Words Matter and Donald Trump knows this

by Dr. Janet Johnson on October 17, 2016

Speech is a powerful lord… which by means of the finest and most invisible body effects the divinest works: it can stop fear and banish grief and create joy and nurture pity.–Encomium of Helen by Gorgias 

Gorgias, a Sophist, who taught rhetorical skills and wrote about the power of language in ancient Greek times. His words still resonate today about the persuasive nature of language.

Fast forward to Plato’s time when he wrote his important piece titled Gorgias–where Plato’s teacher, Socrates has a conversation with Gorgias about the dangers of rhetoric. Patricia Bissell and Bruce Herzberg summarizes Gorgias in The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present, that sophists Polus and Gorgias  believe”<Socrates> should admit that rhetoric is beneficial to orators, for it enables them to get what they want.” Socrates worried that rhetoric was one of cookery and if “orators exercise their power at other people’s expense, they are destroying their souls.” An excerpt of Gorgias where Socrates worries rhetoric is just persuasion:

Socrates: Then the case is the same in all the other arts from he orator and his rhetoric: there is no need to know the truth of the actual matters, but one merely needs to have discovered some device of persuasion which will make one appear to those who do not know to know better than those who know. 

What do ancient Greek texts have to do with Donald Trump’s rhetorical style? Trump’s rhetorical strategy has been one to plant seeds of doubt where he appears to know better than those who truly do know better.

Rigged Rhetoric

Lets take a look at Donald Trump’s Twitter rhetoric. And start with when Donald Trump denounced conspiracy theories.

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Donald Trump is accusing China of  “cooking up conspiracy theories” about accusations that the 2012 Olympics were rigged. Sound familiar? But this time, Donald Trump is claiming that the media is dishonest and the election process is rigged.

In May 2016 Donald Trump tweeted  about how the system is rigged against Bernie Sanders.

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In July 2016 Trump was still discussing how the election is rigged. Again, planting more doubt and fear into American’s minds. Each time Donald Trump says rigged it’s in reference to a situation that he can not control.

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Using repetition as a rhetorical device is smart. The more he says the word “rigged” the more the word will become part of America’s rhetoric. I have already noticed the media repeating the word over and over while reporting on Donald Trump. Trump supporters say the word as if the word has always been associated with media.  The more “rigged” is discussed it labels a certain group or person. The repetition of name calling Larry Powerll and Joseph Cowart says in their book Political Campaign Communcaiton, is “the propagandist’s intent is to evoke a negative emotional reaction.” So, when Trump repeats “Crooked Hillary” “Rigged Election” and “Dishonest Media” these labels then start to resonate with people who then see only the negative aspects to what Trump describes without seeking out more information. The progandist wants you to believe what they are saying to be true because they want to instill doubt in people’s minds. Repetition is one of the ways a propagandist will do so.

The Tape

In November 2014, Trump gave Bill Cosby unsolicited advice over Twitter. Bill Cosby is accused of drugging and raping women.  Trump even admits Cosby is probably guilty. But, Donald Trump believes one should not remain silent if one thinks they are innocent.

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Fast forward to ALMOST exactly two years. One of many October surprises this election season revealed a scandoulous tape featuring Trump discussions women in lewd terms. Donald Trump is accused of sexual misconduct from many women after an Access Hollywood tape surfaced where he described actual actions towards women. The same night the tape was released Trump released a videotaped apology. Trump read the apology without much emotion or regret in his voice.  Towards the end of Trump’s apology–he used former President Bill Clinton as a scapegoat saying President Clinton did far worse than what he did. The apology came off as cold and not as the heartfelt apology his campaign claims.

Before the second debate, Trump held a press conference with four women who accused Bill Clinton of inappropriate behavior. While Trump seemed to empathize with their stories, he has since said all the women who have accused him of inappropriate behavior are liars. Ironically, he chastised President Bill Clinton for doing the same to the women at the press conference.

During the debate, Anderson Cooper asked about the released tape.  Trump brushed off his comments as mere locker room talk–which negated the videotaped apology two nights before.

Trump’s rhetoric since the tape has been brash, bombastic, and filled with unsound arguments. His deflection of sexual assault charges has created a new rhetorical strategy to project blame on the media. Trump had blacklisted several media organizations and reporters from his rallies and access to his overall campaign. Yet, he still blames the media for not treating him fairly. How can the media treat Trump fairly when they are not even allowed to cover his campaign up close.

