In Cicero’s speech defending the poet Archias, he begins his speech by referring to his own expertise in oratory, for which he was famous in Rome. While lacking modesty, this tactic still established his ethos because the audience was forced to acknowledge that Cicero’s public service gave him a certain right to speak, and his success in oratory gave him special authority to speak about another author. In effect, his entire speech is an attempt to increase the respectability of the ethos of literature, largely accomplished by tying it to Cicero’s own, already established, public character.
Unlike Cicero , Trump’s speeches and comments in the three presidential debates seemed to be establishing an anti-ethos rhetoric, a rhetoric which defies most of the traditional norms of ethos. His credibility was not based on a public service record to which he was a novice, nor did his oratory skills add to his authority and respectability. In fact, Trump’s rhetoric was enforcing the opposite, a new political rhetoric where the speaker lacks public service records, lacks oratory skills, lacks the ethos of politics and yet aspires to persuade the audience to vote for him, and finally succeeds to win the elections.
The three figures of Ethos: anamnesis , litotes and paronomasia were implemented in a new manner during these presidential debates. Although Clinton with her long public service conformed to the traditional rhetoric, her opponent the now president-elect Trump seemed to defy all traditions and present a clear anti-ethos rhetoric which was smeared by many including Clinton.
In his NY Times analysis of the first presidential debate, Nick Confessore expresses this common feeling … “Tonight Clinton will face a difficult challenge: to push back against a candidate who swarms rivals with a blizzard of provocation and untruth, while maintaining the level aura of a commander in chief.”
Indeed Trump was up to this comparison and he did swarm Hillary Clinton with a blizzard of provocation and untruth. He was always on the attack and she had to be pushed to the defense. There was no anamnesis which is ‘calling to memory past matters , more specifically, citing a past author from memory’ for he had no past memory or experience in the field of politics and public service. Trump’s answer to one of the questions in the first presidential debate concerning economy reflects this lack of knowledge in the political field.
TRUMP: Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico. They’re going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They’re devaluing their currency, and there’s nobody in our government to fight them. And we have a very good fight. And we have a winning fight. Because they’re using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing…But we have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us.
On the Anamnesis level, his calling to memory past matters is not based on political in depth knowledge but on an amateur shallow knowledge and reflected through an amateur rhetoric. Short sentences with unspecific details ‘they are going to many countries’ and thus the conclusion reached is natural to ‘have a winning fight’ to stop China from using the country as ‘a piggy bank.’ No political figure was mentioned, no past efforts were referred to. In Trump’s opinion it is a fight that has to won.
Even when Clinton tried to bring reason to the debate by saying “But it is important that we learn about what has been effective. And not go to things that sound good that really did not have the kind of impact that we would want.”
He followed up with his blizzard of provocation and accused her of preparing for the debate. It was Hillary’s answer at that time which brought back the purpose of all this back and forth comments into its place. A comment which I really loved at that time and many others beside me…
I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.
Trump’s lack of anamnesis or anti-anamnesis continues in the second debate . His call into past memories can be described as a very short memory span or amnesia that allows him to boldly deny any wrong doing, even when it can be proved by accessible records. It occurred several times in the second debate concerning his taxes as well as his disgraceful comments about women.
TRUMP: No, I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was — this was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk. A fact that was proven and to which Hillary Clinton refers to by…
CLINTON: Well, everything you’ve heard just now from Donald is not true. I’m sorry I have to keep saying this, but he lives in an alternative reality. And it is sort of amusing to hear somebody who hasn’t paid federal income taxes in maybe 20 years talking about what he’s going to do.
The third debate held some change in his anamnesis with regards to foreign policy and the Middle East. However, it is but a drop of anamnesis amid the sea of anti-anamnesis in all the three debates. Its effect is undermined by the way it was phrased and the rhetoric he constantly uses which defies all regularities.
‘Trump: Let me tell you, Putin has outsmarted her and Obama at every single step of the way. Whether it is Syria. You name it. Missiles. Take a look at the start-up that they signed. The Russians, have said, according to many, many reporters, I can’t believe they allowed us to do this. They create warheads and we can’t. The Russians can’t believe it. She has been outsmarted by Putin and all you have to do is look at the Middle East. They’ve taken over.’
Thus, President-Elect Trump’s first figure of ethos anamnesis was scarcely implemented, if not employed in a new opposite manner during these presidential debates.
His consistency in reversing the different figures of Ethos in the debates can be further traced . His use of litotes reflects his anti-ethos rhetoric. The Ad Herennium author suggests litotes as a means of expressing modesty (downplaying one’s accomplishments) in order to gain the audience’s favor (establishing ethos). Trump was always described as the bragging, impulsive, counter punching, big-mouthed. As Nick Confessore , the NY Times reporter analyzes …
Occasionally, at speeches with a teleprompter, we’ve seen a different Trump: somewhat on message and restrained (if only by comparison).
