It’s Pop-Up Rhetoric time again!
Pop-Up Rhetoric is a video series where I analyze parts of speeches and other communications. This lets you see how rhetoric works, how it infuses our communication even without us recognizing the devices and strategies at work.
The latest Pop-Up Rhetoric video looks at the last few minutes of Trump’s recent State of the Union address. For the Pop-Up Rhetoric analyses, I don’t look at the ideas being presented, just at the rhetorical strategies being used. I try to keep these focused on communication analysis and not political commentary.
Now as far as political speeches go, I thought this one was pretty boring. In the video introduction, I say that it was solid, bog-standard, run-of-the-mill, “safe.” This is despite Trump putting forth narrative and policy proposals that many found revolting. So why do I classify this speech as “safe?”
Because Trump and his speechwriters went out of their way to appeal to and soothe their base: he makes lots of statements designed to speak right to his evangelical voter base – they’re woven throughout the entire speech.
The policies that he introduces are not surprising in the least (no new information, really). While he makes the required noises about seeking bipartisan collaboration, he provides absolutely no specific actions as to how that will happen – no promises are made.
Most of the time is spent telling stories of people who embody various American ideals*. This is a safe way to appeal to people’s sense of belonging and patriotism.
When bringing up hot button issues like immigration, he focused on gangs and violence – no one will argue that this is bad, though many will rightly reject laying the blame on immigrants’ feet. But a frank address of the DACA issue was avoided.
These patterns and tactics were repeated throughout the speech. They really played it safe, and to be honest…it was a bit boring.Trump & his speechwriters played it safe with the #StateOfTheUnion address. To be honest, it was a bit boring. #SOTU https://youtu.be/YRdHfTmmtWg Click To Tweet
What was interesting, though, was the strategy of using devices that create a reverent, almost prayer-like feel to many parts of the speech. This is hardly a tactic limited to Trump or politicians with strong faith leanings. Prayer-like reverence is frequently used to stoke feelings of nationalism and patriotism (for good or for ill).
Here are those strategies – I’ll be pointing them out throughout the clip:
- Parallelism – clauses or phrases with similar structure or rhythmic elements (sounds great and can even be a bit hypnotic)
- Commonplace – an idea your audience holds in common – a thing we all know and believe. Commonplaces are more emotional than logical and help create tribal identity.
- Litany – a repetitive recitation or list of sacred ideas/petitions. This is a very “prayer-like” strategy and can be used in an entirely secular manner to help create feelings of reverential patriotism.
And now, for your viewing pleasure (?), the Pop-Up Rhetorication of the 2018 State of the Union Address
(If the video doesn’t load, please click here to watch it directly on YouTube)
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*I think that the speechwriters were a bit overenthusiastic on this point. While the stories were inspiring and the people in them remarkable, it felt a little bloated.