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Donald Trump’s latest tweets are about the dishonest media. Trump even wants Saturday Night Live cancelled after Alec Baldwin’s dead-on impression of him. This rhetoric deflects from the numerous sexual assault accusations as well as distorts information without any proof. Again, the rhetorical strategy is to invoke fear and doubt. Again, Trump wants people to believe he knows better than the people IN the know.

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Look at the tweet above that says he can not believe he “lost large numbers of women voters based on made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED.” He deflected the blame on to the media, which is him stalling and ignoring the accusations of misconduct with women altogether.

The above examples show the repetitious ways Donald Trump instills the idea that accusations of sexual assault are fictional, the media is rigged and so is the election. Trump has every right to speak out against the inappropriate sexual conduct charges, but so do the women. All assault charges must be taken seriously, especially after a tape and several examples show he bragged about such behavior.

Truth

As for the media being rigged– the freedom of the press is a Constitutional right that helps make us a true democracy. The Newseum in Washington, D.C. has a wall that shows how many countries are censored. The museum is dedicated to celebrating our country’s news history. The press documents our country’s history–the good and the bad.

Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous, especially when he says he wants Saturday Night Live cancelled and blacklists news organizations from his campaign. If we take away the freedom of speech–we, as a country, are in danger of censorship, and having our country’s information solely controlled by people who think they know better. Yes, many probably say the media is already controlling the messages Americans receive–that is nothing new– but today there’s so many more choices that make it harder to decipher the true mission of the press. Journalists seek out the truth. Not many realize that journalists go by a code of ethics.

As for social media, a code of ethics are non existent. Social media is much like the Wild Wild West where anything and everything goes. Social media allows for Donald Trump’s rigged rhetoric to spread, clowns to terrorize cities and Facebook rumors to run rampant. The more repetitious a message–the more truth it may hold to the person reading those messages–especially if one shares stories through Facebook or Twitter. The opinion leaders, those that you trust the most in your life, may not have vetted the stories they share. Beware of the Share is my motto.

Social media is where the once voiceless has a voice. But, there’s a downside to gathering information through social media and the Internet. The Internet allows us all to narrow our media consumption. People can narrow their focus to only web sites that they may agree with. Before the Internet people read papers and watched local and national news. The messages were more contained. Now, messages are everywhere. Information is at everyone’s fingertips. With this access is where consipiracy theories, hoaxes, and urban legends permeate. What Americans need to remember when trying to find the truth is that the Internet can house many web sites that are considered alternative journalism with no real gatekeepers. Many political news web sites promote propaganda–catering to only one side of the story. The best news organizations will present both sides and allow you to formulate your own opinions. The best news organizations will also vet a story and provide evidence.

What the mainstream media does do is show people what is news. Donald Trump’s rhetoric is unlike any presidential candidate Americans have been exposed to. Donald Trump knows that if he wants to keep in the news– good or bad–his rhetoric has to be filled with bombastic words and empty arguments that make the media wondering what will he say next.

Trump knows how to sell his story.  He has had a successful reality show on NBC. Trump knows how to keep audiences interested. What Trump does well is create messages that keep the media trying to translate his message. Deflecting message on top of message. Trump is the king of vagueness.  He starts tweets with “Many people have said…” but without stating specifics. If you are a Hillary Clinton fan or a Donald Trump fan you can find media that caters to both party’s ideals. The mainstream media is concentrating on Hillary’s political scandals, but Donald Trump is louder that his words alone create his own problems.

Trump is now running not only against Hillary, but against the media. Trump allowed the media to control his message whereas Hillary’s campaign has controlled every single morsel of a soundbite. Trump blacklisted media organizations and insinuated censorship. A person who does not like being discussed in the media should get out of the media spotlight. Criticism will follow you. But, our country was built on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Even our forefathers loathed the media, but they realized that the media gave voice to the people and the media kept the poltical powers in check.

As for Twitter–this gives Trump the voice to combat the media. He has every right to keep posting to Twitter. It’s his right–his freedom. But, remember, repetition is a rhetorical strategy. And every time you keep seeing the word “rigged” in a tweet by Donald Trump–ask for evidence. Ask for facts from credible, and reliable sources– not sources that tell you what you want to hear.  Read several credible sources that challenge the way you might look at the story. Remember–language is powerful–and people who have power may not use it to your benefit.

 

 

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The State of the Union: A Speech- An Experience

by Dr. Janet Johnson on January 10, 2016

For the past two years, I’ve been lucky enough to watch the State of the Union at the White House with a chosen few Americans who like me–LOVE social media and LOVE politics. We tweeted, we instagramed, we facebooked. We engaged our friends to take part in our experience. I had students and friends tell me they wouldn’t have watched the speech otherwise.

