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George Wallace

The rhetorical brilliance of Trump the demagogue

George Wallace

George Wallace

By Jennifer Mercieca
The Conversation

Donald Trump’s December 7 Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration has attracted worldwide disdain. Nearly 500,000 Britons have signed a petition asking their government to prevent Trump from entering their country. In the US, Trump’s comments have been denounced by Democrats, Republicans, the media and religious groups.

Yet a recent poll has found that 37% of likely voters across the political spectrum agree with a “temporary ban” on Muslims entering the US.

Trump possesses an arrogance and volatility that makes most voters recoil. So how has he maintained a grip on a segment of the Republican base that – at least, for now – seems unshakable?

And how has his support persisted, despite the fact that some have called him a demagogueand a fascist, or that political observers have found parallels between him and polarizing figures like George WallaceJoseph McCarthyFather Coughlin – even Hitler?

As a scholar of American political rhetoric, I write about and teach courses on the use and abuse of rhetorical strategy in public discourse. Scrutinizing Trump’s rhetorical skills can partially explain his profound and persistent appeal.

The rhetoric of demagoguery

The Greek word “demagogue” (demos = people + ag?gos = leader) literally means “a leader of the people.” Today, however, it’s used to describe a leader who capitalizes on popular prejudices, makes false claims and promises, and uses arguments based on emotion rather than reason.

Donald Trump appeals to voters’ fears by depicting a nation in crisis, while positioning himself as the nation’s hero – the only one who can conquer our foes, secure our borders and “Make America Great Again.”

His lack of specificity about how he would accomplish these goals is less relevant than his self-assured, convincing rhetoric. He urges his audiences to “trust him,” promises he is “really smart” and flexes his prophetic muscles (like when he claims to have predicted the 9/11 attacks).

Trump’s self-congratulating rhetoric makes him appear to be the epitome of hubris, which, according to research, is often the least attractive quality of a potential leader. However, Trump is so consistent in his hubris that it appears authentic: his greatness is America’s greatness.

So we can safely call Trump a demagogue. But one fear of having demagogues actually attain real power is that they’ll disregard the law or the Constitution. Hitler, of course, is a worst-case example.

Amazingly, one of Trump’s very arguments is that he won’t be controlled.

On the campaign trail, he’s harnessed his macho businessman persona – crafted through social media and years spent on TV (where he was often the most powerful person in the room) – to make his case for the presidency. It’s a persona that rejects restraints: he speaks of not being constrained by his party, media, other candidates, political correctness, facts – anything, really. In a sense, he’s fashioning himself as an uncontrollable leader.

Using speech to demolish detractors

But most voters would never want an uncontrollable president. So why do so many remain adamant in their support?

First, Trump draws on the myth of American exceptionalism. He depicts the United States as the world’s best hope: there is only one chosen nation and, as president, all of his decisions work toward making America great. By tying himself to American exceptionalism – while classifying his detractors as “weak” or “dummies” – he’s able to position his critics as people who don’t believe in, or won’t contribute to, the “greatness” of the nation.

Trump also uses fallacious and divisive rhetorical techniques that prevent him from being questioned or backed into a corner.

He often uses ad populum arguments, which are appeals to the wisdom of the crowd (“polls show,” “we’re winning everywhere”).

When opponents question his ideas or stances, he’ll employ ad hominem attacks – or criticisms of the person, rather than the argument (dismissing his detractors as “dummies,” “weak” or “boring”). Perhaps most famously, he derided Carly Fiorina’s appearance when she started to go up in the polls after the first Republican debate (“Look at that face!” he cried. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”).

Finally, his speeches are often peppered with ad baculum arguments, which are threats of force (“when people come after me they go down the tubes”).

Because demagogues make arguments based on false claims and appeal to emotion, rather than reason, they’ll often resort to these devices. For example, during his 1968 presidential run, George Wallace declared, “If any demonstrator ever lays down in front of my car, it’ll be the last car he’ll ever lay down in front of” (ad baculum). And Senator Joseph McCarthy resorted to an ad hominem attack when he derided former Secretary of State Dean Achesonas a “pompous diplomat in striped pants with a phony British accent.”

Trump will also employ a rhetorical technique called paralipsis to make claims that he can’t be held accountable for. In paralipsis, the speaker will introduce a topic or argument by saying he doesn’t want to talk about it; in truth, he or she wants to emphasize that very thing.

