Theoretical frame and concepts
In this research proposal I would like to suggest an investigation about how Trump use his unique rhetorical strategies and use particular rhetorical techniques to persuade and influence his supporters through his Twitter. In fact, unlike other politicians during the presidential campaign, the vocabulary used by Trump in his speech and debates is just like a fourth-grade student. Trump’s language is the simplest and most straightforward in all of candidates. Trump likes to repeatedly use simple words or phrases. The words are simple and easy to understand in his Twitter. In his tweets, he often uses pronoun versus noun such as “we”, “you” and “them” in order to create a frank and open image. It cannot be denied, extensive use of personal pronouns “Your”, “You” and “I” are the type of equal dialogue (Machin & Mayr, 2012). On one hand I would like to use the Rhetoric Theory, and on the other I would like to use the rhetoric and metaphor theory of Critical Discourse Analysis Theory, so both theories would be used in further research, even though there are many more theories that could be used. In the following contents, there will be an overview of the two theories, and suggestions of how they could be used.
“Wherever there is persuasion, there is rhetoric. And wherever there is ‘meaning’, there is ‘persuasion’” (Digital Rhetoric: Defining and Locating Digital Rhetoric, para.2). Rhetoric is both a way of persuasive communication and a formal art of studying this communication (Eyman, 2015). The power of rhetoric is that it can be used as an analytical method and guide for producing persuasive discourse (Eyman, 2015). The rhetorical approach initially involved that could be used to build successful persuasions; these methods were simplified and compiled by Aristotle in the late fourth century BCE (Eyman, 2015). In the successful speech, the speaker can use three manners of expressions: “logos (logical argument), pathos (emotional appeal), and ethos (establishing the authority of the speaker)” (Digital Rhetoric: Western Classical Rhetoric, para.2). Rhetoric is not just a mechanism of persuasion. People place the rhetorical power in a specific communication medium (such as printing or speech), which can highlight the relationship between rhetoric and knowledge production and meaning (Eyman, 2015). Similarly, if rhetoric is used as a powerful tool to help rhetor produce text or performance, this is not just identification but promoting the social behavior (Eyman, 2015). Rhetoric is a model of changing reality, rather than directly applying energy to the object, but by creating a discourse which changes reality through mediation of ideas and action (Eyman, 2015). In rhetoric studies, the text can be considered a container of controversial or persuasive discourse, but this tradition is usually linked with printed texts, for digital rhetoric, we must see the text under a broader background (Eyman, 2015). The sense of interactivity seems to eliminate the difference between conversational communication (reader-to-text and user-to-user interaction). Contemporary rhetoricians often regard the text as a dialogue. Readers not only passively receive information, but interact with text. By contributing their own ideas and experiences, readers work together with authors to create a unique reading experience. The text is also a dialogue in another sense: in order to make the author more successful with audience, the author instinctively put some of the audience’s ideas and attitudes into their writing (Eyman, 2015). According to Eyman (2015), “The term ‘digital rhetoric’ is perhaps most simply defined as the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances” (Digital Rhetoric: A Definition, para.2). The concept of the rhetorical situation as a lens sets a specific rhetorical activity in a framework, allowing the analysis to proceed that is created through interaction of rhetoric, text, audience, and rhetorical purpose within a context (Eyman, 2015).
These concepts make my research question about rhetoric more important and interesting since Trump’s Twitter established his reputation (ethos), expressed his reasoning (logos), and seek the emotional connection with the audience (pathos), all of these are the adaptation to the rhetorical situation. The term « rhetoric » relates to « argumentation », which tries to convince the audience. Aristotle defined rhetoric as ‘the faculty of observing the means of persuasion’ (Heo & Park,2016,P.302). Rhetoric and speech are interrelated. In fact, if a person does not speak, he will not produce the rhetoric. American culture belongs to individualistic culture. People would rather terminate the relationship between each other than give up their own voice. Aristotle emphasized the importance of citing counter-arguments because the purpose of the dispute is to prove the comparative advantage of the argument of the speaker (Heo & Park,2016). Argumentation is a combination of persuasiveness and information description. The information description verifies the theme by providing practical reasons, persuasive description supports theme by the abstract view of speaker (Heo & Park,2016). This low-context culture of the United States requires people to provide substantive evidence when proposing arguments. Information description is usually supported by three persuasion instruments: logos, pathos, and ethos. Communication research thinks that “logos” is a rational appeal and “pathos” as an emotional appeal. “Ethos” refers to persuasion from the credibility of the speaker and can also be called “credibility appeal” (Heo & Park,2016).
