Monday, December 14, 2015
Why Trump Works...Rhetorically
So, even though the rest of America (namely the 24/7 news media), have given Donald Trump almost constant klieg-light attention for the past 6 months of television coverage, I have refrained from any real comment on Donald Trump. Ever since I worked on Capitol Hill for a US Senator as a young adult, and observed the unhealthy interplay between religious leaders and the political landscape, I have always felt that pastors should refrain from any official involvement or comment on politics. However, as I have watched the news coverage of Donald Trump, I do think that one important aspect of his candidacy has been lost amidst the furor over his often radical (and questionable) political views, and that is...
Why Trump Works....Rhetorically
Now, just to give you a bit of my own background - I have studied speech making, speech giving and rhetoric most of my life. I did speech all through High School and won the National Oratory Championship. I did speech all through college and was a National Quarterfinalist in After Dinner Speaking. I helped write speeches, at one point, for the Attorney General of Utah. I have spoken every weekend in church for the past 15 years. I have made the study public speaking my life's main focus. So, why does Trump work?
The reason is because everything that Donald Trump says is channeled through himself. Every question, every comment, every policy idea flows directly through Donald Trump. Here are some recent examples from a series of his stump speeches: "Mr. Trump, what do you plan on doing with the Chinese expansionist policy of taking over islands in the Pacific Rim?" "I plan on stopping them. I am very good at stopping people from doing things. I have stopped the Chinese in business before, and I will stop them again." "Mr Trump, what do you plan on doing with immigration?" "As I've said, I am going to build a wall, I am going to get it done, the Mexicans will pay for it, I will make that happen." When Trump says things like this, what is he doing? He's channeling everything he says through himself.
Compare this to the speaking techniques of every single other presidential candidate out there right now, and it is evident that the complete opposite is the case. Every other presidential candidate assiduously avoids channeling information from themselves. Compare Donald Trump's responses to many of his competitors. When Hillary Clinton was asked, "What does this new climate of terrorism mean for international diplomacy?" Clinton said, "It means that we need a much more robust and comprehensive policy of beating back terrorism at it's roots." The answer sort of leaves you a bit cold. It's distant and theoretical. "Robust" "Comprehensive" - but what do you think? When an audience hears this, they say, "OK...what does that really mean?"
I made a major turning point in my preaching after attending a preaching conference at Mariners Church in Orange County. Mariners, in case you don't know is a huge mega-church that has been extremely effective in connecting modern and ordinary Americans with the good news of Christ. The main thing I learned from that conference was as a preacher, I should funnel, channel all of what I say on a Sunday through myself. This isn't to say that I am the center of every illustration or point, but to say that if an idea or concept isn't real or poignant to me, it won't be to anyone else. As you may notice, in my preaching, I do offer a lot of illustrations from my personal life. This isn't because I think that I am a very interesting person, or want to put myself up higher than anyone else. It's because the modern ear, and heart, always determines the truth of something based on whether it is true for "me personally" - does it ring true. They ask themselves, "How does it work for me?"
I should say that for preaching purists of days gone by, there is nothing more repugnant than this technique in preaching. In my grandpa's generation, an illustration that was focussed on the speaker herself was a bad illustration. I was actually taught to never refer to myself in preaching at Princeton Seminary. And, that by in large, has also been the theory in politics. A politician shouldn't refer to themselves very often. But this is also why most Americans are losing interest in politics, and most traditional denominational churches are dying.
It should be said that many of Donald Trump's other rhetorical techniques actually do not work, and more often than not, get himself into big trouble. The tendency to shoot from the hip, whatever he is feeling at the moment doesn't work. The technique of always tearing down his opponents, while it is often entertaining, does not help him much. The habit of giving long "windy" speeches that go on forever is not a good tactic. You can actually see Trump's audiences fading off to sleep behind him more often than not. But channeling everything through himself is his claim to fame.
Of course, Trump channels everything so much through himself, that it goes overboard. Even a good thing can be overdone. Those moments are where he should learn to employ the use of the most powerful speaking technique...
The Power of the Question
"Well, now, that's a great question...what do you think we should do about that? I'll have to think about that..."
But that's the focus of another blog post...
All For Now,