Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION Political Polarization: Unintended Consequences of Bipartisan Indecision and Indifference Branden M. Ingersoll Department of Communication Studies, Metropolitan State University of Denver
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 1 Abstract In response to an unprecedented level of political polarization in the United States in the past several years, this essay asks why, and to what extent, a shift in rhetorical practices might aid in ameliorating it , especially through the implementation of a more robust form of civic dialogue. To do so, I use the theories of Aristotle and Cicero to investigate the communicative approaches of two influential politicians that I have selected given that they represent two ends of the American political spectrum: President Donald Trump and former Senator Hillary Clinton. Through this examination, I find that polarization is largely the byproduct of (1) the absence of & Olbrechts Tyteca, 1971, p. 30); and (2) an overemphasis on rhetorical effectiveness at the expense of communication ethics. As a result, individuals across the political spectrum are experiencing the implications of an ong oing degradation of the public square rooted in a lack of robust and authentic civic dialogue that has led to widespread political indecision, indifference, and divisiveness. Key Words : dialectic, dialogue, dialogic ethics, deliberation, democracy, rhetoric, polarization
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 2 Following the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. has found itself at a crossroad as Americans seem to be in a sort of civic moratorium. A state of limbo in which progressive and conservative groups and individuals have been so extensively and completely divided from each other that many seem unsure about how to move forward. As a result, we are living in an age of unprecedented political polarization that can be characterized by an apparent oversight of critical dialogue in favor of effective political rh current disregard for collaborative discourse seems to have eroded the very notion of civic duty in the electorate; a reality tha t can be observed plainly when assessing the productivity of political conversations between Republicans and Democrats. Frankly, if you did not know better when assessing most political conversations today, you would think each participant was speaking to a brick wall as opposed to another concerned citizen. 'public sphere' .... [is intended to be] a domain in which multiple the very notion of civ ic discourse has devolved. It appears as though in place of authentic, & McManus, 2018, p. 79), we often find a sort of empty dialogue; encounters that are ri ddled with strong convictions but lack true engagement with the Other. For this essay, I conceptualize empty dialogue as communicative exchanges where one or both parties listens to the Other with the primary intention of responding with a counterargument as opposed to listening with the than engaging in critical civic discourse rooted in dialogue and the exchange of perspectives (that
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 3 which i s essential for the health of a democracy), most political conversations often follow an unfortunate and predictable pattern: One side proposes an argument or identifies with a specific solution to an issue, to wit those in support of the opposing ideology immediately seek to integrity of the content or position they are trying to support, often without any rigorous, critical analysis. As a result of tradition al civic discourse being replaced with a pale, empty impression of collaboration, society is facing a serious civic crisis. While I do not doubt that there has been political strife for as long as there have been civilizations to cultivate it, the current silo like nature of our political arenas has left me wondering: Are we as a culture simply at a point in time where indecision, indifference, and divisiveness have become the norm, or is there something more behind the current state of political polarizati on? Despite that polarization has been present in U.S. culture since the days of (Sunstein, 1999, p. 86), it seems that the rift between President Trump and Se nator Clinton was indicative of something greater than continuity of the status quo. When tensions flared between the candidates, divisions within the nation expectedly rose in unison. However, the magnitude and veracity of those divisions were simply asto unding as extreme ideological disputes between the candidates permeated extensively into their constituencies and effectively transformed the political arena from a stage for rational debate into a battleground of exchanging visceral convictions. Vitriolic tensions between the two candidates and their constituents have in my mind exemplified a fray present in the fabric of our political and societal structures that have long been obscured and prompt further investigation. To conduct this investigation, I wi ll
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 4 examine the current state of bipartisan polarization and the degree to which those with political authority, on either end of the aisle, are able to elicit bipartisan support and collaboration when it comes to issues of civic discourse . In particular, I will be framing the discussion by delving into the preferred methods of rhetorical practice employed by party leaders, specifically analyzing the rhetorical choices of Donald Trump compared to those of Hillary Clinton. By outlining the conceptualizations of rhetorical practice envisioned by both Aristotle through persuasion, I will develop an evaluative framework to assess conte mporary uses of rhetoric. Aristotle and Cicero will provide the foundation for this framework by exemplifying the theoretical maxims and praxis with respect to the use of rhetoric in society throughout time. Using this framework, I will contrast the forms of rhetoric employed by both President Trump and Senator Clinton. My assessment recognizes Trump and Clinton as archetypal examples of conservative and progressive rhetoricians that line up with specific elements of the rhetorical theories of Aristotle and Cicero, respectively. After this, I put forward potential alternatives to enhance the rhetorical choices of current political figures, recommendations that underscore the need for a dialogic approach to civic discourse that fosters collaboration, as oppos ed to strategies rooted in effective political rhetoric that result in polarization. Understanding Rhetoric Through a Lens of Aristotle of Dialectic" (Aristotle, 1926, 1.1.1; 1.1.14). In essence, Aristotle claimed that rhetoric is a tool