For example, in New Hampshire on December 1, he said, “But all of [the other candidates] are weak and they’re just weak – I think that they are weak generally if you want to know the truth. But I don’t want to say that because I don’t want to…I don’t want to have any controversies, no controversies, is that okay? So I refuse to say that they are weak generally, okay?”

Trump’s ultimately fallacy

Let’s return to Trump’s December 7 2015 statement about Muslims to analyze which rhetorical techniques are in play:

Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again.

In this statement, Trump immediately makes two things axiomatic (or unquestionable): American exceptionalism and Muslims’ hatred for America. According to Trump, these axioms are supported by the wisdom of the crowd (ad populim); they are “obvious to anybody.”

He also defines Muslims in essential terms as people who believe only in jihad, are filled with hatred and have no respect for human life. Trump uses Reification – the treatment of objects as people and people as objects – to link his axioms together and support his case: “Our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad.”

Here, he personifies “our country” by presenting the nation as a person. Meanwhile, he uses “that” rather than “who” to signal that Muslims are not people, but objects.

His underlying logic is that our nation is a victim of these “objects.” Objects need not be treated with the same amount of care as people. Therefore we are justified in preventing Muslims from entering the country.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Trump’s use of evidence is incomplete and biased toward his point of view. His announcement cites a survey of American Muslims “showing 25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified.”

The polling data came from the Center for Security Policy (CSP), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an “anti-Muslim think tank.” Furthermore, Trump fails to report that in the same survey, 61% of American Muslims agreed that “violence against those that insult the prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islamic faith” is not acceptable. Nor does he mention that 64% didn’t think that “violence against Americans here in the United States can be justified as part of the global jihad.”

Unfortunately, like a true demagogue, Trump doesn’t seem all too concerned with the facts.

Editor’s note: Jennifer Mercieca is an Associate Professor of Communication and Director of the Aggie Agora, Texas A&M University. Her views are her own.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign town hall forum in Newton, Iowa

If Trump can track Muslims, close Mosques, what can he do to You?

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign town hall forum in Newton, Iowa

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign town hall forum in Newton, Iowa

By Juan Cole 

Informed Comment

GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, having said earlier that he might seek to close down mosques if he were president, on Thursday went further and said he would implement a registration and tracking database for Muslim-Americans.

Rabbi Jack Moline of the Interfaith Alliance pointed out that the Nazis made Jews register. When a reporter asked Trump how his plan for Americans of Muslim heritage differed from the National Socialist policy of registering Jews, he replied “You tell me.”

Trump is gradually providing us with the material for a 21st-century version of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s post-war cautionary poem that would go like this:

“First they came for the undocumented, and I did not speak out— Because I was not undocumented. Then they came for the Mexican-Americans, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Mexican-American. Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Muslim. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Trump’s increasingly erratic pronouncements are part of a steady escalation of frightening rhetoric in the Republican presidential campaign.

The first thing that comes to the mind of Constitution-honoring Americans is that we don’t have to worry about Trump’s broadsides because even if by some weird fluke he became president, half the measures he proposes would be ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

You can’t for instance, actually close a mosque by presidential executive order, since Americans have a first amendment right to worship as they please.

Making a particular religious minority register with the Federal government while not requiring it of members of other religions also violates the first amendment.

So we don’t have to worry, right?

Wrong.

Let’s say that Hillary Clinton self-destructed in some fashion next summer and that Trump wins the November 2016 presidential election.

And let’s say that in spring of 2017, a major terrorist attack takes place in a major American city.

Terrorism makes judges cautious. No one wants to be blamed for a ruling that that might allow the next attack. It also can make them bitter and vindictive.

And that is it, Since the GOP has the House, sewn up via state gerrymandering, probably for several election cycles to come, it will presumably legislate to please a GOP president.

If judges (or Supreme Court Justices) allow themselves to be bullied by the hysteria gripping the country, then game over. Muslims would be down at the post office registering.

We can also legitimately worry about the potentially sinister role of a Trump-appointed FISA court in the face of abrogation of civil liberties.

After all, the Feds were allowed to intern Japanese-Americans, which was also completely unconstitutional.

The second thing to say is that Trump has already gone after Mexican-Americans and Muslims, and is unlikely to stop there. Whatever syndrome his mind is suffering from involves both paranoia and narcissism. If he fixes on college teachers next, or journalists, or other groups, he’d already have the Muslim precedent and could just use an executive order to target those other groups. If the courts are sufficiently wimpish, then getting a court to strike down the Trump executive order will be difficult and time- and money- consuming. In the meantime, Trump could have his way unilaterally for a long time.

