Last year I debated watching the State of the Union, a speech I’ve usually watched for most of the last decade, regardless of who’s in the Oval Office. This year I didn’t even think twice. Instead of watching, I was in bed before 10pm, reading a book and going to sleep.
Last year I wasn’t quite sure what a Trump State of the Union would be like. This year, I didn’t need to perch on the edge of my seat to wonder. I’ve seen enough of the man to know what to expect, and so instead of watching it, I read the transcript this morning. (It goes so much faster when you don’t have to listen to the interminable applause that goes on during that event. I’ve never liked that.)
Back when I taught Freshman composition, I would go over speeches with students, looking for the different uses of pathos (appeal to emotion), ethos (appeal to credibility), and logos (appeal to logic). The State of the Union was always an easy target to use as an example, and Trump’s speech last night was no exception. He had WWII veterans kids with cancer present to tug on the heart strings. He had a slew of data that he used to appear logical. And of course he has his persona, which demands that he be listened to because he is Trump. Some of that is because he’s the President now. Some of that is because people watched him fire people on The Apprentice for years.
But when I was teaching students, I didn’t just show the how to spot the different arguments. I wanted them to see how those arguments are sometimes used to manipulate an audience.
In the middle of a speech where you’re being applauded left and right, it’s easy to accept the facts you give as true, even if they’re not, for example. Trump’s often had a trouble with the truth, and he’s built his entire platform around a longing for yesteryear. “Make America Great Again” is nothing if not an appeal to emotion.
He’s not alone in the way he’s done this. Other Presidents did the same thing. Politicians pretty much across the board. But what particularly rankles me about Trump is his insistence that he doesn’t do it. That he always tells the truth, even when he’s lying that instant. He’s had problems with truth from his inauguration on, and I see no need to sit and listen to an inveterate liar be applauded for an hour and a half.
I’d much rather sleep. And so I did.
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