“Our economy is booming like never before,” (Trump) declared Trump at a political rally in West Virginia on September 29th. This particular rally was held in support of Republican Party nominee Patrick Morrisey’s mid-term run for the U.S senate. While speaking to thousands of screaming supporters, Trump, at one point, and in under 60 seconds, makes six different false claims about the Democratic Party. The first is a claim that democrats are trying to “take away” the second amendment. The second was that democrats want to “take over American healthcare and destroy it.” (Trump) Next, Trump proclaimed the democrats want to turn America into Venezuela, “Venezuela, big version.” (Trump) After this he professes that democrats also want to “erase America’s borders.” (Trump) Trump also declared that the democrats want to turn the courts into the “political arm of the democratic resistance.” (Trump) Finally, he asserts that the democratic senator from West Virginia had voted against tax cuts for American families. (Trump) Each and every one of these claims is a complete fallacy and is easily debunked.
Back in 2012, President Obama did try and put forth some mild gun reform, but the plan was bipartisan and was far from an effort to repeal the second amendment. (McCarthey) Trump’s claim that the democrats want to destroy healthcare may be referring to a push from a small number of democrats to move to a single payer healthcare system. Single payer healthcare systems have proven time and time again to produce better outcomes at a fraction of the cost. (DeMoro) That being said, only a small number of dems are pushing for this. If Trump is referring to the Affordable Care Act, someone should inform him that that system was created by a right wing think tank called the Heritage Foundation and was first implemented by republican Gov. Mitt Romney in his home state of Massachusetts. (Jacobson) Last year at a town hall meeting, democratic house minority leader Nancy Pelosi was asked about possibly socializing elements of the economy to which she replied, “We are capitalists; that’s all there is to it.” (Pelosi) So, the claim that the democrats would somehow like to turn America into a socialist country that in any way resembles Venezuela is preposterous. Almost as preposterous as making the claim that democrats want to “erase America’s borders” — a position that has never been held by the Democratic Party. (Qiu) In fact, President Obama deported more people than any president in U.S. history. (Sacchetti) An August 29th article in The Hill, reports that democratic senate minority leader Chuck “Schumer… agreed to expedite consideration of 20 Trump nominees — 15 judicial nominees and five executive branch appointments.” (Bolton) This can hardly be seen as the democrats trying to “turn our courts into the political arm of the democratic resistance. The last claim was that the democrats voted against a tax cut for American families. In reality, Trump’s tax bill was a tax cut for corporations and the rich with 82% of the benefits going to the top 1%. (Delaney)
If the logos of Trump’s statements can be so easily debunked, then what is it that makes his style of rhetoric resonate with many people? Who is the audience to which this style of rhetoric resonates? There is more than one answer to this question. According to a recent Gallup poll, public confidence in the media is at an “all time low.” (Swift) This makes it possible for Trump to call everything that falls outside of his desired narrative “fake news.” By pointing out what many people already think (that corporate news cannot be trusted) he gains credibility (ethos) in some people’s eyes, which, in turn, opens the door for him to create his own alternative narrative.
Another factor that gains Trump undue ethos is the failure of both American political parties to improve average Americans’ lives. This has led to the resentment of politicians, Republican and Democrat, throughout the country. Trump posed as an outsider opposed to the status quo, an outsider opposed to what many view as a corrupt system. People in America are hurting: a lack of good paying jobs, homelessness, drug addiction, a lack of access to health services (including mental health), and the dismantling of the public school system. These realities have chipped away at the psyche of Trump’s constituents and indeed many Americans. This leaves America susceptible to this type of rhetoric. The system’s failure and corruption feed Trump’s ethos. Trump’s ethos is dependent on his ability to somehow appear outside that status quo.
One cannot ignore the manner in which Trump chooses to invoke an emotional response in his audience. One tactic he employs, is to speak in a kind of code with a specific audience in mind who will be able to decipher his intended meaning. This technique is referred to as “dog-whistle” politics. (Lopez 4) Some historical examples of dog-whistle slogans would be: “welfare queens,” “illegals,” “food-stamp president,” “super-predators,” or Trump’s own, “bad hombres.” Democrats have never been for “erasing America’s borders.” So, when Trump says that they are,” he is whistling to those with an uninformed, xenophobic view on immigration and indeed politics in general.