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 5 that can be used by a speaker to gain a degree of resonance betwe en themselves and their audience. With that said, although determining the success of a speaker through their ability to connect to their audience is necessary and prudent, it should not be the sole metric for evaluation. I make this claim because the mean s and nature of persuasion utilized are just important as the ends achieved as noted by Zarefsky (2006) "critical studies of oratory...ought to focus on the effects [rhetoric has] on...audiences." Investigative practices "that...involve interpretation and assessment of the ends obtained] but by reasoned argument [i.e., assessment of ethics 385). This dichotomy is especially relevant when we th e fact that contemporary politicians often opt for effective political rhetoric as opposed to strategies grounded in ethics. For instance, the most altruistic and ethical application of Aristotelian rhetoric exists when speakers truly hone into the viscera l feelings of their audience and utilize the presence of those emotions as a means to cultivate a better reality for them, by persuading them to agree with the speaker / the speaker's ideas. While this scenario illustrates an ideal version of Aristotle's t heory, many would agree that most people are not completely altruistic in their actions or intentions. In other words: Through the exploitation of their audience's viscerally felt emotions, the less ethical speaker can truly resonate with their audience, a nd effectively utilize the consolidate power/social capital while advancing their agenda (Perelman & Olbrechts Tyteca, 1971, p. 116).
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 6 However, despite the above illustrated threat that accompanies the use of persuasion, rhetoric nevertheless holds a fundamental role in the construction and maintenance of the polis. Through the use of rhetoric, an orator can effectively deliberate upon ma tters of civic relevance and deliver said determinations to the electorate. The process of deliberation and delivery is that they may more clearly ascertain a comp lete understanding of all particulars related to a matter of concern (Herrick, 2016, p. 73). In addition to serving as a tool for identifying and addressing matters of civic contention, this method of robust, dynamic investigation also allows the rhetor to mitigate the impact of malicious persuasion on behalf of another, by allowing the rhetor to identify and challenge any logical fallacies that may have been put forward by those in opposition. This emphasis on rigorous analysis and engagement with all aspe cts of a position is arguably the most prominent responsibility that a rhetor must uphold. Indeed, even though it appears that popular opinion is highly s usceptible to manipulation by influential individuals (Aristotle, 1926, 1.1.12). The efficacy of Aristotelian rhetoric relies heavily on the level of resonance present between the orator and their audience, a connection achieved largely through the creatio n of a collective identity. Collective identities are often built on the foundation of what Aristotle referred to as clearness, or the ability for the speaker to utilize ordinary, everyday vernacular when articulating their points so as to connect with the receptive listener on a more personally relatable level. Constructing a degree of personal resonance allows the orator to effectively illustrate themselves as being an approachable individual as opposed to an elite member of
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 7 society who would emphasize their authority or status. This is often done in addition to the use of pecific emotions'' (Herrick, 2016, p. 74). In this respect, the enthymeme serves as a tool for resonance as it allows for audience members to identify with whatever value they project onto the speaker's statement, a value which is then understood by the audience as being present within the speaker as well (a phenomenon which will be described in greater detail later in the essay when we delve into the elements of rhetoric e mployed by President Trump). When each of these elements of rhetoric is effectively woven together and utilized by a speaker, the result is often a high level of speaker audience resonance that allows for the cultivation of the modern political community. With the use of identity resonance and emotional appeal, the ideal rhetorician by the Aristotelian standard will employ dynamic investigation of relevant political issues to identify and pursue action that will benefit the state of the polis and all who re side within it. Now that a working understanding of Aristotelian rhetoric has been devised, let us continue and contrast this theoretical approach to the perspective of Cicero. Understanding Rhetoric Through a Lens of Cicero Much like Aristotle, Cicero w as also explicitly aware of the importance rhetoric had when considering the construction and maintenance of the city state. When assessing Ciceronian rhetorical application, the primary thing to note is that in the eyes of Cicero, "rhetoric was actually t he source of civilization" through its "cultivating of reason, and capacity to bring about
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 8 role in society likely stemmed from his perception of mankind being collectively as a means of constructing cooperative communities. As such, when one considers the sheer efficacy rhetorical efforts h ad during the formation of early Rome, it is clear why Cicero (Herrick, 2016, p. 95). But how exactly does such a process work? The answer? Just like effectively deliveri ng a message to an audience, cultivating cohesion within a community by the Ciceronian standard relies heavily on the perception of 1.) The speaker's moral character; and 2.) the intellectual integrity of the position the speaker is advocating for. Once ea ch prerequisite value has been determined, audience resonance will fall into its respective place. ective of Cicero, the common belief was that the presence of high moral character was a means of foreshadowing a candidate's decision and ethics. For this reason, Ciceronian rhetoric relies heavily on the construction and wisdom comes can be understood: To ease uncertainties about a candidate's ethical and moral inclinations, Cice ro believed that orators ought to depict their stances briefly, but with as much efficacy and poise as possible in order to satisfy one's audience with haste, through the