Rhetoric and Metaphor
Language is not only a tool of communication or persuasion, but a means of social construction and domination (Machin & Mayr, 2012). The concept of ‘critical’ language research refers to the processes of analyzing verbal elements, and it can be used to reveal links between power and ideology which are hidden behind people (David & Andrea, 2012). The pivotal element of critical linguistics is never conveyed directly, but it can be revealed by finding absence in text (David & Andrea, 2012). Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is formally described as the study of implicit or indirect meaning in text. These are the kinds of meanings that are alluded to without being expressly expressed (Machin & Mayr, 2012). Implied meaning relates to potential beliefs, but are not openly, directly, or precisely asserted (Machin & Mayr, 2012).In order to better investigate the rhetoric of Trump’s Twitter, I will use the “Rhetoric and Metaphor” concept of CDA theory in the analysis.
There is a widely shared assumption that metaphor is about magnificent language, which is related to poetry and creative writing (Machin & Mayr, 2012). But linguists have shown that metaphor is the basis of human thought, and metaphorical thinking is the basis of all our statements about the world (Machin & Mayr, 2012). The study of metaphor and other rhetorical studies are closely related to the study of political rhetoric. Metaphor is not opposed to truth, but it is an essential part of human cognition. We keep thinking about them by referring to other things. But most of all, this process can influence the way we understand things or concepts (Machin & Mayr, 2012). The important thing here is that mastering metaphor is an everyday part of language and an important way to master reality. But metaphor is of ideological significance. The acceptance of metaphor may not only affect how we think and understand the world, but also the way we behave, the institutions we build, and how we organize our society (Machin & Mayr, 2012). They are a linguistic way of hiding potential power relations. Metaphor and other rhetorical guides provide excellent linguistic resources for those who want abstractions to replace actual concrete processes, identities, and settings (Machin & Mayr, 2012). When metaphor has become a main way for thinking a phenomenon, challenging the metaphor which used to describe it may become very difficult, because these metaphors become common sense or naturalized ways of understanding the world (Machin & Mayr, 2012).
Method (and material)
There are a couple of different ways this thesis could be used and different methods that can be applied. One method that could be used when doing this research is rhetorical method. The rhetoric and metaphor of critical discourse analysis is also a good instrument to use when analyzing the selected texts and considering the issues more specific through a critical way as well as revealing more hidden information.
The techniques by which the sample and data was chosen are vital to a discussion the validity of the research. American local time on the morning of November 9, the United States presidential vote was officially announced, Trump officially elected as the new president of the United States. In order to address the questions which presented by thesis, I chose Trump’ tweets to analyze. Since March 18, 2009, Trump has posted 35,000 tweets and accumulated 30 million fans. Trump’s performance was particularly active during the US presidential campaign. He frequently published tweets, actively interacted with the public and had a high popularity. Starting from the specific released time, Trump is relatively diligent to update his tweets, for example, he keeps sending tweets within every 24 hours and sometimes he still updates hot tweets even at 3 am. It can be said that Trump’s tweets have a strong originality. If I analyze all of his tweets, the workload will be very heavy, the analysis time will be very long, and the demand for very professional tools needs to be achieved. Therefore, in order to address the questions at the beginning of the thesis as soon as possible, I chose the most representative part of the Trump’ tweets. The time span is from October 9, 2016 to November 9, 2016. During this period, all the tweets which posted on Donald Trump’s official Twitter page (@realDonaldTrump) will be adopted. I think this last one month was the final sprint stage of Trump’s participation in the presidential campaign, which was a very critical moment. Meanwhile, rhetoric of the tweets was also very representative during this month. During this period, Trump was more active in updating his tweets, and he published a total of 230 tweets, averaging nearly eight tweets every day.
