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Bostdorff researches Trump rhetoric

Ellie Kahn
Contributing Writer

Professor Denise Bostdorff of the communications department is going to be conducting a research project in the coming semester regarding the rhetoric and language used by President-elect Donald Trump and the role it played in the 2016 presidential election.

Bostdorff has previously done research on how a candidate’s rhetorical style impacts their campaign and has focused in the past on politicians such as John F. Kennedy and Huey Long. She analyzes the ways in which candidates appeal to voters through rhetorical style.

Recently, Bostdorff was asked to give a presentation on the campaign rhetoric of Trump at the annual Nieman Conference, which will take place on March 26-27. The conference, hosted by Marquette University in Wisconsin, will examine several themes including the legacy of President Obama, the issues that President-elect Trump will face and the media coverage of the 2016 election, looked at specifically through an ethical lens.

“I will complete the project through rhetorical criticism by doing a close textual analysis of several of Trump’s campaign rally speeches, and I will also watch videos of the speeches to examine his overall performance more closely,” said Bostdorff. She noted that this campaign in particular was noteworthy due to the increased use of social media as a political tactic.

“In addition, I currently have a student, Tyler Schuch ’17, who is analyzing Trump’s use of Twitter during the presidential campaign for his Senior I.S., so talking with him as he works through his own set of literature and analysis has been helpful to me,” said Bostdorff. Along with Schuch, a sophomore research assistant will aid Bostdorff in the spring semester.

Bostdorff was initially attracted to this project, tentatively titled “The End of Eloquence: Style, Performance and Vision in the Time of Trump,” as a way of understanding Trump’s brazen and unusual approach to speaking to voters. The political tactic of engaging the voting audience through social media platforms, such as Twitter, has unusually benefited Trump’s campaign and notoriety.

“In a broad sense [Trump’s rhetorical style] consists of the language habits through which he championed his supporters by attacking the ‘corrupt’ political, financial and media ‘establishment’ on their behalf,” said Bostdorff.

By continuing this close analysis, Bostdorff hopes to gain more insight into Trump’s unique popularity among the electorate.

Conducting research such as this is important, Bostdorff believes, because the rhetoric that a candidate uses while on the campaign trail has the potential to predict the ways in which they behave while in office.

“Trump’s rhetorical style can obviously be dangerous due to its polarizing nature. His style also appears to be somewhat chaotic and simplistic in character, which does not bode well for his capacity to offer imaginative yet adept political visions to deal with a complex world,” said Bostdorff.

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