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 9 The Ciceroni an lens of rhetoric essentially purports that determining what one considers to be rational and logical is the purpose and product of rhetoric. In this respect, Cicero argued that for rhetoric to maximize its effectiveness it must be carried out in a way s audience knows exactly what (and through which lens) a topic is being addressed, and to what end. A level of discipline and caution effectively illustrated by Cicero through the appropriate use of his canons of rhetorical application, the firs 100). By tying together t he investigative aspect of deliberation (invention) to the artistic technique of delivery (expression), the ideal rhetorician by Ciceronian standards would culminate the two perspectives into one, cultivating a powerful medium of influence. Through establi shing a satisfactory contextual understanding of rhetoric through the lens of Aristotle and Cicero, we have identified the two prongs of the evaluative rhetorical framework that will be utilized throughout the upcoming examination of contemporary rhetoric: (1) effectiveness (i.e., does the rhetoric employed achieve its desired ends), and (2) wisdom and virtue / just ethics (i.e., does the rhetoric employed embody ethical principles necessary for healthy civic life?) With such evaluative characteristics in m ind, let us now take that knowledge, and utilize it as a means of analyzing the elements of rhetorical practice employed by Trump and Clinton.
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 10 Comparing Outcomes: Efficacy of Trumpian Rhetoric Given the astounding degree of support Trum p has managed to obtain from his audience, there is no doubt that he is a master of observing his audience's interests and crafting persuasive messages to match them. Indeed, his base seems fully locked into his messaging as even amid widespread scrutiny, para. 1). Instances of the sort of persuasive salience Trump has established can be understood as should be (Herrick, 2016, p. 72). While being effective in some, often short unapologetic utilization of ethically skewed Aristotelian r hetoric is far more a detriment than a benefit for the state of politics within our society. To elaborate, let us analyze some of the recent instances of Trump effortlessly changing his positions to win the support of his intended audience(s). In agenda has established him as one of the most unpredictable American leaders in modern present when considering a President's intuition and relia
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 11 instanc es of position flipping on behalf of Trump in my mind illustrates his employment of in any setting and adjusts his position accordingly (Aristotle, 1926, 1.1. 1). However, regardless of how effective such rhetorical tactics may be in inflating approval ratings and successfully persuading listeners, they diminish the faith we as citizens have in our leaders and thus subsequently undermines the very notion of hone st politics in deliberative democracy. framework developed in the previous section to assess the efficacy and ethics of his rhetorical strategies. While no doubt bei ng successful in achieving its desired ends (effectiveness), Trump's rhetoric fails to satisfy the ethical criterion laid out by our framework. The reasoning behind this assessment stems from the absence of moral and ethical convictions on behalf of Trump throughout his attempts to obtain resonance with his audience. Although Aristotle never directly references the moral/ethical values an orator should employ, it is assumed by prominent scholars in the field that he indicates rhetors ought to employ tenants of logic and ethical principles, particularly when one is engaged in politics (Self, 1979, p. 3). The preceding analysis yields two important insights for those of us who are concerned rhetoric has sometimes been effective for his short term approval ratings, it also simultaneously fails to uphold the ethical obligation of rhetoric as a tool for community building. Through this failure, the integrity of the institutions of democracy is e ffectively being damaged as the forms of rhetoric Trump utilizes reinforce the longstanding public disgust of the art of rhetoric held by average citizens. Such detrimental enation, and
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 12 [the promotion of] self widespread misuse of rhetoric throughout the history of the modern polis, it should come as no surprise that there is a growing distrust of political rhetoric. Nevertheless, despite the wrong done, there is much more to this tool than meets the eye; just as a knife that can be used to carve a home from a tree can be used to take a life, the art of rhetoric can be used to either im prove or degrade the integrity of the polis. Second, while there will always be agents of deception who will attempt to manipulate and exploit (anything from people, to theories, biases, and rhetoric, etc.) to catalyze their success and wellbeing, there wi ll always be a place for rhetoric in society. And while it may be frustrating to some that Trump has been able to obtain a considerable degree of traction with his voters through what some have argued is the exploitation of their fears and biases (Ball, 20 16, para. 1), his supporters outside of the political arena in Washington should not be blamed for their acceptance and proportion of his views. Instead, I believe those frustrated by Trump must direct their criticism and concerns toward Trump himself for being the vocal catalyst required for decisions [of judges/audience members] are improperly made, they must owe their defeat to 1.1.12). Placing blame on the rhetor as opposed to their audience may seem counterintuitive at first, after all a speech without an audience is just a monologue. However, on that note and with polarization in mind, I would like to expand on my position. To do so there are two pressing regularly, without sustained exposure to competing views, extreme [ideologies] are all the more
