Clinton vs. Trump: the political rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election (1)

Clinton vs. Trump: the political rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election, or my “I” is bigger than yours.

(This is the first in a series that explores the conditions that enable the climate in which Clinton vs. Trump dominate the news and so many lives. With so much depending on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the only real discussion of the political rhetoric involved is left to the same broadcast pundits who contribute to the problem.

This introduction to the history hopes to define “rhetoric” in a meaningful and useful way. Only this history will present a context from which to assess the mechanics and effects of the debate.)

Logic preceded Plato. Logic was considered an intellectual construct that reflected the correlation of forms and forces in the universe. Long before Plato and far from Greece, logic was building wheels, irrigating fields, and studying the stars. It used the forces of nature, integrated shapes and forms, and leveraged weapons to expand political power. Logic built arcs, studied acoustics, and sought to prove the nature of gods. But, the political rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election that pits Hilary Clinton against Donald Trump defies that history.

From the ancients

To define “rhetoric,” you look at the practice of Plato who used logic to inform and persuade his students. His models governed all Western thought as long as that world was structured in the supposition that there was order to life and order to be sought throughout life.

Aristotle defined “rhetoric” using similar methods. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle defined “rhetoric” as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” It is the comprehensive study of the effective use of language and writing. Importantly, effective is the only metric to success here. There is no reference to speaking morally, truthfully, or ethically.

In time, Cicero would label the rhetorician as “a person that can adapt to any rhetorical setting,” but, in time, Quintilian would assert that it is the result in persuasion is not enough, for rhetoric is the art of “good men speaking well.” Censors, like Cato, served as referees during debate to keep speakers on track and whistle “foul” in the face of logic fallacies, all under the assumption that there was a right and wrong way to be effective in persuasion.

Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, and Thomas More, among other dominant voices would continue this logic and so structure Western thought. Comparable minds less burdened with linguistics would pioneer the natural and hard sciences, for the same logic informs the scientific method.

To the deconstructionists

Without giving him too much credit, Jacques Derrida did too much to eviscerate the structured zeitgeist that had governed humankind throughout known history. Belaboring the obvious subjectivity of vocabulary, he removed any point of reference. Misreading advances in physics, he deified relativity and made all “truths” unfounded, unwarranted, and unachievable.

Political candidate and voters born into and of the Western world in the last three generations know no option. If they stand for something, it means little. Consequently, anything said or position taken lacks accountability, justification, or consequence. A forceful ego takes trumps any facts, figures, and issues because it all comes down to the size of the personality; the risk is that all will come down to “my ‘I’ is bigger than yours.”

And so, the world is left bare to the outrageous political rhetoric of Clinton vs. Trump in the U.S. presidential election. With no truth of substance worth analysis, no common ground of agreed principles, and no confidence in things solid or verifiable, the conflict approaches the absurd which, in itself, is ironic and ultimately comical if this did not involve the governance of the most significant political experiment in history.


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