Trump’s style of political rhetoric is nothing new; in Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, Stanley writes that “the most telling sign of fascist politics is division.” (Stanley xvi) Fascist politicians attempt to push an “us” vs. “them” mentality on the population. (Stanley xvi) These politicians attempt to create a “mythic past to support their vision of the present,” (Stanley xvi) or in Trump’s case, the future. MAGA hat anyone? Trump’s references to Venezuela, his open borders comments, as well as the way in which he is portraying democrats are examples of the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Trump’s blaming of immigrants for economic issues is another classic tool of fascist politics. As is often the case, fascists create an alternate reality where the dominant group are convinced they are somehow the victims. (xvii) Trump’s adversaries will detract no matter what he says, and he knows this. Trump’s goal with this speech, and for most of his rhetoric, is to push his agenda while appearing to push the agenda of his constituents, all while crafting fallacies, strategically misinforming his base more and more. In this Trump is a tremendous success.
Bolton, Alexander. Left knocks Schumer over deal on judges ahead of Supreme Court battle. 29 August 2018. News Communications Inc. 4 October 2018. <https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/404204-left-knocks-schumer-over-deal-on-judges-ahead-of-supreme-court-battle>. “McConnell and Schumer on Tuesday agreed to expedite consideration of 20 Trump nominees — 15 judicial nominees and five executive branch appointments.” This story and this quote prove Trump’s claim that Democrats “want to turn the courts the political arm of the Democratic resistance” he is lying. The Hill is a well-known main stream news outlet that specializes in American politics.
CNN. Pelosi: Democrats are capitalists. 31 January 2017. CNN. 3 October 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR65ZhO6LGA>. This quote is from the Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi is a primary source. It was in response to a question about alternative economic systems. This quote is to disprove Trump’s assertion that the Democrats want to turn the U.S. into “Venezuela” which is a socialist country.
Delaney, Authur. Richest 1 Percent Get 82 Percent Of Benefit Of Final Tax Bill Over Time. 18 December 2017. 11 October 2018. <https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gop-tax-bill-wealthy-benefit_us_5a381cf4e4b0860bf4aa4b6c>.
DeMoro, RoseAnn. A growing movement for single-payer health care By RoseAnn DeMoro Sep. 18, 2017. 18 September 2017. 8 October 2018. <https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/A-growing-movement-for-single-payer-health-care-12207072.php>.
Jacobson, Louis. Obama says Heritage Foundation is source of health exchange idea. 1 April 2010. 9 October 2018. <https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/apr/01/barack-obama/obama-says-heritage-foundation-source-health-excha/>.
Lopez, Ian Haney. Dog Whistle Politics : How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
McCarthy, Tom. A perennial American question: why has gun control failed?3 October 2017. Guardian News. 4 2018 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/03/gun-control-america-failed-las-vegas>. “Two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, sponsored a bill that would have imposed universal background checks for commercial gun purchases, including at gun shows and over the internet.” This article and this quote refute Trump’s claim that “The Democrats are trying to take away your 2ndamendment.” It proves the legislation put forth was bi-partisan and would not have repealed the 2nd amendment. The Guardian is a well-known, world-wide mainstream news outlet.
Qiu, Linda. No, Democrats Don’t Want ‘Open Borders’. 27 June 2018. The New York Times Company. 4 October 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/us/politics/fast-check-donald-trump-democrats-open-borders.html>. “No, Democrats Don’t Want ‘Open Borders’”. This is the headline of an article in which the author explains why Trump’s claim that “The Democrats want open borders” is a complete fallacy. The New York Times is the most well known and respected newspaper in the country.
Sacchetti, Maria. Trump is deporting fewer immigrants than Obama, including criminals. 10 August 2017. 12 October 2018. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/trump-is-deporting-fewer-immigrants-than-obama-including-criminals/2017/08/10/d8fa72e4-7e1d-11e7-9d08-b79f191668ed_story.html?utm_term=.fa70c38f59f6>.
Stanley, Jason. How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. New York: Random House, 2018.
Swift, Art. American’s Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low. 14 September 2016. Gallup. 5 October 2018. <https://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx>.
Trump, Donald. President Donald Trump Holds Rally In West Virginia | NBC News. 29 September 2018. 2 October 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf66YQhB4v0>. This speech by Donald Trump is the basis for this entire rhetorical analysis. It is a primary source.