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 13 like 83). With both realities in mind, consider the following the scenario: As a result of mass polarization of political groups (like that which happened within the U.S. following the 2016 election), members of affected groups would likely inflame their convictions through repeated engagement with other like minded individuals. This echo chamber like nature of intellectual exploration would further amplify a sort of silo (Sunstein, 1999, p. 85). At this point the group will have been molded into an incredibly vulnerable and manipulatable state: A state where the only arguments they are susceptible to are those that coincide with or exaggerate their existing beliefs; beliefs which as a result of polarization have been predisposed towards more extreme iterations of their original state. Whi ch brings us to our point of contemplation: If members of groups have been conditioned into seeking out and accepting exaggerated and extreme iterations of their positions, and people have an ingrained desire to attain a level of favorability with their in group, who is to blame for the grievances and shortcomings that result from polarized political attitudes and behaviors? I believe that blame should be directed onto those who actively exploit such situations: Speakers who would wield the convictions of au dience members to pit individuals against one another in an effort to bolster themselves, rather than using them to guide a collective decision making process. Moving forward, when considering noteworthy examples of Trump's rhetoric, one must look no furth er than his utilization of the enthymeme regularly in his political speeches; statements often regarding the observable state of the nation. As noted by Gerard Hunt (2018) in
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 14 his letter to the editor of the Daily Herald, Trump's most not able enthymeme is that of Make America Great Again (MAGA), a rhetorical strategy that allows for Trump to put forward his political position through means of the major premise of the enthymeme (i.e., America used to be great, but is not anymore as a result of the degradation of our culture, morals, and values by previous administrations/policies). Following the major premise, Trump's audience has bought into his perspective of U.S. culture. They then proceed to project their understanding of the minor premi se: While America is not great right now, we can make it great by supporting a recognizes this issue and make America great again (Hunt, 2018, para. 7). Assessm ent of the efficacy of such strategies again brings us back to the criteria laid out by our framework. To be clear, the use of the enthymeme, in general, is not a negative but rather is a characteristic strategy of rhetoric in a democracy, and thus when ut ilized appropriately is inherently effective (Herrick, 2016, p. 75). However, when considering the ethical component of such a strategy, context is paramount. In this case, I would argue that the Trump iteration of the enthymeme (i.e., MAGA) relies upon, a nd systematically exploits the absence of collective identity between constituencies, and by default moves toward inciting division rather than fostering collaboration. It seems as though MAGA is cultivating polarization rather than harmony as a result of its attempt to use ideological contrasts as a means to place a wedge between members of an electorate, catalyzing a sort of identity based blame game, rather than using said contrasts to highlight opportunities for collaborative discourse and community bui but also fails to satisfy the ethical criterion of our framework, as the rhetoric employed by Trump
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 15 completely disregards commonly held ethical principles of civility laid out by Forni (2002) like compassion (p. 46), inclusivity (p. 55), and compromise (p. 87). everyday ve rnacular and couples it with what some see as manipulative scare tactics aimed at persuading his audience through the intentional stoking of fear and bias. Tactics of the like have been used to great effect by Trump and have allowed him to gain an addition al layer of resonance with his audience, allowing them to authentically feel as though the President truly understands their struggles and life experience (Liberatore, 2016, para. 13). The effectiveness of this tactic can be ascertained when analyzing clai ms by the political right that insinuate that forms of violent extremism (like that carried out by groups like al Qaeda and ISIS) are to be labeled as Muslim, Islamic or Islamist terrorism; claims which have largely been received without challenge from tar geted constituents (Prokop, 2016, para. 9 & 10). Efforts to draw a connection between extremist terrorism and Islam are arguably done in order to gain a degree of traction with everyday constituents who have been conditioned to fear Islam as a primary sour ce of extremism, rather than equating extremism to extremist ideology. The same rhetorical proof can be applied to several claims made by Trump and his supporters, such as claims about the character evaluations of Mexican immigrants solely based on their c ountry of origin. A challenge facing contemporary politics that, as McKeon noted can restructuring that catalyzes a transition of understanding, and ushers in a new st ate of political
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 16 effective in winning the popula r support of his base, it fails to satisfy the ethical criterion depicted in the evaluative framework of this essay as Trump's rhetoric faithfully incites division between identity groups as opposed to bringing them together. To summarize my argument thus far, President Trump employs fundamental elements of rhetoric outlined by both Aristotle and Cicero which often satisfy his desired ends at the expense of cultivating cohesion. His use of effective delivery, emotional appeals, and persuasive salience (e.g. , Aristotle), as well as his tailored use of expression (elocutio), augmented with vernacular has been effective in rallying motivated supporters to his cau se. However, this form of rhetoric, while invigorating to some, is a far cry from what either the philosopher or Cicero envisioned. employment of persuasion on opposing ends of a question done so that one may see clearly what the facts are, nor as a means of identifying when "another [advocate] makes unfair use of , 1926, 1.1.12). Moreover, while his rhetoric effectively implements the concept of expression, the (Herrick, 2016, p. 95). rhetoric tactics used throughout history as it is unable to achieve the primary goal of rhetoric: constructing a cohesive community. Rather than fostering collaboration between constituencies through the concept s of persuasion conceptualized by Frank (2004, p. 271), the jaded and fragmented form of rhetoric Trump is utilizing more closely resembles tactics of coercion. A
