Previously, in my Exploration, I wondered about HRC’s ethos as communicated to voters and took up the question of how her image of untrustworthiness (purveyed by certain media sources) emerged over the many years her leadership has been scrutinized in the public eye. Clinton has created an image of masculinity to convince us of her ability to be an effective politician, but the fact that she isn’t the male leader we’re used to seeing in government offices makes some wary of her intentions. Even when she uses feminine markers in her campaign rhetoric, in line with public expectations of gender stereotypes, some people find it difficult to connect with her on an emotional level, and she is aware of this rhetorical gap. For all of her efforts to work with the gender binary to give her a political advantage or resist it to prove her efficacy as a commander-in-chief (war hawk), even Clinton acknowledges that she isn’t a natural politician.
But what does it mean to be a natural politician? Perhaps it means having a determined (and fundamentally likeable) persona; a strong message that aligns perfectly with said persona; and, for a presidential candidate, a focused campaign slogan that clearly delivers the distinct persona and on-brand message. So did HRC lack a strong oratorial ethos?
When it comes to ethos, Hillary Clinton takes just as much care, if not more, to build up that of her audience as she does her own. Her campaign message alone of “Stronger Together” implied the values of inclusion, collectivity, and teamwork. She didn’t shine the spotlight on herself, rarely using the word “I.” It appears that the most frequent use of “I” was found in the slogan “I’m With Her” which emphasizes the supporter, his active choice of HRC as his presidential candidate and how he is one stable unit with his nominee. Even though I thought her slogan did reasonably well to establish her ethos, many others disagreed and expressed their apathy or anger by failing to cast their vote or voting against her candidacy.
My synthesis led me to the question of her leadership style to see how it might have affected her presidential campaign. Now that I have decided to find out more about silence and listening as rhetorical strategies, my focus has shifted from ethos to pathos, the use of emotion in debate or argument.
This panel from Losh Alex’s Understanding Rhetoric underscores the ubiquitousness of appeals to pathos, especially in visual arguments. That is, images contribute to pathos just as much as words. This understanding of the relationship between pathos and images led me to consider silence as a form of nonverbal communication.
In my inquiry into the rhetoric of silence, I have found that silence can be a method of exerting power in a manner similar to speech. Rather than a “lamentable essence of femininity, a trope for oppression, passivity, emptiness, stupidity, or obedience (Glenn 2),”silence can be strategic and expressive in a multifunctional way.
Rhetors use silence as a strategic choice to convey understanding, invite, or persuade (Glenn 16). Even silence as an enforced position may still “reveal positive or negative abilities, fulfilling or withholding traits, harmony or disharmony, success or failure…silence can deploy power; it can defer to power” (Glenn 15).
This NYT journalist presents some notable insights into the silent communication of Hillary Clinton and her opponent during the first presidential debate of 2016. He watched it with the sound muted and the results illuminated just how loud body language can be: he finds Clinton’s face to be smug at certain moments, amidst an overall calm demeanor, while Trump’s expressions managed to come across as loud and brash, even without sound. Moreover, Clinton makes few hand movements while Trump’s hand is barely contained, cutting through the air erratically and petulantly. When she does raise a finger to make a point, her expression, as pictured below, is one of self-assuredness, contrasting with Trump’s furrowed brow conveying reactionary anger.
Clinton controls her emotional expression for the most part, concealing any distaste for Trump’s wild antics, except for those odd moments of delight (verging on smugness) that punctuate her verbal silence. Of course, we cannot neglect to mention “the most telling moment of the evening,” her attention-grabbing shoulder shimmy that signaled a checkmate and unconcealable relief. It was a gesture of victory mixed with a sigh of relief and an expression of certitude. I can picture two overlapping thought bubbles rising over her head, an “It’s my time to shine!” alongside a “Finally, Donald, you’ve said something so inane that there’s no way the conscious public will vote for you now.” It was clear to the reporter that she had prepared assiduously for this performance, and as the debate wore on, her “studied serenity” gave way to an increasing giddiness, presumably that her work had paid off.
Compare Jonathan Mahler’s commentary on Clinton,
“She seemed determined to make sure that her body language and facial expressions didn’t communicate frustration or irritation — see Al Gore in 2000 — no matter what her opponent said. And she seemed equally determined to appear to be having fun.”
with his observation of Trump:
He’s more expressive while listening than most people are while speaking.
With his increasingly agitated body language, Trump clearly announced his character as “someone who is restless, impassioned, emphatic and at times belligerent,” while Clinton appeared rehearsed at best and calculating at worst, Mahler implies.
Clinton’s stilted visual delivery may have contributed to her Electoral College loss, but she still won the popular vote. How can we explain this phenomenon rhetorically?
Going back to Losh Alex’s cartoon on rhetoric, rhetors may use pathos to promote sympathy and even generate kind words. Lucinda Franks, quoted in Glenn’s Unspoken, writes, “Though [Hillary Clinton] hates playing the victim, public sympathy has transmuted her from a scary political termagant into a woman widely admired for her courage” (102). Clinton managed to communicate the virtue of courage to certain sympathetic voters through her strategic mixing of silence and speech.
“She has it both ways: she speaks yet says nothing revealing, the most strategic response, perhaps, to a cultural double bind that offers her either speech or respect but not both” (Glenn 102)
Here, Glenn equates silence with respect, as the safer option than speech, which often fails us (4). Yet Clinton chose to speak out as she saw fit on the issues that mattered to her.
Glenn remarks that “the First Lady has, for years, faced that choice between speech and respect, often choosing speech and suffering the consequences of being perceived as a pushy, bitchy, androgynous Lady Macbeth. Her public silence on public matters, however, has served to offer her respite in an even stranger paradox: if she can abide the nation’s pity for her forbearance, she can reap all the benefits of their admiration” (103).
Personal issues that fell into the “zone of privacy” did not merit much speech (103). Then as now, Clinton would rather be speaking and listening about issues of national and personal significance, such as “children’s health care, national health care reform, the federal deficit, the social security system, welfare, workfare, tenure, teaching training programs” (Glenn 106).
We can conclude that Clinton did understand how to use silence to her rhetorical advantage in ways unheard, but certainly seen. On one hand, her rhetorical style may have contributed to her image of untrustworthiness and electoral loss by seeming impersonal and lacking a comprehensive flavor; on the other, her “conscientious and conscious speaking silence” (Glenn 106) attests to her keen understanding of how silence can maintain her position of power, resist the domination of others, and even garner respect.