Clinton vs. Trump: the political rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election (2)
Clinton vs. Trump: the political rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election, or is it simple truth or simply stupid?
The American sensibility defies understanding. If you want to understand the nature and impact of the political rhetoric of the Clinton vs. Trump presidential election debate, you have to work through certain assumptions.
- The population of the United States descended from immigrants. Even the First Nations’ indigenous people crossed the Bering Straits from Russia.
- The polyglot citizens spread across North America where deserts, mountains, swamps, and rivers shaped their settlement, tastes, and interests over the centuries.
- Its culture is always in transition. Once distinct regional characteristics have eroded. Population clusters, and sweeping economic changes redefine its class system.
- Its people do not vote. Only 60-70% of those eligible register to vote, and according to Pew Research, those who do vote represent only 35% of the population.
- Divisions according to race, religion, and sexual orientation make a lot of news, but these characteristics offer no solid correlation with voting habits. Each population pocket has layered and fluid socio-economic preferences.
- Its government is not a democracy. It is a republic that requires its voters to select electors who then elect the president. Moreover, its constitution respects a delicate and confusing balance between federal and states’ rights.
This might explain American humorist George Carlin’s advice on the American electorate: “never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
The American populace believes its republic is a Holy Experiment. It’s a singular attempt in human history to follow Christ’s invocation in Matthew (5: 14): “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Believing that God is not finished with them yet, Americans assume that all will be well. Their heritage, marked by the continuing peaceful transfer of leadership, will continue.
Complicated as their character is, Americans are at core a simple people. They never endured a lengthy experience with the Renaissance, the Baroque, the Gothic, or the Romantic. They like their language clear and useful. They trust and tend to take people at their word.
The taste for simple things
Americans do not like highfalutin prose. Working class, farm, and merchant origins shaped United States English. It grew past the music of Melville and shadows of Hawthorne towards the dry and wry lingo of Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie. In its rush to ditch everything European, the culture opted for the quick hip dialogue of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Even the brilliance of Ezra Pound and T.E. Eliot reflect its Anglo-Saxon footings.
Congregational preachers shaped its political prose. And, modern English has been governed more by the utilitarian styles of Theodore Dreiser and Raymond Carver than by the soaring stylings of William F. Buckley, Jr. or Rep. Barbara Jordan.
The words of most political figures belong to their speech writers and strategists. Still, you only have their words to go by: the simple elegance of Franklin Roosevelt, the mid-western directness of Harry Truman, and the poetic patterns of John F. Kennedy. Americans have always chosen the “aw shucks” straightforward voices of Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush over the intellectual approaches of Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore, and John Kerry.
Americans like their politics served simple. And, at the fringe of this taste lie those many drawn to the rhetoric of the likes of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.
The talk radio world
Talk radio, mastered by reactionary right-wing pundits, has done much too define the common ground. If political rhetoric needs a reasonable debate on a level playing field, talk radio has violated that ground. They demonize everyone and everything left of their position with:
- fast-paced banter filled with pejorative claims
- appeals to spite, emotion, and fear
- ad hominem and ad populum attacks, and
- self-righteous appeal to the stone, argument of repetition, and begging the question.
The laws of physics start at a point of reference in time and place from which you can observe universal things. Its definition of “relativity” begins at a point from which observation makes sense. Science finds no laws unless there is a logical process that reason rules.
But, the U.S. 2016 presidential election campaign is playing out in a world corrupted by deconstructionism where values are subjective by nature and before an electorate not always willing or able to differentiate between the simple truth and the simply stupid.
(The next segment of this analysis will examine the specific techniques and patterns of the political rhetoric of Clinton vs. Trump.)