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 17 reality which is clear when one assesses the purpose behind the continuous use of persuasive techniques favored by Trump, particularly in respect to his repeated use of enthymemes, and pathos based appeals as a means to manipulate emotional biases present within his audience in order to foster support for his positions in the ab sence of sound reasoning. This is done as opposed to deliberating logically through the exchange of perspectives as a means to identify and cultivate action towards materializing a common good that promotes the well being of all who reside within the polis , as is expected from a true rhetorician. He does not utilize persuasion to question a topic robustly in the hopes of confuting misguided interpretations but instead uses n systematically craft a message to target and exploit those positions for personal gain. Thus, by this measure, Trump is engaging in a highly selective, incomplete use of rhetoric as a community building tool. Comparing Outcomes: Efficacy of Clintonian Rh etoric I would now like to direct our attention to the other side of the aisle and examine the Cicero, character was comprised of dignity, worthy achievements, (Herrick, 2016, p. 99) it makes sense why progressives like Clinton often spend most of their speeches emphasizing their track record of voting, as well as their reputation in society, as a means of assisting their audience in eval uating their character. As Yglesias (2015) of Vox noted:
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 18 theory that Clinton was pressed to come up with examples of her moral character in order to establish credibility with her audience. While the Ciceronian and Aristotelian approaches to rhetorical application layout the blueprints needed to be an effective orator, as illustrated throughout our analysis of President Trump's rhetoric, the efficacy of these theories lay in the hands of those who prac tice them. Just as a good student is a reflection of a good teacher, the efficacy of a rhetorical strategy is a reflection of the rhetorician's employment of that strategy. For instance, though adherence to principles of eloquence and wisdom are logical, t hey often fail to compensate for the biases and conditioning of audiences who do not adhere to, nor have been exposed to such a sculpted, impersonal and logical interpretation of rhetoric. Take, for example, the denotation of Trump based rhetoric as being the defining factor in rational and sound thinking; thinking which through the lens of Ciceronian rhetorical application is all but non existent in the rhetorical repertoire that is conveyed by Trump and his followers. A Trumpian form of rhetoric that is driven by emotionality and ordinary vernacular. Thus, one can assume that due to the apparent lack of eloquence and wisdom presented in the position of Trump and his supporters, Clinton depicted them and their stances towards her as being deplorable (Reilly, 2016, para. 2). Such blatant disregard for how the Other would receive such a deg rading and insulting statement, regardless of if the statement was believed by the speaker to be carried out with and
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 19 resonating with modera te and right leaning voters. Instead of combatting the lack of substance in the rhetoric presented by Trump and subsequently posing her well crafted solutions to problems Americans are facing, Clinton doubled down on her view of Trump and his supporters as being nonsensical and unintelligent, alienating voters in the process. Through the lens of this debacle, we are allowed an opportunity to examine the efficacy and ethics of Clintonian rhetorical practice which can be summarized in brevity as follows: Clin Trump supporters as deplorable illustrates her failure to satisfy either criterion outlined by our framework, as she not only alienated potential voters (i.e., lacking wisdom, virtue, and ethics) but further inflamed existin g tensions between opposing groups she hoped to govern collectively (i.e., ineffective) (Chozick, 2016, para. 1). Let us now focus specifically on the political upset experienced by Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. According to Theissen (2017), m any including Clinton herself in her memoir What Happened polls (article in The Chicago Trib une, para.2). The fact of the matter, however, is that this assessment is simply untrue, and the demographics of voters in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Obama, one . 6). I, along with Marc Theissen, author of the above mentioned Chicago Tribune article, must insist that the answer to the prior question is a resounding no. While it is possible to dub Trump voters as
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 20 bigots and racists based simply o n the rhetoric circulated within the group, this is simply untrue. According to a poll done by Priorities USA Action, while Clinton and other prominent Trump voters indicated that their incomes were trailing behind the cost of living, implying to voters that elites like Clinton were completely out of touch with the life and economic struggles facing average voters (Thiessen, 2017, para. 11). Such a scenario allows us to refer back to our framework where we find that Clintonian rhetoric, like that of Trumpian rhetoric has failed to satisfy the evaluative criteria put forward in this essay: Despite being ethical in her applicat on the success of her predecessor eroded the level of confidence her voters had in her by exemplifying her perceived ignorance in respect to the economic plight of voters and was thus fundamentally in effective in garnering political support. Unintended Consequences: How Rhetoric Can Cultivate Division Now, if both Aristotle and Cicero are teachers of rhetoric whose names and perspectives have been pedestalized for centuries in respect to persuasion and politics in general, where does the problem arise when it comes to employing their rhetorical theories successfully as a politician? Incremental distancing from critical civic dialogue, along with strict adherence to elements of one form of rhetorical application in an age of multiplicities and intersectionality. It is my view that a two party political system that is fundamentally rooted in contradicting understandings of rhetorical application will inevitably make agreeing with the Other ha rd if not impossible. While it is possible, even easy, to come to an understanding or a compromise when
