Does Deal-Making Trump Rhetoric? Donald and Aristotle

The art of the deal is not quite the same as the art of rhetoric. But does rhetoric matter in today’s political world? As an art or as a vice? Could this have to do with Trump’s seeming to get away saying things that would sink other candidates? Nowadays, rhetoric bears the burden of negative connotations by almost everyone who uses it - none more than the very politicians accused of rhetoric who in turn accuse various colleagues of all rhetoric and no action. In fact, rhetoric as a relevant political term is just about worn out, even as a criticism. Most people are tired even of the term itself. Accuse someone of letting their decisions follow the money on K street. Accuse someone of ignoring the law when it comes to issues like immigration and border security. Accuse someone of bending to the latest poll numbers in a desperate attempt to stay above water. But accuse them of bad rhetoric? Or just rhetoric? Who cares, right?

Aristotle pointed out that the honest rhetorician has no way of being labelled differently from the dishonest one. Rhetoric should distinguish between the real (relying on the facts) and apparent means of persuasion (the arousing of emotions). It is a severe and rigorous take on how to persuade, and every logically fussy debater and every lawyer in any courtroom owe - or should owe - the practice of their trade to Aristotle's Rhetoric. But the aristocratic slave-owning philosopher holds little direct attraction in today's world, even if the ideas he formulated shape much of our legal and political world.

In other words, Trump's rhetoric is pointed, vicious, and personal. And a long way away from the fact-based persuasion that Aristotle proposed. And it seems to resonate with his supporters. Do they agree with everything he says? Not likely. Do they feel they can trust him to be the type of leader they believe America needs? Until now, that does seem to the case. Trump's supporters see him as the leader who can solve what they believe are America's most pressing problems: from immigration to trade and jobs with partners like China, to espionage with partners like China, to nuclear deals with Iran. The Art of the Deal is far more important to them than the Art of Rhetoric. They want a strong leader and they like what they see in Trump.

So as Trump bashes Carson and Fiorina, will GOP voters finally care? At some point, the rhetoric will matter, because the rhetoric eventually does reveal who the rhetorician is. And when you campaign for president you have to persuade voters. That's rhetoric whether anyone likes to call it that or not. And whether voters are persuaded, or not, by Trump's rhetoric will be the ultimate test of his skills as a campaigner. That doesn't mean Donald should suddenly roll out the statistics. It does mean he will have to back up his attacks on others: like Carson and Fiorina, and convince voters there's substance, and yes truth, to his combativeness.

Posted by Keeley at September 10, 2015 4:12 PM
Comment #398338

I have the sense that Trump’s public rhetoric matches his private rhetoric. We know for certain that is not true of many past presidents or current presidential candidates of both parties.

Americans who work and vote are looking for a “square” deal for everyone, not a “new” deal for the select. With Trump many believe that what they see and hear is what the candidate is really like.

As I recall obama ran as “everyman”. Each voter could imagine that obama was for them, that he would be their ombudsman and public advocate.

Turns out, obama is selective in which Americans curry his favor and patronage.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 10, 2015 4:55 PM
Comment #398397
I have the sense that Trump’s public rhetoric matches his private rhetoric.

Trump is a mirror. You gaze and see your own reflection smiling right back at you. He knows how to manipulate a crowd, a talent he has parlayed into a very successful job as an entertainer and showman. It is a false sense of authenticity that people enjoy seeing.

However, underneath the personal, Trump is just a flimsy piece of cardboard with now principles of his own. Evidently, he supported many left-wing policies before his current run including the right to an abortion, single-payer health care and raising taxes on the wealthy. Even today, he supports doing away with the carried interest loophole and opposes reducing the top marginal tax rates. According to your writings on this site, these views ought to be an anathema, yet you continue to support the guy. Why?

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 12, 2015 2:57 PM
Comment #398444

In other news:

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 13, 2015 5:16 PM
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