We already have the situation where Barack Obama allowed the National Security Agency to spy on all our metadata without a warrant. That metadata includes cellphone pings that show your location. It isn’t just the Muslims that the national security state wants to track.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on juancole.com. Juan Ricardo Cole is a public intellectual, prominent blogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. His views are his own.

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Europe: Anti-Semitism Up, Islamophobia Down

By Sarah Stricker, Ynetnews

Study on ‘group-focused enmity’ conducted by researchers from University of Bielefeld in Germany finds hatred of Muslims decreased over past year, while hatred of Jews and homosexuals growing. Poland defined as most racist country.

Right-wing parties are growing stronger in Europe, and Swiss citizens have even voted in favor of a ban on mosque minarets, yet the fear or hatred of Islam in the continent has dropped over the past year, according to a study conducted in Germany and published Sunday. However, hatred of Jews and homosexuals is on the rise.

For the last eight years, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld has been running an annual study called “German Conditions” to learn about “group focused enmity” such as xenophobia, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and prejudices against unemployed, disabled, homeless or homosexual people in Germany.

Due to the financial crisis and the fears of the future, poverty and unemployment that are being stoked by that, the researchers expected a rise this year.

But compared to last year’s results (as well as those of 2002), the level of resentment against most minorities declined – sexism and racism even considerably, Islamophobia slightly. There were only two exceptions: Homophobia and anti-Semitism.

Hatred of both groups is on the rise as they are considered to be found also among people of a high status.

Beate Küpper, one of the study’s main researchers, believes that the financial crisis may in fact be a possible explanation for that.

Küpper said that although in comparison to other European countries Germany was on average, it was staggering that in the light of German history, 48% still agreed with anti-Semitic statements.

For the first time, the study also compared xenophobia among European countries like Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Poland, and Hungary. According to their findings, the level of prejudices against minorities in Europe is alarming.

About 50.4% of the population agreed that “there are too many immigrants” in their country, 54.4% believe that “the Islam is a religion of intolerance.” Interestingly enough, the percentage of people who believe “that there are too many Muslims” in their country is especially high in those countries that actually have a low percentage of Muslims living in them.

Nearly one-third (31.3%) of the Europeans somewhat or strongly agree that “there is a natural hierarchy between black and white people”. A majority of 60.2% stick to traditional gender roles, demanding that “women should take their role as wives and mothers more seriously.” Some 42.6% deny equal value of gay men and lesbian women and judge homosexuality as “immoral”.

Hiding behind criticism of Israel

Anti-Semitism is also still widely spread in Europe. The team of scientists from the universities of Amsterdam, Bielefeld, Budapest, Grenoble, Lisbon, Marburg, Oxford, Padua, Paris, and Warsaw found that 41.2% of Europeans believe that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era”. The highest degree of affirmation was in Poland – 72%, and the lowest in the Netherlands – 5.6%.

One-quarter of Europeans (24.5%) believe that “Jews have too much influence”, and nearly one-third (31%) agree that “Jews in general do not care about anything or anyone but their own kind. On the other hand, 61.9% say that Jews “enrich our culture”, especially in the Netherlands, Britain and Germany.

They study also measured the degree of anti-Semitism hidden behind a specific criticism of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians that uses anti-Semitic terms such as “war of persecution” and a generalization to “all Jews”.

Some 45.7% of the Europeans (apart for France, where this facet of anti-Semitism was not measured) somewhat or strongly agree that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” About 37.4% agree with the following statement: “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.”

Overall, the level of anti-Semitic attitudes varies quite a lot across Europe with comparably lower levels of anti-Semitic attitudes in Britain and the Netherlands and significantly higher levels in Portugal, and especially Poland and Hungary.

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Harun Yahya – Secrets of the Hypocrites

Their Real Target is the Messenger of Allah

The real reason for the hatred in their hearts is that believers unconditionally obey Allah and His messenger, constantly remember Allah and the Qur’an, and offer them advice. The more believers warn them about the imminence of death, the reality of the Hereafter and the fact that salvation lies in obedience to Allah and His messenger, the greater their hatred and desire for revenge. They cannot accommodate the concept of obedience because they are unable to appreciate the messenger of Allah, and in the face of the superior virtues they witness in him, their hatred grows still further. For that reason, their real target is the messenger, and their real struggle is waged against him. It is revealed in the Qur’an that hypocrites strove to combat the Prophet (s):

If they do argue with you, say: “Allah knows best what you are doing.”