‘Restrained if only by comparison’ reflects how unrestrained and impulsive Trump naturally is. The element of litotes is barely seen , expression of modesty never portrayed and the downplay of his accomplishment is always opposed by his businessman mentality. In all of the three debates, he presents himself on the far end of litotes and seemingly farther away from establishing the accompanying ethos.
The most elicit moment of Trump’s anti-litotes was in the first debate after his refusal to release his tax returns. Trump actually bragged about it and jumped in to interrupt Clinton mid-statement saying “That makes me smart.” He actually believes what he says and he himself declares it in the second debate … “ See, I understand the tax code better than anybody that’s ever run for president.” The term ‘better than anyone’ sums it up , a total antithesis of litotes. Finally, in the third and final debate, we find Trump clearly announcing his intent to run the country the same he runs his company.
Trump: Well I think I did a much better job. I built a massive company, a great company, some of the greatest assets anywhere in the world worth many, many billions of dollars. I started with a $1 million loan. I agree with that. It’s a $1 million loan, but I built a phenomenal company. And if we could run our country the way I’ve run my company, we would have a country that would you would be so proud of, you would even be proud of it.
The new rhetoric is emerging with Trump’s anti-anamnesis , extreme anti-litotes , and the final addition of anti-paronomasia . Using words that sound alike but that differ in meaning (punning) or paronomasia has never been thought of by Trump. His impulsive repulsive rhetoric was one of his unprecedented contributions in this presidential debate.
No one will forget his constant repetition of “ Wrong” to interrupt Hillary Clinton’s reference to his support of the Iraqi war , nor his threat of ‘ putting Hillary in prison’ in the second debate and no doubt his notorious label of ‘nasty woman’ in the third presidential debate will be always remembered.
Trump never plays with words, he says everything he wants to say straight and directly to the face with total disregard of its appropriateness or relevance to the political rhetoric. For him, the Kairotic moment and his urge to win this moment is his fuel to generate more verbal attack. Words to which the three figures of ethos: anamnesis , litotes and paronomasia , barely apply.
With the shattering surprise of Trump’s victory came a new realization by rhetoricians everywhere, a realization of the emergence of a new anti traditional rhetoric. The three presidential debates of 2016 defied the norms of traditional rhetoric, yet appealed to the public. Thus, rhetoricians had to face the reality and question: What has gone wrong with the language of politics? Are we witnessing the birth of a new type of rhetoric? or Is it only what ancient Greeks called ‘parataxis’ or fake “authenticism”?
However the answer might be, we have all witnessed the emergence of this new rhetoric. The two candidates presented its two polar ends ; one presented the traditional pole, while the other presented the anti-traditional rhetoric or mainly the anti-ethos. Sadly , the latter won and consequently his rhetoric should prevail.
This actually led many political writers to consider it a new phenomenon which needs to be studied. Mark Thompson in his Guardian article “What’s Gone Wrong With the Language of Politics?” analyzes this conclusion:
The result is political discourse in which there is no longer any presumption of good faith between opponents, “just a fight to the political death, a fight in which every linguistic weapon is fair game”. Rhetorical self-restraint is abandoned and vituperative exaggeration, often vaulting into outright mendacity, is rampant.
Trump’s rise to power is a rise of anti-ethos rhetoric. The expected negative effect of the speaker’s lack of ethos and lack of credibility were swayed away by the results. An astonishing realization which proved that the speaker gained more credibility through implementing this anti-ethos rhetoric.
We are left to ponder on many questions: Can we consider his success as a natural public reaction towards Clinton’s traditional rhetoric, which was flawed by the presence of a great Ethos Gap as mentioned in my synthesis paper? Is it a process of the speaker becoming more relatable by using impulsive rhetoric ? Is he merely voicing the unsaid words, the hatred and sense of superiority which still exists within many White Americans despite all the long sought and achieved rights of equality, justice and freedom for all? Are we facing the Whites counterattack after being ruled for eight years by an African American President? or Is it truly a demand for change , a demand for defying the norms of rhetoric , a demand for facing the reality of the matter : the actual divisive nature of the country based on superiority and inferiority in all aspects ? Are we to seek pride in a divisive diversity?
No doubt we are facing a new phase of political rhetoric. A new era which can be described as mentioned in a Washington post article ‘the unique political rhetoric of Donald Trump Era’. American political rhetoric has grown so pointed, so coarse, so very toxic that the kind of citizen-on-citizen, politically motivated violence is an almost natural result. We are facing a president-elect whose main concern is to run the country the way he runs his company, to achieve profit while the others lose, to rise at any expense even if it means crushing all those who are inferior.
The world is now a Wrestling Arena where allies have to pay the champion to protect them, where the strong, wealthy, good looking are the ones to cheer for. My main concern lies in these questions…
‘What if people literally followed this new rhetoric? What will be its implications on different levels of human interaction? Will we fail in the test of humanity and tear off all innate humane qualities to give rise to qualities we learned to suppress ? ’
Questions which are yet to be answered in the coming years with the official emergence of this new political rhetoric ‘the anti-ethos rhetoric’ embodied by the new world leader , the new American President Donald Trump.