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 21 engaging with arguments that stem from the same line of thought or rhetorical school, when you encounter a different approach without implementing dialogue, efforts to engage will often be futile. I say this because without the implementation of dissociative reasoning, that is, "reasoning [that] retains opposing values, [and] refus[es] to allow...difference to...obliterate [the chance]. .. to p. 277). In that vein, it seems that when Democrats hear a speaker like Trump, they often attempt to devalue them as well as the content of their speeches before they even present their argument. And when Republicans hear a speaker like Clinton, they generally seek to discredit their authority on issues relating to everyday people, without even giving them an attempt to illustrate their grasp of th e issues. Both scenarios illustrate a fundamental similarity both parties embody. A similarity which subsequently represents the single greatest challenge we as a political community must overcome: A lack of engagement with the Other through critical civic dialogue. As a result of orators faithfully emphasizing strict adherence to elements of one rhetorical school as opposed to weaving in components of both through a robust form of critical civic dialogue, the. This chronic oversight of critical, civic dial ogue in favor of its empty counterpart, has resulted in a historic state of bipartisan indecision and indifference, where the populous has been conditioned so that they come to a standstill when put toe to toe with the opposing perspectives; and how his is sue is dealt with will likely have monumental impacts on the overall state of our democracy. Living during such a massive civic transformation has illustrated a conundrum which brings us to an interesting point of contemplation. In an age of staggering civ ic polarization,
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 22 function productively i n the resolution of new problems and architectonically in the formation of mentioned above, participants of the culture are cumulatively unable to agree and are co nstantly at odds with one another? To do so we and our contemporary understanding of rhetorical n, 1987, p. 2). Through this reference, I am attempting to underscore the importance of having clear and origin, as well as emphasizing the need for a return to dialogue with respect to civic deliberation. If implemented effectively, this would help avoid the circumstances that allowed for rampant that which is 2018, p. 3) when engaging in and assessing rhetorical application, society would be subject to monumental positive change and growth. Such a societal evolution would manifest g radually as orators and audiences alike would ideally be trained from the inception of their verbal skills to understand and utilize rhetoric for the propulsion of the common good and not for self enrichment.
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 23 Cultivating Cohesion Throug h a Nuanced, Dialogic Approach to Rhetoric I would now like to exemplify what can happen when tenants of each approach are skillfully woven together with the use of dialogue to construct what I see as a powerful and evocative form of rhetoric; rhetoric th at is capable of obtaining emotional resonance through the use of directed, and eloquent conveying of content. To illustrate this example, I want to quote an opening interview held between Bill Maher and Democratic Senator Sharrod Brown from Ohio, on the N ovember 15 th, HBO. his inte rview, Brown is immediately depicted as having the characteristics of a relatable individual; with comments about his imperfect aesthetic to his resemblance to popular TV characters. Such relatable comments inherently imply his ability to resonate with eve ryday individuals. In response to such comments, particularly the comment advocating he should be wearing a raincoat (to fulfill the criteria needed to be Columbo), Senator Brown quickly quipped: "I do not have a raincoat on! I have a suit made by union wo rkers in Cleveland Ohio" (Maher, 2019, @ 8:21 8:38). To wit, the crowd exploded in thunderous applause. While this display of witty banter is albeit amusing, it also serves a greater purpose for the sake of this argument. By not only embracing his averag e citizen aesthetic, but also using the comments made by Maher to advocate for his support of domestic union manufacturing, Brown was effectively able to elicit appreciation from the left leaning crowd, and also would have likely been able to gain respect from more central or right leaning crowd members with his advocacy
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 24 and support for manufacturing workers within the United States. As such, Brown was able to satisfy both criteria laid out by our framework as he was able to not only soli dify a collective identity between himself and his audience and use it to his advantage (i.e., effective) but he did so in a way that prioritized inclusivity (i.e., virtuous / just). Tactics of the sort, while seemingly simple, elegantly illustrate how one can effectively utilize rhetoric to garner support from multiple, even opposing groups. Moving forward, political critics and pundits alike have often claimed that given his leftist stance on policies ranging from healthcare to gun reform, Brown would never be able to win a red state like Ohio. A claim which is all but unsubstantiated as Brown has won consecutively in Ohio, a state which Trump won heavily, illustrating that he can connect with voters in his state, and do it repeatedly. As he state d in his interview with Maher: "You need a strong economic message [to garner bipartisan support], I have had a lifetime F from the NRA, I have supported marriage equality for 20 years, I am 100% pro because I go into economies and I deliver a [universal] economic message...[and] people respond...I go into Town Halls and I tell people how they can send their kids to... wage...or about an opportunity for their kids...[when] you talk to them about those issues, able to win over enough voters to 15:58).
