in some ways I use that like tongue in cheek, like I actually have in my index. Trump called self genius. Yeah. Oh, good. Yeah. Yeah. So in some ways I’m making fun of him. But at the same time, Trump has successfully attacked the American public sphere for the last five years. He has controlled our national dialogue. He has taken advantage of pre-existing distrust, polarization and frustration and increased all of those things to his advantage. And we have been powerless to stop him. If we don’t recognize the power that he has and the effect that he has had, then that doesn’t give us any way to stop him. I kind of go back and forth on that.
S8: I reviewed Scott Adams book in Politico. And one thing I came away saying is, all right, for all these claims about Trump’s effectiveness and let’s say it’s rhetoric and emotions that win elections. Wow. How was Hillary Clinton so devastatingly good at wielding rhetoric that she won the popular vote decisively? Like we really should study her rhetoric? Unless you think that rhetoric is only binding on 79000 voters in some advantageous counties in the Midwest, in Pennsylvania.
S5: So, okay. He’s appealing. 52 percent of Americans want him removed from office. So I don’t know quite how appealing that is. And why did we spend no time studying GS lists like formidable demagogue Donald Trump? We’ve never seen the likes of him before. And, you know, he barely squeaked into office and he’s loathed. Yeah, absolutely. So does that mean the rhetoric doesn’t work? I mean, the people who strongly object to him are, you know, more than ever in history with an American president.
S9: Yeah, absolutely. He’s never been as popular as Hillary Clinton or I mean, they’re both unpopular, but he definitely with less popular than her and lost the popular vote is the least historically the least popular president we’ve ever had. So all of those things are absolutely true. I was the program planner for the public address division of the National Communication Association conference in 2016. And I received zero submissions about Hillary Clinton.
S7: Interesting. And it was like the convention started the day after the election in 2016. Yeah. And I was like, are you kidding me? Because conceivably she’s going to be the president elect and we will have no papers about her.
S8: I mean, amazing. Maybe you can speak to Hillary Clinton’s use of rhetoric because she did a little bit of the a.. Literary criticism is different from the study of rhetoric. But I do remember that there is something called the modesty topass where a writer says, I’m really no good at this, but this is the little poem I have to offer, you know? And remember, she said, I’m in public service. I’m a lifetime of public service. I’m pretty good at the service part. I’m not very good at the public part. That was, I think, a.
S4: Of her setting the thing of like, I know I totally get it wrong from time to time and, you know, she’s sort of fed us the idea that she recognized that she might not be likeable all the time, but that that was part of her self framing. And then we walk away saying, wow, she sure isn’t charismatic. She sure isn’t likable. But we all still voted for her. The popular you know, I think she is actually also very gifted rhetorically. And the gift can be weighed in the effect she had on people. She got people to vote for her. Of course, they also said they disliked her. But we can’t mistake what I think is an illegitimate victory of Trump for some overwhelming popular referendum on how brilliant he is at seducing people.
S11: If I were to write about the relationship between Clinton and Trump and the way that they campaigned in 2016, I would describe it as her practicing normy politics, you know, and him practicing in faux warrior politics.
S7: And so you’re going to pay more attention to that outrageous, you know, emotive content. And in fact, we did, you know, so he dominated the public sphere and she had great points. She had lots of good plans. She had policies. Yeah, she she told us. Exactly, you know, what Donald Trump was about. But it just didn’t stick.
S5: I think I give her credit for a little more poetry than that, even though it’s a kind of rough anti poetry. Beaudry. I saw her speak with Christiane Amanpour soon after she lost the election and she was talking about uranium and plutonium reserves in North Korea. And if you’re a fan of documentary or journalists, more non-fiction books, this was an account of geology and the way tunnels are formed in the mountains of North Korea. That was so evocative. And also just such a relief to imagine that at least one person, if not the president, has the details of this in hand. Yeah, I can’t tell you that. A relief I got hearing her tell this story, not to mention that it was riveting. And, you know, I guess people don’t like details, but lots of people do like details.
S11: Oh, for sure. And I mean, I think that she probably had a similar effect on me. You know, I remember the first presidential debate and listening to her talk about global politics and what it meant for the next president and what the stakes were and all of that kind of stuff. And I remember just thinking, I’m so glad she’s running. I’m so glad somebody who understands the world is going to be in charge. You know, like, I just am really relieved. But that wasn’t the response that other people had.
