The most recent presidential election within America was undoubtedly one of the most controversial and relentless elections within recent times. These debates provided an example of the shift that has occurred within American politics towards a new era now revolving around scandals and rumours. While Donald Trump was not the most qualified and experienced candidate and was rather labelled as a racist and sexist. He still managed to win the race to the presidency, and in doing so proved that all election campaigns, at their core, are about persuasion. Aristotle, a student of Plato states in his theory of rhetoric that to be a compelling speaker one must be well-equipped with the three pillars of persuasion; ethos, pathos and logos (Aristotle, 2007). Through applying this Aristotelian model to the case of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton it becomes clear that while both Clinton and Trump are world-class public speaker, Donald Trump was ultimately more successful in effectively captivating his target audience, hence why he won the presidency.
The appeal to ethos is defined by Aristotle as human character and goodwill (Aristotle, 2007). Throughout the presidential debates, both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump use this appeal to work in their favour. Donald Trump through drawing attention to his success in business is trying to create an image of a strong leader and businessman (Swanson, 2016). Trump does this through his successful presentation of the analogy between running a business and ruling a country (Bump, 2017). This is evident when trump stated, “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.” (O’Brian, 2018) This business-focused mentality was one of the central ways that Trump was able to convince his constituents that he would be a credible leader. Additionally, Trump is very comfortable in complementing himself and therefore never misses an opportunity to praise his character and goodwill in public. This is evident when he makes comments such as “My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I rarely lose” (Los Angeles Times staff, 2017). Hilary Clinton also utilises the appeal to ethos in her favour. However, Clinton draws attention to her previous years of experience in politics. She uses much more complex and hard to understand language and ultimately is appealing to a more educated audience (Reference). While Clinton was very successful is appealing to her target audience, it is argued that Donald Trump through the use of more easy to understand language ultimately comes across as a more friendly and trustworthy candidate. Hence it can be deduced that the ability of a public speaker to present themselves as a trustworthy individual can ultimately have a huge impact on your ability to persuade.
The appeal to pathos is defined by Aristotle as an individual’s emotions. He states that ‘emotions are all feelings that change a person’s judgement and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear and the like, with their opposites` (Aristotle, 2007). Both Trump and Clinton appeal to pathos throughout the presidential debates, however, it is argued that Trump does so more effectively. Trump successfully utilizes pathos, through invoking fear and anger into his supporters, which he uses as a control mechanism (Ball 2016). This is done when he makes claims that America is being ruined by foreigners or that Hilary Clinton is working with the Russians. For example, during one of the presidential debates, Donald Trump while talking about illegal immigrants said “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists” (Reilly, 2016). While these claims couldn’t be further from the truth, Fear is claimed to be the most primal and strongest emotion which people can experience and hence these claims work in Trump’s favour (Turner 2000, p. 70). In addition to this, Trump also successfully utilizes humour to work in his favour and draw the attention of the audience. As stated by (Alfano & O’Brien 2011) “Jokes and other forms of humour are appeals to pathos because they put the audience in the right emotional state to be receptive to an argument”. This appeal to humour in seen through almost all the presidential debates and is used by trump as a way of dodging hard questions by turning them into something humorous (Weiss, 2019). Hence, the reason Donald Trump was ultimately so successful in his presidential campaign can be attributed to his ability to manipulate audiences into believing him. Trump through the campaign was able to portray himself as a kind of hero who single-handedly can save the nation from illegal immigrants and Muslims. That is why people affected by the appeal support him. That is why after the question who is going to pay for the border wall, thousands of his supporters are replying and that is ultimately why he won the presidency.
Finally, the appeal to logos is defined by Aristotle as the pure essence enclosed in speech (Aristotle, 2007). Within the field of rhetoric, it is the truth that becomes revealed through a logically constructed argument with clear causes-and-effects. This logically constructed argument needs to have a claim that is backed up with relevant evidence and should have nothing that deals with emotions as logos must appeal to the intellect and reasoning skills of the viewer and nothing else (Sellnow 2005, p.387). While Donald Trump failed to properly appeal to Logos throughout his presidential campaign and rather made arguments that resemble logical fallacies. Which is an argument that contains either a logical error or mistaken reasoning (Walton, 2000). It is argued that this didn’t affect his overall campaign, as for people who aren’t familiar with the concept of logical arguments, it is very difficult to detect logical fallacies (Walton, 2000). An example of Trump making an incoherent argument is seen when he made the argument that other candidates won’t be able to stop isis because they don’t know how to control their air conditioning. This argument is completely flawed in the fact that there is no connection between being able to stop isis and knowing how to work an air conditioner (Reilly, 2016). Hilary Clinton, on the other hand, uses Logos to great effect. Hilary has a very much careful, calculated, and cautious style of speaking in which she draws largely on the logos method of persuasion. Clinton relies on facts and figures to support her argument and talks in a much more sophisticated and structured way than Donald Trump (Hutahaean, Hamuddin, 2018). This is evident in many of the statements that Hilary made throughout her campaign. For example, when asked about the distribution of wealth through the country she stated: ‘Latinos are 17 percent of our country’s population but hold only 2 percent of its wealth.’ This use of facts and figures is arguably the most important aspect of Clinton’s campaign as it represents her as truthful and trustworthy.
In conclusion, through applying Aristotle’s theory on the field of rhetoric to the election campaign of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton it becomes evident that election campaigns are, at their core, all about persuasion. Donald Trump was able to win the race to presidency through his either conscious or unconscious use of ethos, logos and pathos in all of his speeches. In regards to ethos, Donald Trump attempts to portray himself as a reliable and trustworthy candidate by presenting an analogy between ruling a country and running a business. As for pathos, Donald Trump successfully invokes fear and anger among the voters as a way of gaining control over them. He does this through his statements regarding the threats and dangers of immigration and terrorism. Finally, concerning the use of logos, Donald Trump does not support his claims using logical arguments, instead of them he tends to use logical fallacies which still worked in his favour as they were undetected by the majority of the Americal population