Al-Hajj: 68

Hypocrites have waged struggles against all the messengers who have ever lived, although all throughout the course of history, their endeavors have proved fruitless. The fact that these attempts against all the messengers have borne no fruit has driven hypocrites to despair, while the messengers and believers have grown ever stronger.

They Seek to Deceive Believers

We have already said that the most distinguishing feature that makes hypocrites of these people is the way they seek to portray themselves as having faith when really they have none. These people, who only reveal their true faces to people they imagine to be just like them, simply act a role alongside believers. The Qur’an, however, refers to hypocrites as seeking to deceive believers but in fact deceiving nobody but themselves:

They think they deceive Allah and those who believe. They deceive no one but themselves but they are not aware of it.

Al-Baqara: 9

The Qur’an refers to hypocrites who lived in the times of the prophets and the messengers saying “We believe,” but that actually they had no real faith, thus encouraging all believers to be on their guard against them:

O Messenger! Do not be grieved by those who rush headlong into disbelief among those who say “We believe” with their tongues when their hearts contain no faith. And among the Jews are those who listen to lies, listening to other people who have not come to you, distorting words from their proper meanings, saying, “If you are given this, then take it. If you are not given it, then beware!” If Allah desires misguidance for someone, you cannot help him against Allah in any way. Those are the people whose hearts Allah does not want to purify. They will have disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter they will have a terrible punishment.

Al-Ma’ida: 41

These characteristics of hypocrites have remained unchanged for centuries. The Qur’an refers to the existence of these people, who have claimed throughout history to be possessed of faith. Since hypocrites have had the same features at all times, and since their actions have always been opposed to the messengers, their deeds and what befell them have always remained the same. According to Allah’s promise, they will continue to come to the same “end.” It is revealed in one verse that:

Don’t you see those who claim that they believe in what has been sent down to you and what was sent down before you, still desiring to turn to a satanic source for judgment in spite of being ordered to reject it? Satan wants to misguide them far away.

An-Nisa’: 60

They Feel Enraged by the Strength of Believers

That the actions they take against believers fail to achieve their aims merely increases hypocrites’ anger. In the same way, the increasing strength of the faithful also enrages them. The following verses clarify the hypocrites’ state of mind:

If something good happens to you, it galls them. If something bad strikes you, they rejoice at it. . . .

Ali ‘Imran: 120

If good happens to you, it galls them. . . .

At-Tawba: 50

Hypocrites attempt to use believers to secure their own interests while they are amongst them, but their calculations prove hollow. They fail to secure their hoped-for advantages, while the believers grow ever stronger. This is an unchanging law of Allah, Who has revealed that He will help those who believe and have faith in Him in the life of this world and will bestow on them the finest of blessings. Hypocrites are also well aware of this. However, as a result of the cunning approach they take, the lives of believers, which are full of constant peace and ease, become sources of anger for them. Believers, always at ease, are rewarded with an abundance that the hypocritical logic is unable to fathom. That explains why hypocrites always desire for communities of the faithful, whom they detest, to be in a constant state of vexation. For hypocrites, the blessings that Allah bestows upon believers, and the abundance in which they live, are a source of troubling rage whereas any difficulty experienced by believers delights them. This defective state of mind of theirs is revealed in the Qur’an:

. . . They will do anything to harm you. They love what causes you distress. . . .

Ali ‘Imran: 118

Since believers are subjected to testing by Allah, from time to time they may encounter what appear to be difficulties, but these are all tests for them. They know that difficulties hone them, increase their capacities for struggle and are the means whereby they can attain Paradise. The way that such difficulties enrage hypocrites is the most evident proof of their inability to comprehend the secret of living for Allah and their unawareness that this world is a place of testing. While believers evaluate these difficulties as auspicious, hypocrites regard them as sources of vexation for believers and as a victory for themselves. Their own natures keep them unaware of the measure of believers’ wisdom and the strength of their faith. They imagine that believers will inevitably be downcast by the trials they encounter and that their unity will finally be impaired. They thus harbor great joy and expectations. Yet these expectations will come to nothing. They are unable to understand those who draw strength from and are devoted to Allah, and thus fall into a grave error.

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