One of the most widely used rhetorical methods is close reading. In this method, the text is considered to be a cultural or historical background or the material condition of its construction apart from the author (Eyman, 2015). According to Eyman (2015), “But close reading also serves as a starting point because it provides the contrast for newer rhetorical methods” (Close and Distant Reading as Rhetorical Methods, para 3). According to Eyman (2015), “Case studies, textual inquiry, and rhetorical analysis are particularly useful for investigations of rhetorical activity in digital environments” (Digital Writing Research, para2). Eyman (2015) advocated that “digital rhetoric researchers adopt strategies framed by the communicative triangle—the rhetor, the audience, the digital text or discourse, and the contexts” (Digital Writing Research, para.10). The “digital writing research” focuses on: (a) by computer-generated, computer-based and / or computer-delivered documents; (b) by computer-based text production practices (c) interaction of people who use digital technologies to communicate. In addition, not all of the digital writing and related communicative behavior and interaction occur on the Internet (Eyman, 2015). In my thesis, I will focus on the documents which produced and delivered by computer.
Social media users often use the rhetoric strategy of “ethos, logos and pathos” where from ancient Greco-Roman. The art of persuasion was born and shaped in the Greco-Roman culture by discourse based on the principles which are still valid today (Fernández et al.,2013). The study of persuasion is an popular edge discipline in recent years, which from a variety of angles to study how to use a certain strategies and tactics, through language and non-verbal means to convey the way of information and influence others’ ideas and actions. In order to achieve persuasive goals, social network users have turned to ethical, pathetical, or logical reasoning. The Web show the three communication strategies which described by Aristotle. In particular, the structure of Twitter makes it possible to use these strategies. As a type of logos, oratorical argument includes enthymeme and example. Enthymeme is the logical arrangement of subjects, opinions, and information data; examples include facts and metaphors (Heo & Park, 2016). Pathos is a rhetorical skill which can adapt to the audience’s emotions. Pathos can be divided into three motivations: fear appeals, warm appeals and humorous appeals. Fear appeal raises people’s concerns about their security, finances, or health. A warm appeal evokes people’s emotion or sympathy. Finally, the humorous appeal causes a sense of intimacy with the speaker through laughter (Heo & Park, 2016). “Ethos has three elements: expertness, trustworthiness, and goodwill” (Heo & Park, 2016, P.305).Speakers can demonstrate their expertness by quoting their righteous characteristic, such as their social status. When the speaker does not intend to deceive others, the credibility can be achieved. When people talk about their personal stories can increase the trustworthiness. Unlike the pathos narrative, the narrative which used to enhance ethos is based on the speaker’s own personal experience. Speakers can express their wishes, attention and understanding to the audiences. In addition, the study of the president’s discourse is found as a persuasive instrument except logos, pathos, and ethos. American presidents tend to rely on moral virtues to convince their citizens and Congress, which can be called « the Moral Rhetoric of the president of the United States » (Heo & Park,2016). The reason for moral rhetoric is that people must follow this argument because it is moral rule.
