The Rhetoric of Trump in Essays and Commentaries by Dary l Taiwo Haris (Ed.). New York: Universal Write Publications LLC, 2017, 294 pp.
Many discourse analysts (e.g. Roderick 2018, Wodak & Meyer 2016, Bergvall & Remlinger 1996) and rhetoricians (e.g. Seigel 2014, Romney 2013, Kitalong 2000, Waddell 1994), have succinctly proposed that every communicative act is a reservoir for underlying forces that shape human behaviors and societies. It is essential in every epoch, therefore, to constantly have critical engagement with communicative acts in order to understand and bring above ground the varied ideologies and layers of power that constrain communication. This becomes more important in the era of media proliferation (both traditional and new), and in the age of photoshop, where the line between truth and falsehood is constantly blurring. Journalists and other communicators must not become purveyors of half-truths but people with the potent methods to interrogate communicative acts in every mode. Newschaser: The Rhetoric of Trump in Essays and Commentaries provides tools for training journalists and the public in unpacking public discourse through rhetorical analysis, discourse analysis, history, Africology, and political science.
This book concerns itself with crucial questions: What are the characteristics of Trump’s rhetoric? How is his rhetoric related to, or different from other rhetorics? What is the place of history in understanding the future of American politics? How can critical thinkers benefit from the Trump phenomenon? In this collection of essays and commentaries, we see an unravelling of the everyday issues that characterized the election campaign of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. These issues have, however, lingered on or acquired different momentum during his presidency. These include racism, misogyny, extremism and populism, among others. This book brings together old and young scholars to interrogate these issues from interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary perspectives.
Molefi Kete Asante (2017) compares the public rhetoric of Trump with the rhetoric of ancient Kemet (Egypt) and concludes that against “an appeal to compassion, fairness, and justice … Donald Trump’s rhetoric of dismay has completely reduced the content of public rhetoric to the most base of human appeals” (1). For Selassie, Trump’s rhetoric is a Yurugu rhetoric (Ani 1994); that is, the rhetoric of chaos, based on the Dogon (West African) cosmological conception of the Universe which believes that “Yurugu is the God of chaos and incompleteness, and thus produces discord, misperceptions, imbalance, maladaptive components, and paranoia” (Selassie 2017:83). This kind of rhetoric, which is mainly adopted in addressing controversies like climate change, presents social discourse in the media “as a standard of strength, certainty, and righteousness” (83). Although they have not named it, other authors in this collection (see chapters by Clarence Lusane, Stephanie Howard, and Aitza Haddad, among others) speak to these elements in Trump’s election rhetoric, and invite users of public discourse to pay attention to them.
Although this book has ‘rhetoric’ in its title, some of its content speak to other epistemologies such as feminism. Marquita Pellerin-Gammage, Justine Gammage, Ashley L. Lewis, Paula Lezama, Luqman Abdullah, and Anjerrika Bean take up various aspects of intersectional feminism and postcolonialism in their essays and commentaries. Luqman Abdullah for instance reflects on Islamophobia, immigration issues, and how discourses about these issues worked towards Trump’s election victory. It is popular to cast minority and immigrant populations in bad light and as enemies of the state in times of crisis or during periods of national disunity in order to register anger or to harvest popular admiration. We see this play out in South Africa where citizens rose against immigrants from other African countries due to “poor service delivery and competition for resources” (sahistory.org.za). In this case, it is not a political candidate or persons of high social status who cause these atrocities; it is the ordinary citizen. Issues of justice therefore can be fragile and anyone can find himself or herself implicated. This book is important in this way as well. It teases our minds about the broader implications of the issues that undergird the Trump campaign and how they manifest in our varied geo-political and economic contexts. By bringing these issues to our attention, the authors are also offering feminist interventions by “actively [dealing] with issues of oppression, not only in women, but oppression as it impacts the human experience” (Jones 2016:477) and attempting to reverse the threat that is posed to the works of progressive thinkers and activists like members of decolonial movements (Mignolo 2011).
This book has many strengths but I shall focus on just two. Firstly, the book puts together eclectic voices from various fields, and at various levels of professional practice. They look at the issues at stake from their varied lenses; making the conversation a multi-vocal one. Secondly, the book invokes multimodality. Each chapter begins with a visual that concretizes the theme of the chapter. The visuals are also selected from popular news and media to which ordinary people can identify. This, coupled with simple language, makes the book not only an academic one but also one that everyone interested in understanding the Trump phenomenon will find useful. A suggestion that the editor could consider for the next edition of the book is to pay attention to mechanics. I find in the work basic syntactic, and citation issues. While some essays and commentaries adopt the American Psychological Association’s style for their citations (e.g. chapters 1 and 5), others used the Chicago style (e.g. chapters 12 and 15). The book’s organization also needs further fine-tuning. Some chapters could be placed under sections to prevent repetition of the concerns that they address. Nevertheless, producing a perfect book is a difficult task. This collection has much to recommend to rhetoricians, discourse analysts, Africologists, and everyone interested in understanding the contemporary public-sphere in contexts beyond the United States.
Ani, M. (1994). Yurugu: An African-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behaviour. Trenton, NJ: Africa World.
Asante, M.K. (2017). The Fallacy of Trumpism. In Haris, D.T. (Ed.). Newschaser: The Rhetoric of Trump in Essays and Commentaries, (1-13). New York: Universal Write Publications LLC.
Bergvall, V. L & Remlinger, K. A. (1996). Reproduction, resistance and gender in educational discourse: The role of critical discourse analysis. Discourse & Society, 7(4): 453-479.
Jones, N. N. (2016). Narrative Inquiry in Human-Centered Design: Examining Silence and Voice to Promote Social Justice in Design Scenarios, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46 (4) 471–492.
Kitalong, K. S. (2000). “You Will”. Technology, Magic, and the Cultural Contexts of Technical Communication. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 14(3): 289-314.
Mignolo, W. (2011). The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Roderick, I. (2018). Multimodal critical discourse analysis as ethical praxis. Critical Discourse Studies, 15(2): 154–168.
Romney, A. (2013). By ‘inevitable association:’ Latin American modernist anti-rhetoric and the inescapable figure of the rhetorician. Revista Latinoamericana de Retórica, 1(1): 22-43.
Seigel, M. (2014). The Rhetoric of Pregnancy. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Selassie, K. B. J. (2017). Yurugu rhetoric: Psychopathy and Savagery. In Haris, D.T. (Ed.). Newschaser: The Rhetoric of Trump in Essays and Commentaries, (1-13). New York: Universal Write Publications LLC.
Waddell, C. (1994). Perils of a Modern Cassandra: Rhetorical Aspects of Public Indifference to the Population Explosion. Social Epistemology, 8: 221-237.
Wodak, R. and Meyer, M. (2016). Methods of Critical Discourse Studies (Third Edition). London: Sage.
G. Edzordzi Agbozo
Rhetoric, Theory, and Culture
Michigan Technological University