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Trump: King of the Ad Hominem

March 14, 2016

On March 3rd, Mitt Romney made an impassioned speech at the University of Utah. What’s interesting about the speech was its rhetorical purpose: Don’t Vote For Trump.

It’s something we don’t see too often. Most public figures give speeches for the purpose of endorsing a particular candidate, so it was interesting to see the opposite: someone coming out specifically to oppose a particular candidate. Though Romney mentions several other GOP hopefuls, he never specifically endorses one in particular—more recently he’s joined the Kasich campaign—but simply states that he would choose any of them over Trump. He also sticks to foreign and domestic policy issues for the most part, though he attacks Trump’s reputation as a businessman (“phony”) and potential leader (“flimsy”).

And this, too, makes his speech unique, in that it was largely free of what has become the hallmark of this campaign season: ad hominem attacks.

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3 Assumptions to Avoid Making about Women this Election Season

February 19, 2016

Politics are nearly unavoidable this time of year. In the last few months, the GOP and Democratic candidates have spoken at rallies, held town halls, and participated in debates (sometimes not so well). Amidst the political scene, I often find myself in discussions with friends and colleagues about who’s said what and the extent to which we agree. In these conversations there inevitably comes a moment where some form of criticism is brought against a candidate. Perhaps not surprisingly, some reproach is often directed toward one of the Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton. Interestingly, on several occasions a male in the group, gesturing in my direction, will suddenly rein in their criticism of Clinton with, “Oh—sorry, no offense.”

This does not offend me. Often their arguments are well reasoned and to my mind make no personal attacks. Why then, would they think I might be offended? While my own work has considered Clinton as a case study to examine issues of identity and representation in the media, more often than not the people from whom these statements come are not aware of that fact. So what is it? Why do they assume I would be offended?

Without realizing it, assumptions like these are frequently made in political and everyday discourse—particularly in relation to women. Interactions such as the one described above represent just one instance where the taken-for-granted can cause confusion, and sometimes disagreement. In this presidential election, it’s difficult to go a day without hearing something about who I should vote for, so I’d like to break down a few assumptions that are often made about female voters:

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Marco Rubio’s debate blockage: repetitive rhetoric and bullshit

February 10, 2016

You may have been watching the Republican debate on February 6th and felt a moment of déjà vu while listening to Marco Rubio rail on Barack Obama. If you didn’t watch the debate, you likely have heard of Rubio’s “glitch” as it’s been dubbed (and mocked by a Twitter account, Marco Rubio Glitch). This suggests Rubio has been revealed to be robotic, programmed or that he is otherwise non-human. Rubio’s repetition of almost exactly the same line four times (and twice in a matter of minutes under pressure from Chris Christie), pulled back the curtain on the difference between rhetoric and pure bullshit.

Repetition is a powerful rhetorical strategy that, explained by any rhetorician’s best buds, Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, increases the feeling of presence in an audience. Done well, repetition sticks in our heads like the chorus of “Who Let the Dogs Out” has been stuck in mine for the past fifteen years. Political oratory would lose one of its most powerful rhetorical devices without repetition. Think to our most famous American speeches: MLK, Jr’s “I Have a Dream,” and FDR’s “I Hate War,” for example. In Obama’s 2011 jobs bill speech, he repeated the line, “Pass this jobs bill” eight times (found, surprisingly, in a rhetorical analysis of the speech on Of course, advertisers also know well the power of repetition, doing whatever they can to make a jingle stick, and this lesson can be deployed in many other situations where we seek to gain the adherence of minds (as George Costanza knows well).

So why did Rubio’s repetition fail so miserably?

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The Rhetoric of Trump’s Battle

January 11, 2016

In his 1939 essay “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle,” Kenneth Burke sought to look past the common phrases associated with Adolf Hitler: “evil,” “twisted,” and “monster.” He did not ignore Hitler’s abominable actions but instead proposed that we should “try also to discover what kind of ‘medicine’ this medicine-man has concocted…if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America” (149). Burke wrote that Hitler found a remedy or cure for what ailed the German people after the economic collapse following World War I. Burke told us to observe the “cards [left] face up on the table” and “inspect [his] magic” (150).

I do not intend to attempt to illustrate a clear comparison between the actions of Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump as doing so would ignore the situation at-hand: Trump’s suasory. Instead, I aim to take a look at Trump’s “cards” in an effort to understand why and how Donald Trump has become popular within right-wing politics. Doing so may allow us to better understand Trump’s rising popularity as a result of his manipulating of bodies: human bodies, bodies of power, and the body politic. Burke sets up his essay in four sections. I have set up this post using the same sections in an effort, not to simply repeat Burke’s writings, but to illustrate Trump’s successful attempts to persuade voters and potential opportunities for us to critique his dangerous approaches to solving the problems we face.


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Black Lives Matter? What’s in a Name.

December 14, 2015

Over the past few months, Black Lives Matter (BLM) supporters have disrupted political rallies held by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  One supporter was attacked and wrestled to the ground at a Donald Trump event.  The increased in popularity of the BLM movement has provoked controversy over the name black lives matters and of their motives.  BLM supporters have been very aggressive both in promoting their cause and confronting those (both supporters and opposers)  who fail to use the group’s name correctly.   Read more…

ISIS = Global Warming?

December 1, 2015

In a recent speech, which marked the end of his time at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, President Obama tried to be frank.

“I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy, and the second largest emitter” the President stated in speech you can find here. “That the United States not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.”

And while it is refreshing (pun intended) to hear the nation’s leader owning up and committing to work toward a legally binding agreement for cutting carbon emissions, he took an interesting rhetorical route to get there.

He compared the Islamic State (ISIS) to global climate change.

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No Way to Prevent This

October 12, 2015

In a society where mass shootings have become semi-regular occurrences, where impending tragedy seems to stalk the halls of schools across the country, and where a single person’s mental illness (or extreme frustration or crippling loneliness) can radically alter the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals, there doesn’t seem to be room for humor.

And there shouldn’t be, not really. But for a “news outlet” like The Onion, where humor, irony, and sarcasm provide a lens through which to view current events, does that mean they are not allowed to participate in the discussion?


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