Metaphor and Personification
The rhetorical types of Critical Discourse Analysis method include Metaphor, Personification and so on. The metaphor and personification method are the important tools for analyzing Trump’ tweets. I will conduct the metaphor and personification method for clear analysis in this study. This detailed analysis makes us more accurate in realizing how the author use language to create meaning, to convince people to consider events in a particular way, and sometimes even seek their hidden intentions of communication (Machin & Mayr, 2012). Metaphor is basically a means of understanding a concept in another way (Machin & Mayr, 2012). It means problems, solutions and outcomes are hiding in rhetoric (Machin & Mayr, 2012). Due to non-specific description and obscure expression, no one needs to be responsible. In political environment, metaphor has a strong ability to persuade others. We often ignore the existence of metaphor, because we are very familiar with the metaphor. Nevertheless they bring with them different kinds of qualities, foregrounding some things and concealing others (Machin＆Mayr，2012,P.170). Personification means that human characters or thinking is arranged to abstract or incorporeal objects, which obscures the concrete and specific meaning and process.
During the period from October 9, 2016 to November 9, 2016, Trump published a total of 230 tweets. After I carefully looked through all of tweets, I summarized and classified Trump’s tweets. Since I cannot enumerate 230 tweets separately, in order to make the thought of analysis more clearly, I outlined the main content of Trump’s tweets. Trump’s tweets roughly include six aspects: 1, attacking the leaders of The Democratic Party, including Obama, Hillary and their colleagues; 2, attacking media, including CNN, New York Times and so on; 3, thanking for voters and continue to canvassing; 4, thanking for a person with his special contribution; 5, expressing his political ideas; 6, expressing the current political situation and foreign policy of the United States. After I summarized Trump’s tweets, in order to better answer the questions raised in the thesis, I combined with the rhetorical tools and CDA tools to clearly analyze rhetorical techniques and means of Trump’s tweets. Regard to how does Trump use Twitter to create and disseminate emotions, how does Trump use the rhetorical means to persuade and influence followers, I identified three themes and I will elaborate them on the analysis section clearly.
Analysis (and result)
A long time ago, people knew the importance of the art of speaking and people realized a successful and persuasive speech must contain « ethos, logos and pathos » these three aspects. The Aristotle’s rhetoric theory is mainly for political speech, the speaker persuades the audience through the use of language. Aristotle specially discussed the application of emotions like anger, compassion and fear in speech. He emphasized that speakers who were good at guiding the audience into the emotional situation would greatly increase their persuasiveness.
In the 21st century, the political campaign could build stronger links with the voters through the direct communication on tweets. Politicians can through Twitter make audiences get first-hand experience which other media can’t achieve, instead of some tweets have been chosen by the media intermediary. The candidate’s Twitter account is a platform where candidates can convince the most qualified voters (Johnson,2012). The candidates publish stories and information about their opinions in the press, which helps voters make more informed decisions. In the same way, citizens can respond and express their support and attention and notify candidates through twitter. Twitter provides an instant and short message. In addition, American citizens who are using Twitter can forward or criticize tweets of candidates in seconds.
Twitter is a medium of immediacy, information and interactivity (Johnson,2012). Twitter will limit the number of text and each person can only send 140 characters in each message. But the producer of the tweets can extend the included message through the link, which can help candidates share video, audio, text and photos to viewers. As a result, Twitter can provide readers with more detailed stories, thus creating closer ties between candidates and voters. Senders only express their emotions when they are posting, they expect the audience have a response by using essentially emotional arguments. No matter how short the message is, it can still be rhetorical and become the persuasion. For users who actively participate in the network, they can accept new suggestions as a sender or recipient through the possibilities of interaction.
Trump’s Rhetoric on Twitter
Twitter is a powerful venue for politicians, and Trump uses Twitter to try to convey effective information to voters. In order to achieve the aims of this thesis, I looked through a large number of tweets he posted in recent years, and ultimately I captured the tweets from October 9, 2016 to November 9, 2016. This period is the sprint stage of the presidential election. During this period, rhetorical skills of Trump’s tweets were also very prominent and obvious. I will divide Trump’s rhetoric skills into three themes and describe them in detail.
1. The expression of provoking opponents and media
Trump has always been the focus of global media attention. He already had a well-known reputation, and by creating some stimulating topics to attract media coverage also allows him to save a lot on expenses for traditional political activities and media publicity. This results Trump and the American media having a symbiotic relationship. His highly controversial discourses bring high ratings to the television networks and a high click rate to websites allowing his election campaign to have very frequent public exposure. And Trump does not care whether the media is positive or negative of their evaluation of him as he often bluntly criticizes and satirizes the media, particularly on Twitter.
