2018 State of Union Address blog hero Narrative Persuasion Number 66 (2019) Presidential Rhetorics Relational Self trump

Leveraging the Hero: Witnesses and Personal Stories as Persuasive Devices in Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address

1President Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address, while commonly recognized as traditional in its use of commonplace presidential tropes such as power, unity, and initiative, has yet to be appreciated for perhaps its single most necessary innovation: the in depth use of real individuals as iconic illustrations of beliefs, values, and attitudes—in different phrases, as persuasive units. By bringing together a various set of people who’ve succeeded in a method or one other, President Trump creates an unprecedently numerous ensemble of widespread people who find themselves portrayed as heroic figures. This forged of characters turns into the backbone of his speech and a lever for Trump to place himself as the final energetic chief of a thriving America.

2The 2018 State of the Union Address introduces a comparatively new device in the persuasive toolkit of the American president. Throughout previous addresses, presidents would make in depth use of metaphors, examples, hyperboles, antithesis and numerous different rhetorical instruments. They might solely briefly acknowledge up to six to seven visitors—a relatively late apply, first launched by Ronald Reagan (Peters). But, in no previous presidential tackle have friends played such a pivotal position in the structure of the speech. Trump’s 2018 tackle is the first one to systematically make use of the private instance of real-life people who’re present at the speech—as the central persuasive gadget. He integrates ‘real’ individuals into a pseudo-fictional context which varieties the backbone of his speech. Though nonetheless counting on his traditional energetic use of hyperboles and metaphors, Trump supplements his rhetorical arsenal with this unusually giant quantity of real individuals. He uses them as illustrations of real-life successes and as semi-fictional embodiments of sure American values needed to “make America great again” such as bravery, patriotism, resilience, and perseverance in the face of tragedy.
3Trump manages to realize a double aim with this progressive mixture of private illustration and direct, informal vocabulary: On the one hand, he employs iconic characters to outline trendy American values in a approach that strengthen his persuasive strategies; on the different hand, they permit him to solidify his position as the final American chief by positioning himself as superior to these heroes.
4My evaluation will give attention to two key points associated to Trump’s use of actual individuals for instance his points; on the one hand, the use of metaphorical language to painting the people as iconic embodiments of American values; on the different hand, Trump’s use of language to put himself in a place of superiority to these iconic characters, thereby establishing his authority as ultimate American chief.

Conceptual Grounding

5For the first half of my evaluation, the central theoretical idea will probably be that of the frame, as introduced by Erving Goffman in his seminal Frame Evaluation – An Essay on the Organization of Expertise, developed by multiple later scholars, together with George Lakoff, and used in practical research throughout a variety of scholarly fields. The thought of “frame” has two primary understandings: receptive and productive. The first one is clearly outlined by Lakoff as follows:

Frames are psychological buildings that shape the approach we see the world. Consequently, they form the objectives we search, the plans we make, the method we act, and what counts as a great or dangerous consequence of our actions. In politics our frames shape our social insurance policies and the establishments we type to hold out policies. (Lakoff xv)

6As mental buildings, frames are based mostly on a collection of rules which apply in a different way depending on the sort of framework employed at a sure time. As Goffman explains, “we tend to perceive events in terms of primary frameworks, and the types of framework we employ provides a way of describing the event to which it is applied” (Body Evaluation 24). In different phrases, a sure body could have its inherent guidelines for decoding a message, depending on its specific nature. Goffman uses examples such as the recreation of chess, which has rules directing both the nature and the path of potential movements, and the system of visitors regulation codes, which directs the nature of the potential actions but not the course.
7The productive understanding of the idea of body has to do with the specific development of an argument using a certain framework. In his Don’t Assume of an Elephant! Lakoff makes use of the title of his guide as a vivid illustration of the relation between intention and framing effect—in essence, that each phrase instantly evokes its own frame, thus making it practically unattainable to not picture an elephant, even when explicitly requested to not (3). By extrapolation, the means an argument is framed may have a big impression on the method it’s perceived. This hypothesis has been supported extra lately by Paul Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky, whose 2011 research means that even slight alterations in the framing of an argument—in their case, a criminal offense drawback affecting the fictional metropolis of Addison—can result in considerably totally different outcomes in terms of viewers reception and reactions:

When crime was framed metaphorically as a virus, members proposed investigating the root causes and treating the drawback by enacting social reform to inoculate the group, with emphasis on eradicating poverty and enhancing schooling. When crime was framed metaphorically as a beast, members proposed catching and jailing criminals and enacting harsher enforcement laws. (Thibodeau and Boroditsky)