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 25 emphasizes critical engagement with the Other) can be seen as not only being effective in garnering bipartisan support through the implementation and emphasis on dialogue between speaker and audience, but is also highly ethical as it relies on objective realities and statistics when attempting to persuade oth ers. As our analysis of Brown's dialogic rhetoric has shown, when a speaker embodies qualities that allow everyday voters to feel connected to them, while additionally making it a point to emphasize the content and substance of their proposals, voters are exposed to candidates who can potentially garner a lot of bipartisan support. This sort of speaker is able to succeed not solely because of their ability to resonate with an audience, nor simply because of their ability to eloquently depict their image of a solution, but rather due to the coalescence of both eloquence/wisdom and personal/emotional resonance: The presence of which is of paramount importance to the political success of orators in an age of historic polarization where it seems as who [know] how to analyze [and asses problems] are [often] unlearned in subjects outside their realm of expertise (McKeon, 1987, p. 11). As such, I believe that to challenge the status quo and push for real cultural and political change, orators must employ tenants of both Aristotelian and Ciceronian rhetorical practice, while simultaneously emphasizing a return to critical dialogic deliberation. If this emphasis is adhered to, audiences will encounter an orator who is not only a capable speaker with tempered and feasible ideas but one whom voters view as being relatable to on an individual level; likely ensuring political success by catalyzing feelings of trust a nd security between voter and candidate.
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 26 Finding Solutions: Recognizing the Need for a Dialogic Approach to Communication While it is easy to be hopeful and yearn for a day that there will be a candidate who can speak clearly and concis ely, who can spread a thoughtful policy proposal, while also resonating with party leaders and voters on both sides of the aisle, the reality is that such a day will likely never come unless we as a society are willing to change the way we communicatively engage with one another. As depicted throughout this essay, I believe that the bipartisan polarization we are seeing today in the U.S. is not simply a product of differing approaches to rhetoric but is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of civic discourse as a practice. A misunderstanding fueled by a widespread misconception of dialogue for what is, in all actuality, a series of dialectic exchanges. And when we as members of representative democracy are wrongfully assuming that all of our encounte rs are dialogic, when in fact, they are not, we are opening the door to a truly monstrous reality for a nation: A reality that is overrun with confusion, anger, and misunderstanding between people who often agree with one another, yet are unable to illustr ate their agreeance, largely as a result of their attempts to collaboratively communicate with one another being fundamentally flawed. To illustrate my meaning, I would like to introduce you to commonly agreed upon meanings of both dialectic and dialogue: Hans Georg Gadamer in his 1965 work Truth and Method , offers one definition that may be useful to consider here. Gadamer (1965) refers to dialogue as a multi tiered process in which to be successful, we must approach exchanges with e fueled by critical engagement
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 27 with a different line of thinking. As noted by Arnett, Fritz and McManus (2018), successful conditions (p. 85). T he first step is to admit bias on behalf of ourselves so as to, as Gadamer put According to Arnett, et al. (2018), following the admission of our bias, we must acknow ledge satisfaction of the preceding conditions, the third and f inal step in performing successful communion [of thought] in whic h we do not remain what we were" (Gadamer, 1965, p. 371). I enjoy this definition for several reasons: First, it not only recognizes but emphasizes the need for the admission of bias on behalf of all communicative participants. Bias is an inherent componen t of all our lives and decision making processes, and thus the need to engage with that understanding is essential. Second, Gadamer (1965) implies communicators ought to approach every communicative interaction with the Other with a willingness to engage i (i.e., the coalescence of two differing ideas in order to mold a conjoined direction of thought or experience), each side of the conversati on must be willing to recognize, accept and move forward with the knowledge that the Other is (potentially) rooted in a different ideology than themselves, and will nevertheless still work towards finding common ground despite this difference. Thus, in the eyes of Gadamer, the purpose of authentic, critical dialogue is to work