I can’t tell you how honored I’ve been to have had that opportunity two years in a row. As we look forward to President Obama’s LAST State of the Union on Tuesday night, it’s important to show how in the past 8 years the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy has engaged more citizens to take part and engage in this annual January tradition of the President addressing the nation.

What prompted me to write this blog post?  Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman’s article Meeting People Where They Are: How the White House Office of Digital Strategy is preparing the 2016 State of the Union Address

Goldman’s article shares with you the most innovative State of the Union Americans will see yet. Emerging media allows The White House to expand on President Obama’s speech in interactive ways that allow citizens to not only listen, but actively engage in the content. Tuesday’s night speech will not just be a speech–but will make those citizens who take part through the Internet to have an experience.  The Office of Digital Strategy understands the multitask–mulitplatform– ways Americans consume media to gather messages. And that’s the point–how to engage citizens and deliver a message in ways citizens 1. understand 2. become more civic minded 3. and take action

—-

When I first attended the 2014  State of the Union Social, I started writing an article to capture the interactive approach the White House took to the annual ritual. I wanted to see how past Administrations engaged an audience and what may be transpiring as the White House became more digitally interactive during the State of the Union. Here’s a snippet of what I hope will emerge into a larger project–a book about political engagement in the age of Social Media. (remind me to send out that book proposal soon! So many ideas!)

President Obama’s Directive

The State of the Union has not always been this innovative. It started when President Obama, on May 23, 2012 issued a directive titled, “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” which stated,

It creates a space for citizens to become partners in building a better government, where “every man,” as Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs.[1]” (The White House 2012)

The White House has evolved since that 2012 directive and has created an interactive, and accessible government that didn’t exist before President Obama took office. When digital citizens are allowed access to government easily, one can assume citizens may take more initiatives than they did before the Internet. Through social media and the White House’s Web site, the President’s messages can then become viral in hopes more people will watch and take part in such events as the State of the Union address. The goal of the White House is to create an accessible, dialogical interactive White House where people can take part in the conversation.

[1] “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People WhiteHouse.gov, last modified May 23, 2012, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/egov/digital-government/digital-government.html.

A Short History of Technology and the State of the Union

The United States of America’s Constitution states in article 2, section 3 that the President, “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The one item the Constitution fails to mention is how this information is presented to Congress. In modern times the State of the Union address is carried out through a lot of pomp and ceremony where the President delivers his State of the Union address early in the year in front of Congress, usually in the evening. Typically, the audience listens and/or watches on television, radio, and most recently live streaming on the Internet. The State of the Union is a tradition that is not normally known to engage citizens—not until President Obama’s administration.

Today’s State of the Union Address is very different from what Americans were used to 224 years ago when George Washington delivered the first Annual Message to Congress. The Annual Message was given midday without much notice to inform Congress of the President’s plans. The message is typically a deliberative speech, which plans out future initiatives for the country.

George Washington gave the first Annual Message to Congress in 1790. Richard Teten explains Washington’s speech, “was little more than an update on the military situation of the day and was very brief.”[1] Thomas Jefferson decided to hand write his Annual Message to Congress. It is suspected Jefferson did not like public speaking and decided to let a clerk read his Annual Message.[2] Jefferson believed the Annual Message was like a king’s pronouncement and did not want to offend the American public.[3] Jefferson’s tradition lasted for almost 113 years until Woodrow Wilson, in 1913, decided to deliver his Annual Message to Congress in person.[4] This political tradition has been carried into modern times, and into the technological age. In 1923 President Calvin Coolidge was the first president to broadcast his State of the Union address on the radio.[5] The New York Times in 1923 reported,

Hundreds of stores dealing in radio apparatus caught the message and gave it out through loud speakers either inside their places of business or to knots of listeners on the sidewalk. So that downtown on every scattered business section of the various boroughs little groups of New Yorkers were drawn together to listen intently to the words of their President, not as embalmed text, but as living things while he was in the very act of speaking them. [6]

 For the first time, technology brought together groups of citizens. Citizens gathered to listen, which means many people discussed the issues the President spoke about in his speech to their friends. In fact, The Washington Post reported,

Radio is preeminently the instrument of mass appeal. In time, the prophecy goes, it will unite the world into one vast brotherhood. It will duplicate the change brought about in civilization by the printing press, travel by steam and electricity. [7](“Tune In” 1924)

In 1924, the radio made citizens feel as if they knew the President of the United States personally, “We can stare at hundred faces in a crowd, but we know nothing of their owners until we have heard them speak.”[8] Technology was bringing an important aspect to the Annual Message—civic engagement.