8In the first half of my evaluation, I will use these theoretical and sensible foundations to research the approach Trump constructs a heroic/legendary framework in which to introduce his visitors and determine the linguistic markers by way of which he achieves this. In commenting on the significance of this narrative strategy, I draw on current analysis on the efficiency of narrative persuasion in altering robust attitudes, including the works of, amongst others, Dal Cin, Zanna, and Fong. Based mostly on an analysis spanning numerous educational disciplines—together with social psychology, communication research, stylistics, and rhetoric—they recommend that integrating an argument right into a narrative frame is an effective strategy to overcome resistance, scale back the obstacles associated with identifying a more apparent persuasive try, and diminish the receiver’s capacity to assume of counterarguments (177).
9The second half of the evaluation will determine discursive markers that Trump uses to say his dominance over the newly introduced characters. The dialogue will thus transition from a primarily rhetorical, stylistic, and linguistic analysis to a extra pragmatic strategy grounded in socio-linguistics and the research of power dynamics. I exploit Asif Agha’s notion of relational self and demeanor indexicals—based mostly on Goffman’s concept of demeanor—to research the method Trump makes use of sure linguistic tools to determine a position of hierarchical superiority over the forged of ‘heroes,’ as properly as Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson’s understanding of politeness to touch upon the socio-relational results of his method of addressing his friends. Briefly put, Agha provides a very useful conceptualization of the relational self as “the living—and ever-moving—center of a person’s public identity. All conceptions of social identity are evaluated, sooner or later, in relation to this figure” (239). Along side Goffman’s notion of demeanor (“Nature of Deference” 488), Agha develops the notion of demeanor indexicals as “any perceivable feature of conduct or appearance that contextually clarifies the attributes of actor to interactants” (240). Paul Chilton introduces the similar idea of indexicality in the area of political discourse, noting that it can be used to create social distance and mark group boundaries:

By indexical I mean that one’s selection of language, or features of it, can implicitly sign political distinctions. Examples can be: selecting to talk one language moderately than one other […], selecting varieties of tackle (and in some languages, pronouns) that categorical distance or solidarity. Group boundaries and bonding can thus be expressed indexically. (Chilton 201)

I’ll use these concepts to research Trump’s socio-rhetorical positioning, on the one hand, and the linguistic means he makes use of to consolidate it, on the different.

The Forged

10Trump mentions in his tackle a minimum of eighteen totally different people who’ve completed one thing noteworthy, have experienced certain tragedies, or have witnessed totally different necessary events. Their position in the speech is introduced from the starting:

Over the last yr, we’ve made unimaginable progress and achieved extraordinary success. We’ve faced challenges we anticipated, and others we might by no means have imagined. We’ve shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We’ve got endured floods and fires and storms. However via all of it, we have now seen the magnificence of America’s soul, and the steel in America’s spine. Every check has cast new American heroes to remind us who we are, and show us what we may be. (Trump)[1]