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 28 together to fuse the horizons of thought each participant has into one seamless continuum, so as to cultivate a reality that addresses problems at large while still being inclusive and tolerant of opposing views. In contrast to Gadamer, we find a sense of political dialectic, that offers only polarization because it is focused on opinion rather than relationship building in the pursuit of mutual understanding and app reciation during (even before) the meaning making process. Indeed, the mentioned definitions of dialectic vs. dialogue in conjunction with our newly acquired nuanced understanding of rhetorical approaches and polarization as a concept, the issue s I depicted earlier importance of effective political rhetoric rather than critical deliberation with the Other, then by the very nature of their communicative practices they are predisposed to engaging in an endless series of dialectic exchanges rather than coming to any understandings or compromises. I make this claim because while there are no doubt intelligent individuals on both sides of the aisle, as noted at the beginning of this essay, whenever you listen to a debate between members of opposing parties, participants seem like they are talking to an inanimate object rather than another concerned citizen. Rather than approaching debate with the belief that the Other & Green, 2015, p. 101), most communic ators enter exchanges without even considering the possibility. As such, this perception is not unwarranted as in these encounters no point from the
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 29 opposing side is often taken seriously, and debaters tend to listen with the intent to r espond and interject their reasoning as being more clever, logical, or relevant, rather than listening with the has led to a state of civic polarization where mos t members of political authority, as well as their constituents, never truly engage in dialogic communication. When members of each major party become blindly conditioned to their preferred method of rhetorical application there comes a point where engagin g with someone from the opposing party seems impossible. At such a point, one which I believe we in the midst of now, society will experience a civic dilemma that highlights a major point of potential improvement in the democratic process as it stands: We must recognize the resulting stalemate from current approaches to civic discourse rooted in endless dialectic exchanges and adapt accordingly. While seemingly difficult, this adaptation could come to fruition with relative ease if our collective perspectiv e on communication was focused on dialogue, ideally mitigating the widespread anger that seems to be permeating from the current state of civic discourse. Rather than perceiving the Other's actions as being an unwillingness to see things from our perspecti ve, an emphasis on dialogue would instead recognize that the disagreement between communicators is positive and vein, rather than simply exchanging dialectic arguments in the hope of being able to convince someone out of their ideological stances, we 1965, p. 370). A fusion th at will only come to pass when individuals actively listen with the intent to truly understand and see the issue from the eyes of another.
Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 30 The bedrock to a democratic nation's success is its ability to deliberate on matters of relevance and compensate for changing realities, but if our current state of bipartisan indecision, as well as downright aggression towards opposing views, persists, th en I fear that we as a nation are on a path towards peril, for as Abraham Lincoln once said, '...a house...divided...cannot stand'" (Lincoln, 1858). To respond to what I believe to be the monumental civic issue of our time, I propose a renewed emphasis on a dialogic approach to politics, civic discourse and to communication in general. This will be done so as to combat maladaptive cultural norms that have brought a nation founded on the principle of democracy and civic responsibility to a point where it's c itizens have become effectively unable to have a conversation with someone who has a view different from their own. By emphasizing and employing a dialogic approach to communicative interaction as outlined by, Arnett et al., Brown, Gadamer and Forni throug hout in this essay, I believe that the greater culture within the United States would witness a total restructuring of its interpersonal and political interactions. If we as a nation and as individuals make concerted efforts to actively and critically abso rb new information when engaging in a dialogue (particularly dialogue that relates to matters of importance, i.e., politics), and to adapt appropriately to that information as needed, we could to help restore the principles of deliberative democracy into s ociety. Through Fritz & McManus, 2018, p. 5) a social and political ecology that is inclusive and constructive. A change of pace that would inevitably lead to gr eater harmony and congruence within the nation.
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Running head: POLITICAL POLARIZATION 33 Peters, J. W. (2019, October 21). As support for Trump's impeachment grows, his base digs in its heels. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/20 19/10/21/us/politics/trump impeachment survey.html Prokop, A. (2016, July 19). Why republicans want Obama to denounce "radical Islam" and why he won't do it. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https:// www.vox.com/2015/11/16/9745334/obama radical islam isis Philosophy and Rhetoric , vol. 12, no. 2, 1979, pp. 130 143. Reilly, K. (2016, September 10). Hillary Clinton Transcript: 'Basket of deplorables' Comment. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://time.com/4486502/hillary clinton basket of deplorables transcript/ Thiessen, M. A. (2019, May 11). Hillary, this is the real reason you lost. Retrieved November 28, 2019, from https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct hillary clinton lost white voters 20170914 story.html . Timm, J. C. (2017, May 12). Tracking president Trump's flip flops. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.c om/storyline/president trumps first 100 days/here are new policy stances donald trump has taken electi on n684946 .
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