Take Trump’s tweets as an example: “This election is being rigged by the media pushing false and unsubstantiated charges, and outright lies, in order to elect Crooked Hillary!” on 15 Oct, 2016. “The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!” on 13 Oct, 2016. “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” on 12 Oct, 2016. “Wow, @CNN got caught fixing their « focus group » in order to make Crooked Hillary look better. Really pathetic and totally dishonest!” on 10 Oct, 2016. “CNN is the worst – fortunately they have bad ratings because everyone knows they are biased.” on 10 Oct, 2016.
In terms of media characteristics, attention and audience ratings are what the media is most concerned about, so the media generally pay attention to those more attractive people, events and phenomena. As a reality show host and a businessman, Trump knows how to become the focus of the media. When other candidates expect to attract public attention with deep political experience and profound knowledge, instead Trump firmly occupies the media headlines through aggressive and provocative discourse and forms a strong influence on traditional and social media. It is precisely because of these absurd and even vulgar remarks, the media which hope to attract the public attention have to report these daily hot spots. These reports brought a lot of criticism and condemnation, but also made him more popular.
During the campaign, besides promoting himself, Trump also attacked Obama, Hillary, other Republican competitors and the media through the Twitter to achieve the purpose of controlling media concerns. He seizes every opportunity to attack Obama and Hillary describing them as “low”, “stupid”, “weak” and “improper”. These are short, fast and easy to stimulate the emotional side of the public thus spreading quickly, and then through the media’s second report, Trump receives a lot of exposure to maintain his popularity throughout the campaign as an advantage.
The first rhetorical instrument involved in this theme is logos. Take Trump’s tweets as an example: “EXCLUSIVE — Video Interview: Bill Clinton Accuser Juanita Broaddrick Relives Brutal Rapes” on 8 Oct, 2016. “Exclusive Video–Broaddrick, Willey, Jones to Bill’s Defenders: ‘These Are Crimes,’ ‘Terrified’ of ‘Enabler’ Hillary” on 8 Oct, 2016. Trump repeatedly cited the so-called « exclusive » video as evidence to attack his opponent and validate his reasoning that he satirize opponent. “LA Times- USC Dornsife Sunday Poll: Donald Trump Retains 2 Point Lead Over Hillary” on 8 Oct, 2016.
« Exclusive Video » is used here by Trump as a basis for the facts. He repeatedly quotes the so-called « exclusive » video as evidence of attacking his opponents, confirming his reasoning and satirizing his opponents. The poll of Los Angeles Times was cited as reliable information on the data, proving that Trump’s polls were ahead of Hillary. The action of Trump quoting in his tweet with the mass media data resources, not only attracted more Internet users to watch, but also increased its authenticity. So that Trump’s satire and provocation with language was seemingly more logical, not groundless.
From the point of view of rhetoric, the candidate can convince voters to vote for him by enumerating the facts, evidence and figures. This method is called as resorting to reason (logo). Thus the voters approve him by understanding his program and his opinion and vote for him. However, in the face of today’s complex social problems and challenges, only a small number of elites with appropriate background knowledge and strong political motives will be rationally persuaded by him. And more voters who are less educated are often influenced by ways of resorting to emotions (pathos). They are more likely to be attracted by extreme and firm statements, rather than those rational and careful statements. This helped by Trump’s speech full of confidence and a firm tone.
The Second rhetorical instrument involved in this theme is pathos. Telling stories or certain events can affect pathos. Narratives can prevent possible counter-argument through functions of their emotional and entertainment and make the audience link their life with story. With regard to fear appeal, for example, for the problem of illegal refugees and immigration, every American is anxious and scared, and Trump expressed the point of view “Drugs are pouring into this country. If we have no border, we have no country. That’s why ICE endorsed me. #Debate #BigLeagueTruth” on 19 Oct, 2016. “ISIS has infiltrated countries all over Europe by posing as refugees, and @HillaryClinton will allow it to happen here, too! #BigLeagueTruth” on 19 Oct, 2016.