11The context in which these characters are launched is essential for his or her position in the conceptual construction of the speech: They’ve been “forged” by the “floods and fires and storms” of numerous tragedies; they are the “steel in America’s spine.” The metaphorical trinome of the fire-forge-steel, with its positives (“steel”) resulting from the negatives (“fires” and “hardships”) via the process of forging, is a strong background for the idea that whatever difficulties befall the American individuals, their ultimate results are constructive. This idea is in line with the basic optimistic tone of the speech, whereas additionally enjoying an essential part in defining the energetic, heroic environment of the tackle.
12Donald Trump first refers to U.S. Coast Guard aviation electronics technician Ashlee Leppert as an instance of American heroism. His heroic status is outlined explicitly by introducing him as a legendary character: “We heard tales of Americans like Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, who is here tonight in the gallery with Melania.” Individuals usually hear tales of heroes and heroic deeds, of villains and infamous tragedies—in different words, of unusual characters and occasions. Choosing this body is an environment friendly means of making certain that officer Leppert, as first in a collection of semi-legendary characters, is seen as a heroic figure who can be joined by more exemplary figures all through the speech.
13It is very important notice that “We heard tales” is instantly followed by “of Americans,” moderately than by immediately naming Ashlee Leppert. This integrates Leppert in a bigger class of American heroes whereas also publicly recognizing the existence of this category and introducing it into the bigger framework of the speech. In different words, it’s instantly after framing the presentation of the people as “heroes” that Trump introduces the concept that there is such a basic class as that of the American hero, to which Ms. Leppert belongs. This strategy is barely awkward in that the distinctive implied by the “tales’” framing is thwarted by the collective nature of “Americans like… .” Nevertheless, in this context, it’s a stylistically artistic approach of conveying the existence of such a category as the American hero—an open-access class, obtainable to nearly any American citizen—and that representatives of this class are related to Trump and brought before the public eye.
14The story of Leppert, the hero, is synoptically introduced in a approach that is straightforward both to comply with and keep in mind: “Ashlee was aboard one of the first helicopters on the scene in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Through 18 hours of wind and rain, Ashlee braved live power lines and deep water to help save more than 40 lives.” The heroic language is obvious: “18 hours of wind and rain” and “braved live power lines and deep water” both recommend the excessive problem of the state of affairs and are crammed with heroic implications. Actually, the solely two actions attributed to Leppert—“braved” and “to help save”—belong to the semantic subject of the hero and clearly body Ashlee Leppert as such, while the general structure of the brief narrative—a hero is in a dangerous state of affairs and performs heroic actions to save lots of the weak—is a textbook (albeit highly concentrated) instance of the story of the archetypal hero.
15Trump employs the similar strategy of making a pseudo-fictional context for each of the friends/heroes for at least eleven of the eighteen persons who are either talked about or present. The story of David Dahleberg begins with “We heard.” The anaphoric use of the time period is a transparent indication of the power of the narrative/fairy-tale-like frame in Trump’s speech, with the rest of the story fitting the frame completely: “David faced down walls of flame to rescue almost 60 children trapped at a California summer camp threatened by those devastating wildfires.” The only sentence accommodates the key elements of a heroic story: the hero (David), the harmful context (“faced down walls of flames,” “threatened by those devastating wildfires”), the admirable deed (“rescue”), and the weak (“almost 60 children trapped”). It is, very similar to Ashlee Leppert’s story, a concentrated and extremely efficient means of introducing the character as an archetypal hero.
16Further into the speech Trump introduces congressman Steve Scalise—distinctive among the forged of heroes, since he’s a member of the political elite—, a hero who won’t have saved anyone, however who overcame adversity nonetheless; in reality, Scalise’s fundamental feat is just coming back to work after being shot; an odd, yet admirable feat that fits completely with Trump’s concentrate on the atypical American as a potential hero. To spotlight his heroic standing, Scalise is referred to as “the legend from Louisiana”—another powerful nickname coined by Trump. Its constructive implications stand in stark distinction to the campaign-time nicknames which have been meant to be derogatory such as “Low-energy Jeb” for Jeb Bush and “Crooked Hillary” for Hillary Clinton, to mention simply two of the most catchy ones (Adams). The “legend from Louisiana” elevates Congressman Scalise above the degree of the unusual and onto realm of the legendary. In reality, the extra conservative nature of the nickname is completely vital for its objective; Scalise is to be made into an archetypal hero with whom individuals can simply determine, so there isn’t any want for extreme individualization. In contrast, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and different opponents needed to be isolated and simply recognizable by a single defective trait. This need for singling them out is achieved by the originality of the nicknames simply as Scalise’s archetypality is emphasized by the conventionalism of “the legend from Louisiana.”
17The persuasive efficiency of this strategy—introducing temporary narrative passages to help a selected argument—has been acknowledged by scholars including Dal Cin, Zanna, and Fong. Based on them, narrative persuasion is effective in two important ways: “First, narratives may overcome resistance by reducing the amount and effectiveness of counterarguing or logical consideration of the message. Second, narratives may overcome resistance by increasing identification with characters in the story” (177). Trump achieves each features via the use of brief narratives that introduce each of the heroes, which allows the president to concurrently direct the viewers’s consideration to the partaking nature of each story whereas implicitly and explicitly encouraging the public to determine with the protagonists.
18For the objective of this paper, it isn’t mandatory to research each introduction of the real-life individual as heroic—or at the least iconic—characters. A quick overview of the means some of them are introduced is illustrative: Corey Adams is referred to as “an all-American worker”; Preston Sharp belongs to the class of “young patriots”; Ryan and Rebecca Holets “embody the goodness of our nation.” The use of such inclusive language encourages the viewers to determine with the characters whereas also fostering a way of group. The speech thus reinforces its message by closely counting on the unprecedented number of visitors attending the State of the Union Address and achieves its aim to promote the values of a united American group that each and each one can belong to.
Trump with visitors, police officer Ryan Holets and family
© Official White Home Photograph by Shealah Craighead19Trump manages to portray a set of real-life individuals as iconic American characters by introducing them inside a pseudo-fictional, legendary frame and by referring to them as iconic representatives of a whole class with whom the public can determine. Trump’s heroes, while nonetheless retaining their unique features, turn into exemplary representatives, an entire forged of characters thus become all-American hero icons. They thus serve as a unitary persuasive gadget. Every hero stays related for a selected phase of the inhabitants—Preston Sharp for younger American patriots, Corey Adams for the American staff, Leppert for servicemen and ladies, and so on.—but together they stand for one foremost concept, expressed by Trump at the very starting of the speech: “Each test has forged new American heroes to remind us who we are, and show us what we can be” (emphases added).
Preston Sharp throughout the State of the Union Speech
Screenshot taken by the writer20For max effect, the similar concept is reiterated at the end of the speech:

As lengthy as we are proud of who we are and what we’re preventing for, there’s nothing we can’t achieve. As lengthy as we’ve got confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we’ll never fail. Our households will thrive. Our individuals will prosper. And our Nation will endlessly be protected and robust and proud and mighty and free.

The significance of having a forged of real-life heroes supporting that remaining assertion cannot be overstated: It brings the needed concreteness to what would in any other case have been an completely typical and conventional conclusion to a lengthy handle. Being “proud of who we are” is far simpler when “who we are” is a set of archetypal heroes. Equally, “confidence in our values” comes much simpler when those values are usually not simply empty phrases however hammered house throughout the speech and portrayed in flesh-and-bones people. Lastly, the closing paralleling structure “our Nation will forever be safe and strong and proud and mighty and free” acquires a concrete which means since every of the attributes has been rendered concrete by a real-life character.

The Leverage

21In accordance with the official web site of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of “to leverage” is “to use for gain,” with the recommended synonym being “to exploit” (“Leverage”). That is near my understanding of the idea as utilized to Trump’s tackle, in that the main position of integrating the forged of heroes in his speech was to make use of them for political features, and thus, in a approach, exploit them. The character of this exploitation, nevertheless, is solely rhetorical; not a single individual has had to endure any sort of harm as a outcome of being featured in Trump’s speech. On the opposite, it can be argued that being physically and metaphorically current in the speech has introduced large well-deserved attention to a quantity of causes which are both constructive and, typically, in desperate want of public consideration. In sensible political terms, thus, I do not contemplate that any of the members in Trump’s handle have been exploited. Like many other moral and political issues, nevertheless, these questions are past the scope of this paper.
22This preliminary remark is nonetheless needed because it touches on the ambivalent nature of the concept of leverage, an ambivalence which is completely applicable in the context of Trump’s handle. As I will try and prove, from a strictly rhetorical standpoint, the unfavourable nuances of the term are justified. In what may seem to be a circular movement between the rhetorical and the social, Trump’s leveraging of the heroes, whereas arguably constructive in phrases of political consequences, just isn’t totally constructive from the perspective of the energy relations established between the president and the iconic forged of characters brought before the public eye. Thus, in what has turn into typical of Trump’s public presence, we’re faced once more with the potential ambivalence of his direct and clear willingness to solidify his authority and consolidate his place of dominance even whereas drawing attention to praiseworthy All-American heroes.
23I determine, thus, two separate objectives in Trump’s speech: on the one hand, he instills the idea that America is a robust nation of resilient residents who are all the time ready to beat adversity and ascent to the realm of heroism; on the different hand, he consolidates his position as a robust chief who actively dominates the ‘heroes’ and who, implicitly, is above even this highest class of American national accomplishment.
24To say Trump is a controversial character is nearly an understatement; in accordance with an ABC News research, the ten commonest words People use to describe Trumps embrace extremes such as “incompetent” and “strong,” “ignorant” and “great,” as properly as “racist,” “egotistical,” “narcissistic,” and “idiot” (Verhovek). The spectrum turns into even wider if we analyze Trump’s image as portrayed in the mainstream media, with frequent representations in the left-leaning media including Trump both as an impulsive, childish chief or as a downright menace to America and the world, whereas conservative retailers sometimes portray him as a well-liked hero, albeit a bit rough round the edges. Regardless of political stance, it seems fairly clear that Donald Trump tends to be seen as a polarizing, dominant, even probably harmful, determine.
25A strong illustration of this dominance-asserting conduct is his infamous handshake—a robust pulling-and-shoving gesture which frequently causes the interlocutor to lose stability in the course of. In a TIME evaluation, physique language professional India Ford described Trump’s handshake with France’s president Emmanuel Macron as an intentional strategy to establish his hierarchical position: “What Trump is doing here is showing Macron who’s boss. It’s another aggressive move by Trump; he’s pulling Macron towards his own face and he’s basically saying ‘you will come to me, whether you like it or not’” (Samuelson). President Trump’s State of the Union Address is thus another opportunity to consolidate his image as the supreme all-American leader, this time by establishing his hierarchical superiority over a forged of characters which he introduces in robust heroic, iconic phrases. In other phrases, on this event he won’t try and dominate a single interlocutor, but fairly a gaggle of extraordinary characters—thus attaining a place which could precisely be described as one of super-hero, because it truly implies hierarchical superiority over a quantity of American heroes.
26One of Trump’s most necessary strategies to attenuate the distinction between himself and the ‘heroes’ he introduces to the public is to deal with them by their first identify. Though commonplace apply in on a regular basis life, this is not at all widespread in such a proper context as an handle to the entire nation: “Ashlee, we all thank you”; “Thank you very much, David. Great job”; “I think they like you, Steve”; “Corey, please stand”; “Preston, a job well done,” and so on. Chilton, among others, has famous that totally different types of handle may be indexical expressions of social distance (201); in the context of Trump’s tackle, the dimensions of this social distancing—or fairly, closing of the distance, since first-name tackle is a marker of intimacy—are even higher contemplating that the addressees have simply been introduced as heroes. What this technique manages to realize is to concurrently deliver Trump nearer to the visitors whereas also creating a hierarchical relation of dominance through the use of a comparatively intimate type of handle in an in any other case clearly non-intimate context. As Brown and Levinson famous, “intimate stuff used non-intimately takes on a different, but highly predictable, meaning, namely the symbolism of dominance (a prototype for which can be found, perhaps, in the relation between parent and child)” (46).
Trump with friends Sandy Keplinger, Steve Staub, and Corey Adams
© Official White Home Photograph by Shealah Craigshead27This relation of dominance is additional consolidated by Trump’s development of a context under no circumstances in contrast to that of The Apprentice: a setting with a relatively relaxed environment, but clearly unidirectional in terms of energy relations, in which the boss—in this case, clearly, Donald Trump—provides the remaining verdict on the efficiency of a collection of potential ‘apprentices.’ He thus expeditiously praises David Dahlberg with “Great job,” a clear marker of superiority in phrases of energy positions, instructs Corey Adams to “please stand” and, immediately, provides his opinion on his skilled expertise (“he’s a great welder”), an aside which is acquired with a spherical of laughter from the audience. Equally, he makes the similar sort of humorous analysis after he introduces “the legend of Louisiana,” Congressman Steve Scalise: “I think they like you, Steve.” Again, this comment is met with another round of laughter.
28It is very important word that these brief remarks are made instantly after introducing a ‘hero’ and briefly presenting their deserves, an important second which ensures maximum influence in phrases of hierarchical positioning: In every of these instances Trump asserts his dominance through the use of an intimate type of handle or making an evaluative statement proper after he has introduced a personality as a up to date hero. In a approach, this strategy isn’t in contrast to his trademark handshake—aggressively asserting his dominance after the initial second of acknowledging the merits (or, in the case of the handshake, formally paying respect to) his interlocutor.