Technology continued to create more civic engagement. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman was the first president to televise his State of the Union address in the afternoon. The Washington Post reported how citizens watched Truman’s address at the Statler Hotel:

Three television sets with 12 by 15 inch screens were located strategically about the bustling room. They enabled customers to sip their drinks, see and hear the President, and take life easy with all the aplomb of listening to an after dinner speaker.[9]

The television not only allowed people to hear the President’s voice, but they were able to see him deliver his speech. The level of civic engagement increased.

By 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to increase the size of his audience and deliver his State of the Union address during the evening known as prime time television. President Johnson wanted to engage not only Congress, but the citizens watching from home:

For his appearance last night, the President relied on the invisible prompting devise that he favors. But many times he looked directly at the camera rather than at the members of Congress. This personal touch emphasized that the State of the Union Address is not only a report to Congress but also to the people. [10]

The New York Times reported that by scheduling the speech during prime time—more people would be home from work watching with their children. The overall goal was to double and triple the size of the audience.[11] President Lyndon B. Johnson changed how Presidents delivered their speech. Television made Presidents realize that this was technology could bring politicians closer to their constituents. Just as President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped other Presidents realize the power of radio. Roosevelt’s fireside chats created a more informed and engaged electorate.

It was not until President Reagan who transformed the State of the Union into what it is today—an engaging experience for the people watching from home in their living rooms. President Reagan was the first, “ who signaled the new order in 1982 when he pointed to the gallery to honor Lenny Skutnik, the man who had dived into the icy Potomac to save a woman after a plane crash.”[12] Reagan not only addressed Congress, but also chose to create an emotional experience. Reagan set the precedence for the modern approach of delivering the State of the Union.

Today’s media landscape, a president has to compete with more than two types of media. Martin P. Wattenberg in “The Changing Presidential Media Environment” explains, “In some sense, the presidency is a less powerful position than it used to be as presidents have lost the ability to communicate their messages to a broad cross-section of the American public anytime they see fit.”[13] Wattenberg adds that people used to learn about a president’s message on television or the newspaper.[14] The Internet has brought television, print, and even radio into one place where especially young people may not be seeking out the specifics of the State of the Union Address.

—-

Today, the White House is creating a more dialogical interactive media atmosphere.  I’ll let Mikhail Bakhtin explain why the White House’s interactive atmosphere is creating a deeper rhetorical dialogue with the American citizen.

 Social Media and Dialogism

Bud Davis (2013) studied Twitter and its intertextuality and polyphonic structure. His article shows how “Twitter embodies an intertextual exchange of messages and opinions by which each tweet is connected with another, whether written in response to an event or another’s post” (18). When the White House created their Twitter account, their voices, and citizens merged into an exchange of messages that create a dialogical interaction that should benefit the political process. This dialogical interaction can be explained by Bakhtin’s term polyphony to explain the dialogue that was present in literary novels, but today we can show how Twitter has created this dialogical interactive world that the White House uses to interact and engage with citizens. Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson explain in their book Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics,

The polyphonic author, in short, necessarily plays two roles in the work: he creates a world in which many disparate points of view enter into dialogue, and, in quite distinct role, he himself participates in that dialogue. He is one of the interlocutors in the “great dialogue” that he himself has created” (239).

The White House is the polyphonic author when they create a dialogical interactive community through social media by creating hashtags, and other interactive measures. The White House is creating a world where different points of view enter into the dialogue and the White House itself participates in the conversation. Through Web sites like Twitter, “Every word in such a dialog speech is directed toward its object, but at the same time reacts intensely to the world of the other person, answering it and anticipating it” (Bakhtin 163). The White House and citizens’ s posts then become a dialogue, which both the White House and citizens anticipate each other’s responses. When U.S. Presidents gave their State of the Union speeches, citizens did not have the ability to share their public opinions in real time or create a dialogue with politicians, or even the White House. Davis explains, “Aides now more than ever must listen to how and what constituents are talking about. This should be a point to be celebrated in the political sphere because it contains the potential for widespread civic engagement and discourse” (21).

Since the White House developed a more social attitude by using social media tools outside the static Web site, the creation of a dialogical interactive world between the White House and citizens create a beneficial dialogical exchange that 20 years ago did not exist while watching the State of the Union. The White House creates this dialogical interactive space to engage citizens, even if they respond positively or negatively. Overall, The White House has created a dialogue to help understand public opinion because “The proper way to understand others is not ‘psychologically’ but dialogically” (Morson and Emerson 1990 267).