For pathos, the fear appeal is defined as causing fear or anxiety to the audience, such as “Look at the way Crooked Hillary is handling the e-mail case and the total mess she is in. She is unfit to be president. Bad judgement! ” on 1 Nov, 2016. “We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama and that’s what you’ll get if you vote for Hillary. #BigLeagueTruth” on 19 Oct, 2016. “If we let Crooked run the govt, history will remember 2017 as the year America lost its independence. #DrainTheSwamp” on 18 Oct, 2016. “The attack on Mosul is turning out to be a total disaster. We gave them months of notice. U.S. is looking so dumb. VOTE TRUMP and WIN AGAIN!” on 23 Oct, 2016.
Due to Hillary’s « email controversy », Trump seized this opportunity to attack Hillary during the presidential campaign. The first tweets Trump mentioned, “due to ‘Hillary Clinton email controversy’, her current situation is very confusing”. And he conveyed a message to the public, « Hillary cannot manage her own email, and so that she cannot serve as president to manage a country. » Next, the second tweets, due to Obama’s announcement to support Hillary, Trump combined them with a group and attacked them together. Trump said that if the voters continue to support Hillary, it is the equivalent of continuing to support Obama, the future of the United States will continue to deteriorate. The implication of this sentence is that the American social situation was already very bad due to government of Obama, therefore, if Hillary Clinton will become the next president, it will not change the current state of the United States. This is a simple sentence, but it expresses two meanings. In the third and fourth tweets, Trump directly used the terms « disaster », « stupid », « lost independence » to describe a Hillary presidency. These words are called “fear appeals”. The purpose is to give the public have a direct sense to feel fearful and worrying. For the public, people all expect the economy to have continuous growth, the social is always stable and peaceful as well as the American people can enjoy freedom and independence. However, when the public discover that the government cannot provide peace, stability, wealth and independence for them, the public will naturally turn to support a new government to replace the current government.
Warm appeal refers to call the audience’s emotion or sympathy to make audiences agree with this topic，such as “The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!” on 11 Oct, 2016. “Voter fraud! Crooked Hillary Clinton even got the questions to a debate, and nobody says a word. Can you imagine if I got the questions?” on 17 Oct, 2016.
Trump regarded himself as unfairly treated by the media and people in these two tweets, in order to obtain public sympathy and even help him attack those people who hurt him. In the first tweet, besides emotional appeal, Trump also used metaphor rhetoric. Trump actually means, « In the past, Sen. John McCain had begged for my help, and I also gave him support to make him win, but when I needed his help, he would no longer help me.” In this example, Trump described Sen. John McCain did not provide support for him as locked in the locker room. In fact, Sen. John McCain did not lock Trump into the locker room. But this metaphor brings with it connotations what Sen. John McCain did not help to Trump.
In addition, the discourse of Trump’s Twitter includes humor appeal because he believes this would improve his persuasiveness. In this sentence, Trump replaced the original sentence with « dropped me over locker room remarks » and made this sentence to have a little sense of humor. It can make the public aware of this issue, agree with his point of view and increase the sympathy for Trump. The aim of sense of humor is to make the audience be comfortable to accept Trump’s point of view, such as “Get rich quick! Crooked Hillary Clinton’s pay to play guide” on 17 Oct, 2016.Trump conveyed the reality of Hillary corruption to audience through using a humorous tone. When Trump added a sense of humor, it made the public easier to understand and accept.
Table of contents
Aim and research questions
Theoretical frame and concepts
Rhetoric and Metaphor
Method (and material)
Metaphor and Personification
Analysis (and result)
Trump’s Rhetoric on Twitter
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