29The 2018 State of The Union Address is unique in that president Trump integrates the presentation of real-life individuals into a bigger persuasive strategy. In the first half of the paper, I’ve analyzed the approach Trump makes use of a fairy-tale/legendary frame to painting the friends as heroic, all-American figures, and encourage the public to determine with them. The use of temporary narratives with the introduction of each guest is an environment friendly persuasive strategy, as it averts crucial analysis, will increase audience engagement, and facilitates identification with the characters. The second part of the paper focuses on the method Trump positions himself as hierarchically superior to the ‘heroes’ by addressing them by their first identify and making evaluative statements relating to their performance—a standard follow in the interactions between employer and staff. The general impact, thus, is the rhetorical use of the forged of heroes-essentially, real-life friends invited to the occasion-to highlight the super-heroic determine of Trump himself, and thus positioning the president as the final all-American superhero.
30The implications of this strategic leveraging of real-life individuals for persuasive functions may be additional analyzed by means of the lenses of a variety of disciplines. Questions such as those regarding the ethical implications of utilizing real-life individuals (which have, in some instances, skilled real tragedies) to create a sure presidential picture, the potential political stakes concerned in such strategies, and their socio-cultural impression may be fruitful avenues for further research for students in areas as numerous as philosophy, political research and sociology, cultural and media studies, and others.

Diaconu, Radu-Florentin. “Leveraging the Hero: Witnesses and Personal Stories as Persuasive Devices in Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address.” American Research Journal 66 (2019). Net. 10 Jun. 2019. DOI 10.18422/66-02.