S5: It wasn’t the response other people had. But as I say, it was a response a lot more. I mean, it was a response if the popular vote is any indication. And we seem to use the electoral vote as the proof. That’s the whole. I’m the president so I can do anything. There was a tautology at the heart of Scott Adams book, which was if you said, I don’t think he’s not effective or he’s not likable or he’s annoying or he repeats himself so loud, I never want to see him on TV again. You’re wrong. He’s not this great, charismatic Ryan Gosling that we all want to swoon into the arms of. He’s revolting. And Scott, Adam says, well, he’s president. You’re not just like Donald Trump says. So if you create a loop like that. You know, if Hillary had won on the popular vote, could we then say that she was all these things and the proof of that was she’s president?
S9: Well, but it’s also hard to know if people voted for her because they liked her, they liked her rhetoric or because they identify as Democrats or if they voted against Trump. Yes. So, you know, post-election analysis from Pew has more Trump voters voting for Trump because they want to vote against Hillary. That because they want to vote for Trump. You know, it’s just kind of hard to disentangle all the different things happening. It really is.
S5: And I like that you don’t take as a starting point. He won. And so he deserves all these things. You’ve just been listening to him since around the time he announced. Tell me, you know, two or three more idiosyncrasies and maybe even failures of Trumpian rhetoric, OK?
S7: So the thing that people really seem to enjoy about Trump’s rhetoric is the way that he uses Parrot Lipsitz, which is the recoil, the rhetorical figure of. I’m not saying, I’m just saying, oh, yeah. And Trump does that all the time and he does that specifically. Well, for a couple of different reasons. One, because it allows him to spread conspiracy and innuendo. Right. And prevent himself from being held accountable. So he’ll say, you know, I don’t want to say this, but all of my competitors are just weak. You know, I shouldn’t say this. Yes. People love that also because it provides them with like a backstage view of what he supposedly really thinks. Yes. And it seems like he’s being very. Tick. It’s all an act. Right. His authenticity is as much of an act as everything else is, but it makes them feel connected to him.
S5: So it’s one of the more interesting things that he does, whatever he says in that way, sort of partly traced partly with a strike through stands out more, you know, than it would if he just flat out said it. If he just said, my opponents are weak or Joe Biden has a stutter, but it’s not polite for me to say Joe Biden has a stutter, but he stutters. You’re much more interested if he’s acknowledged that now. It’s just between us. That’s right. And screw the manor’s police.
S9: That’s right. I’m a heroic truth teller. I’m going to tell you the dirty, dirty thoughts. I really.
S8: Yes, yes, yes. And yes. And also, there’s no fun in saying Merry Christmas. If you don’t start with everyone says you’re not allowed to say this, but I’m gonna bust through it and say it. He did the same, I think, with radical Islamic terrorism. They’re too afraid to say it. I will say it. That’s right. I don’t want to shock you by saying the Merry Christmas thing. I mean, you know, I thought I thought you were among friends and adults here. All right. So that’s one of the things that people are interested in. What’s that called again? LIPSEY Herra ellipses. OK. And then what’s something that he’s bad at? And I don’t mean like normatively, like, you know, where he breaks the rules. I just mean where it even sometimes at the rallies for long periods, it looks like people lose interest. And Olivia Nuzzi on this show also said one thing we some of us donor sand about Trump who haven’t talked to him in person. I include myself in that he is that he’s in monotone a surprising amount of the time. Like almost in a fugue state, she said.
S9: So I’ve also never talked to him face to face. But yeah, he’s he’s terrible at reading from the teleprompter. Yes, just awful at it. And in some ways it might be, you know, everyone says, well, he doesn’t want to wear glasses in public and he needs to. So maybe that’s part of it. I tend to think that, you know, like he can’t even be controlled by the words on the page. Right. Like, he hates it so much that he can’t perform it. So he’s really bad at the teleprompter. He’s much better when he’s doing impromptu and extemporaneous speaking, much more engaging.
S11: He’s able to feed off of the crowd. He loves that. He’s also really bad at empathy. And he’s really bad at transcendence. And so that comes into play. When you think about the role of the president, one of the things that we call on the president to do is to perform the priestly function, they call it, of the presidency, which means that the president is meant to be the consoler, the person who makes the nation feel better when, you know, they spend some crisis or some terrible accident or whatever. So think about Ronald Reagan’s Challenger speech, where he really gave purpose to the tragedy. He said, you know, that these people died for a reason, but that we’re Americans, that we’re going to get through this and we’re going to go on and we’re going to continue to explore and, you know, all this stuff. Short speech, very effective.
