The Rhetoric of Donald Trump
Nationalist Populism and American Democracy
Robert C. Rowland
The Rhetoric of Donald Trump identifies and analyzes the nationalist and populist themes that dominate the rhetoric of President Trump and links those themes to a persona that has evolved from celebrity outsider to presidential strongman. In the process Robert C. Rowland explains how the nationalist populism and strongman persona in turn demands a vernacular rhetorical style unlike any previous modern president—a style that makes no attempt to lay out a case, requires constant lies, and breaks every norm for how a presidential candidate or president should talk. In stark contrast, our most effective presidents have used rhetoric to present a positive vision of what the nation could achieve. The three most effective presidential uses of rhetoric in the past century—FDR, Reagan, and Obama—all presented a coherent ideological message that, while focused on problems of the moment, was also rooted in a fundamental optimism. In contrast, Trumps message is fundamentally negative.
The Rhetoric of Donald Trump explores how the nation could so abruptly shift from a president such as Barack Obama, who emphasized the audacity of hope, to one who in his inaugural address spoke about “American carnage.” At its core, Trump’s message is well designed to appeal to voters with an authoritarian personality structure, especially in the white working-class, who feel threatened by the pace of societal change, especially demographic change. Rowland’s work illustrates how President Trump’s ceremonial speeches violate norms calling for a message of national unity and instead present a divisive message designed to create strongly negative emotions, especially fear and hate. It further reveals how Trump sustains those strong visceral reactions with his use of Twitter to make the rally atmosphere a daily reality for his supporters, a prime example being the Coronavirus Task Force briefings, which he transformed from an exercise in desperately needed public health education into a partisan rally.
“The author provides a refreshingly clear-eyed, deeply informed, and rigorously argued examination of the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. Rowland is especially helpful in exploring the relationship between the particulars of Trump’s language practices and their more general implications for populism, democracy, and the American presidency. This is a work of singular achievement.”
—Stephen Howard Browne, professor of communication arts and sciences, Pennsylvania State University, and author of The First Inauguration: George Washington and the Invention of the Republic
“Of some eighty studies of Trump’s rhetoric that have appeared between 2015 and 2020, Robert Rowland’s book The Rhetoric of Donald Trump: Nationalist Populism and American Democracy is the best. Rowland develops a theoretical framework that explains Trump’s rhetoric and why it is effective. In so doing, he extends rhetorical theories of both affect and genre. As he notes, treating Trump’s rhetoric as an expression of ‘an affective genre is not only important for explaining Trump’s success but also for illuminating the rise of nationalist populism in Europe and for suggesting important ways of extending genre criticism beyond a narrow situational approach.’ That Rowland is one of the leading theorists of genre studies gives his theoretical argument added power.”
—David A. Frank, professor of rhetoric, Clark Honors College, University of Oregon
“The Rhetoric of Donald Trump takes the reader on an in-depth analysis of Trump’s communication—from his campaign oratory to his presidential speeches and from his tweets to his COVID-19 briefings. Throughout this excellent book, Robert C. Rowland incisively demonstrates how Trump’s unforgiving nationalism, populist attacks on elites, and violation of rhetorical norms, in tandem with the persona of a celebrity outsider that has evolved into that of an authoritarian leader, have forged a bond of identity with his followers that persists. Rowland also points to the grave dangers that Trumps rhetoric pose to American democracy.”
—Denise M. Bostdorff, author of The Presidency and the Rhetoric of Foreign Crisis and Proclaiming the Truman Doctrine: The Cold War Call to Arms
“In this important and carefully researched volume, Professor Robert C. Rowland examines and critiques Donald Trump’s strategic exploitation of some of the darkest and most divisive elements of American populist and anti-immigrant sentiments. Rowland provides a strong warning of the dangers posed to the vitality of our democracy and our most important institutions by this rhetoric. Trump and Trumpism have sadly captured the hearts and minds of the Republican Party and its most devoted followers, and this book explains why this style of discourse may persist for years to come.”
—Thomas A. Hollihan, professor, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, and author of Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media AgeSee fewer reviews...
The Rhetoric of Donald Trump is essential reading for scholars, students, and the informed citizen to understand how Trump’s rhetoric of nationalist populism with a strongman persona undermines basic principles at the heart of American democracy.