President Obama’s last State of the Union address on Tuesday night is definitely when you’ll see The White House’s Office of Digital Strategy at its finest. Engaging in conversation, Engaging in the media platforms, Engaging in creating an experience, Engaging to understand public opinion.

My advice to you as you listen to the speech–Think about what Presidential candidates are saying vs. what the speech is saying. What do you agree with? What don’t you agree with? What do YOU want to see in the next President? Next January a new administration takes over The White House. How do you want the future to look? I just hope innovativeness of the Digital Strategy Office keeps finding new ways to engage and inform citizens to continue this conversation.

 


[1] Richard Teten, “Evolution of the Modern Rhetorical Presidency: Presidential Presentation and Development of the State of the Union Address.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 33, no. 2 (June 2003): 337.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid

[6] Special to The New York Times. “Article 1—No Title,” The New York Times, December, 7, 1923.

[7] “Tune in the First Radio President,” The Washington Post, June 1, 1924.

[8] Ibid

[9] “Article 2-no Title.,” The Washington Post, January, 7, 1947.

[10] Gould, Jack, “TV:Johnson Talk at Night Welcomed,” New York Times, January 5, 1965.

[11] Ibid

[12] Nunberg, Geoffrey, “Heeeer’s George!; The Speech That Turns Mere Presidents Into Talk Show Hosts,” New York Times, February 2, 2003.

[13] Wattenberg, Martin P, “The Changing Presidential Media Environment,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 34, no. 3 (September 2004): 571.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Diana Owen and Richard Davis, “Presidential Communication in the Internet Era,” Presidential Quarterly 38, no. 4 (December 2008): 659.

[16] Ibid, 665.

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid, 666.

 

 

 

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The Rhetorical Twitter: The Political Language in a Candidate’s Tweets

August 9, 2015

The post GOP Debate is somewhat better than the debate itself. As I’ve monitored the Twitter feed for selected candidates–I have found that most candidates are on point with sending clear and consistent messages through Twitter–except for one candidate and that is Donald Trump. He is consistently not telling me about his campaign. I just […]

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#GOPDebate: The React and Attack approach in the Social Media Age

August 7, 2015

The #GOPDebate had two debates. The “Happy Hour” debate, which consisted of seven candidates with the lowest poll numbers and then the prime-time debate, which consisted of the ten candidates with the highest poll numbers. I missed the first debate, but watching the clips it looks like an interesting twist of events with Carly Fiorina […]

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Digital Citizen Month #DigCitizen Interview

July 9, 2015

On July 2 I was interviewed by Ananda Leeke about what digital citizenship means to me. Ananda Leeke and I met at the State of the Union Social in 2014. We have stayed in touch because we are both passionate about digital citizenship/public engagement. The interview was a casual conversation that really inspired me because […]

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2008 to 2016: Hillary Clinton’s Social Media Presidential Campaigns

May 22, 2015

I saw a tweet from former senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer that said:   This tweet reminded me of what I discussed in my dissertation about what Hillary’s 2008 Presidential Campaign lacked: Engagement. In my dissertation I rhetorically analyzed Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain’s campaign blogs. I collected 188 campaign blog posts from Hillary’s campaign website, 1, 491 […]

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Technology in The White House: From the Telegraph to Twitter

May 19, 2015

When I finished my dissertation in 2010 about the 2008 United States Presidential Campaign, my first chapter traced the history of technology through Presidential Campaigns to show the dialogical interaction between candidate and electorate. But, when new technology becomes popular in a campaign the same technology becomes a significant part of the White House. Today, I feel as […]

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Live from the Global Village: Live streaming with Value

April 18, 2015

In the past couple of weeks I have monitored the live streaming applications MeerKat and Periscope. Each time I click on a live stream–I am never sure what I will end up watching–sometimes it’s interesting and sometimes I think regular people should not be allowed to have smart phones. Marshall McLuhan explained the global village: As electrically […]

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Is it about What you Say or Who you Are?: Challenging the Public and Private sphere in the Digital Age

March 31, 2015

The recent events at The University of Oklahoma and the Hillary Clinton emailgate controversy is a teaching moment for everyone who uses technology to communicate. Mobile technology creates a vague definition of what is public and what is private. The screens we look at each day keeps us disconnected from what we know to be […]

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#SocialCivics: A Challenge for the Digital Citizen

March 26, 2015

Today, I read an article by the new White House Chief Digital Officer, Jason Goldman (@goldman). His role, he says in his article The Internet, The White House and You (and Me) is,, “to help create more meaningful online engagement between government and American citizens.” Then Goldman asks for the American citizen’s help: Here’s what I would […]

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