S10: Trump is not capable of making that move to transcendence, to what we all have in common, to what unites us. He’s very good at division to saying why you should hate the other side, why we should be polarized, why you should distrust them. He is not good at all at transcendence.
S8: Since Lev Parnas, everybody’s favorite canary, has been on the news. He said he didn’t think the Trumps world is as much like the Mafia as it is like a cult. And I was thinking one of the differences there is that mob leaders seemed to be pretty good in that consoling role that like you sort of think of like organizations like Hezbollah and you know that they go and visit the sick and they make it really a community. Someone actually saying this to me in Carroll Gardens about the mob that, well, they watched out for these places. They kept us safe. They kept the family safe. They came over when my mother was sick. I mean, those are the things communities do for each other. And if you’re gonna be a real capo, I think you have to make people feel cared for. Am I wrong?
S11: No, you’re right. But the thing is that Trump does that for Trump’s people, but he doesn’t do it for all the people of the United States. Yeah. So if you remember a few weeks ago, a month ago, he posted a thing and I think it was his pin tweet for a while, black and white photo of Trump. And it said, you know, I’m the only thing that’s standing between them and you, something like that right there really after you. But I’m the thing that’s protecting you. And that’s very mafioso. Yeah. Oh, me and I. Oh, you know, I’m doing this for you. I sacrifice. It’s a fascist trope. I sacrifice for you. And therefore, you owe me your loyalty.
S8: Oh, my God. All right. Before we wrap up of the current candidates for the Democratic nomination, I’m not asking you to endorse someone, but whose rhetoric entrusts you. I mean, it’s very hard not to say, Bernie, because he’s up to something rhetorically, but maybe one of the others just so I can get a sense.
S11: So I’ve been interested in how Trump uses the metrics of outrage and attention to campaign and in throughout his presidency. I’ve noticed that there’s another way to sort of use the horizontal communication structure of the Internet in the outrage and attention economy. That isn’t necessarily outrageous. And so I’ve been very interested in Elizabeth Warren’s selfie campaign and the way that she uses connection and authenticity to promote attention and engagement. And so instead of having an outraged campaign, she’s having the opposite of that.
S7: And it was very, very successful initially. And it seems like people think it’s less successful now, but we haven’t seen anybody vote yet. So I don’t really know. You know, and I guess we’ll see when the votes happen. But I don’t I don’t know. To me, that’s really interesting.
S5: You’re right. It’s connection. It’s almost a parasympathetic nervous system response that we haven’t seen. People look in the faces of other people and connect as humans in a long time in public stagecraft. And she just sort of does this over and over in these videos.
S8: She’ll have I think very recently she had someone in at a town hall ask her a question or at a rally or an event, ask her a question about prescription drugs and that she’d had to share a prescription for diabetes medicine with two members of her family and had to forfeit groceries. And, you know, she talked about, I have a plan. This is how it’s going to work that no one should ever have to forfeit this for groceries. But there is a cutaway to Elizabeth Warren where you just see that unlike some other people, you know, on the public stage, like Trump, she’s not a reptile. She’s like makes eye contact. Her eyes glisten. She’s like flushing with the leg emotion of the story. And she’s also very good at recapping the story. So like making the story her own. It’s just we’ve it’s been so long since we’ve seen that, you know, used to like you can see it sometimes in like a Nike ad. But it’s been so long since we have seen that from a politician, just that like we’re in this human experience together.
S11: That’s right. And you’re not a prop. You’re a real person. You’re a real person. And so the selfie thing where, you know, you get these long lines, everybody gets a selfie, who wants one? You know, you count on people posting those. And so, you know, that’s great for a candidate because it’s free advertising. Yeah. And people are excited about it. But it also gives her the opportunity to talk to people one on one. Yeah. And in that kind of connection, it’s hard to be, you know, with with a bunch of ads or or whatever it is that you’re doing. And so I really wonder how that approach is going to work for her. I’m hopeful for her.
S12: My guest today has been Jennifer Myrto. She’s a rhetoric professor at Texas A&M and the author of A Demagogue for President Coming Out in the Spring. Thank you so, so much for being here. Jennifer. My pleasure. That’s it for today’s show. What do you think? Come to Twitter. I’d love to see you there. I’m at page 88. The show is at Real Trump Cast. Our show today was produced by Melissa Kaplan and engineered by Merrett Jacob. I’m Virginia Heffernan, and thanks for listening to Trump cast.