Since the Republican nomination of Donald Trump, many Americans have been unable to envision him in the role of president. Certainly there hasn’t been time for many peer-reviewed articles about the current campaign to make it through the publication cycle. But just because not many will be published even before the election doesn’t mean our esteemed colleagues in higher education haven’t been writing papers about the Trump phenomenon.
“Trump’s popularity signifies a movement away from logic and towards sophistic rhetoric,” writes Brian W Sanders of Pepperdine University in Global Tides, trying to explain what Mr Trump’s nomination means about the Americans who elevated him to this position. “Trump’s popularity signifies acute frustration with political correctness. Trump’s popularity signifies exasperation with politicians.”
Mr Sanders reminds us that Mr Trump said, “I probably identify more as Democrat,” as quoted in a CNN report by Chris Moody in July 2004. But it’s just a name. What are his principles?
The political careers of presidential hopefuls can be handcuffed by what they say or by what they don’t say, writes Richard Vatz of Towson University in the Baltimore Sun.
The failed campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012 respectively can be attributed to their lack of control of agenda and spin, especially agenda, and the contrary effort by much of the media to discuss issues that are secondary. To his detriment, Mr McCain largely ignored associations of Senator Barack Obama that could have devastated the senator’s campaign, such as his interactions with radical leftist Bill Ayers, felon Tony Rezko and the anti-Semitic, anti-American Rev Jeremiah Wright. The media, unsurprisingly, did not focus on them either.
But as Mr Sanders points out, the rules have changed in 2016, and Mr Trump himself changed them. At the present time, he stands within about 10 points of Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, although his prospects in the electoral college look much dimmer. But the vote will just be another data point for researchers of rhetoric at our universities. The analysis will be carried out based on how people decided to vote for Mr Trump, at least in enough strength to get him as far as he has gotten.
So far, Mr Trump has called women “bimbos,” politicians “losers,” Mexicans “rapists,” and the media “a terrible group of people.” He correctly observed that he could even shoot someone in Manhattan and still win the primary. This simplistic rhetoric appeals to people who sense they’ve become disconnected from our leadership. I can remember the shouts in January 2013 at the US Department of Education, “President Obama, we elected you, now why won’t you do anything for our low-income communities of color?” from protesters at a series of testimonials presented by representatives of places where schools were being shuttered.
It isn’t clear whether Mr Trump actually thinks Mexicans are rapists or he’s just playing to the crowd. “Rhetorical analysis does not conceive of deliberation as consensus reached through non-coerced reflection but as the strategic deployment of shared linguistic resources in a context of contingently unfolding non-linguistic events,” writes Ryan Walter of the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Queensland in Australia. His article was published last month in the journal Political Studies, but we can expect more like it in the years ahead, as papers make their way through the peer-review and publication process.
His article shows we can’t draw conclusions about what Mr Trump believes based on rhetoric during a campaign. Political campaigns are kind of like résumés for job seekers. After all, Mr Trump is, at the end of the day, applying for a job, and just as people often spin the facts on the résumés a little, we have come to expect similar embellishment and flare in the campaign process. Résumés get people interviews, I’ve always known. Mr Trump has earned that.
Earlier this summer, we were again reminded that we can’t judge someone’s character by words in a campaign. “That’s why we have to talk about Trump before the campaign. That’s why we have to talk about the Central Park Five,” writes Jason Bailey on Flavor Wire.com.
But decisions about who gets the job are most often made on the basis of something off the résumé, something in the interview itself or something found in a reference check, which, as Mr Vatz pointed out, Mr McCain failed to bring up in the recent past of the Republican Party. We’ve got a little more than two months for any of that to happen, but researchers are already busy analyzing this election cycle. I will observe, though, that Mrs Clinton’s résumé looks a lot more like Thomas Jefferson’s than Mr Trump’s does.