Contradictions, insults, sexism and simple language: #Donald Trump’s rhetoric has been object of public discussion even before he started running for president. Trump’s words either trigger a scandal or inspire comedians. How come Trump made it that far despite seeming this unprofessional? With the third 2016 Presidential debate coming up we again are facing an imbalance between the candidates that is largely due to the differences in the way they present themselves. While Trump is trying to dominate the space, as he did during the last debate, Clinton’s strategy is limited to “just talking". What are we to expect next?
Many people don’t think Donald Trump is smart, yet he has gathered enough supporters to become one of two last remaining candidates running for US presidency, producing way more headlines than his competitor #Hillary Clinton. Many Europeans are wondering how such a bold and at times unprofessional figure can be participating in politics, let alone considered head of state.
Someone — whether it’s a whole PR army or (less likely) Trump himself — must nevertheless be doing a great job there: Trump’s speeches and tweets, while not sounding intellectual, do affect the public more than Clinton's. In fact, a closer look into Trump’s words reveals ancient techniques of rhetoric, reaching back to Aristotle and helping most successful speakers of the history, such as Goebbels.
1. Using Imagery
Images and metaphors have been used in politics for ages. Trump is taking it quite a bit farther, talking of the media "poisoning the minds” of voters and calls his competitor “crooked Hillary” on every possible occasion.
In fact, using such imagery, no matter how ridiculous the underlying claim, will make the image stick. Rational mechanisms get bypassed by a single image.
2. Triggering Emotions
Aristotle came up with logos (the argument), ethos (authority of the speaker) and pathos (evoking emotions) as the main pillars of persuasion. The latter is what Trump seems to be (ab)using most. Provocations, insults and general aggression make him stand out more, which is why Trump gets a lot more press coverage than Clinton.
Angry insults and an overall judgmental demeanor will likely polarize the audience, which also means gaining supporters who’ll agree with said angry statements. Most importantly — transporting emotions of any kind won’t leave people indifferent. For as Oscar Wilde put it, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."
3. Using Repetitions
If you repeat something often enough, the audience will eventually believe it. This is one of the most fool-proof methods to convince anyone of anything. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, has been using this technique in his speeches and it has proven to be very effective.
In fact, the brain loves patterns. This is why we can memorize poems (in a way, a rhyme is a repetition) and anything that has repetitions in it. While more refined rhetorical strategies work with alliterations or chiasms, Trump keeps it more simple by repeating about any arbitrary phrase (such as “believe me”) or a plain insult (“crooked Hillary”).
4. Simple Language
Using reduced vocabulary and short sentences might make Trump sound like a 9-year-old at times, but it’s highly effective, as it ensures that everybody understands what Trump is talking about. Among linguists this is called basic cognition level language.“I will build a wall” sounds more approachable than “One of our goals will be to curb the migration influx”.
Whether repetition, catchy imagery or children’s language: Donald Trump has potential to outperform Hillary Clinton just by being louder.
The following quote has all of Trump’s classic moves covered:
“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
- Donald Trump’s Twitter #2016 Presidential Debates