Ethos, Logos, Pathos & Trump

Cheyanne Holliday

On Thursday, President Donald Trump held his first press conference. The conference lasted well over an hour; so, for the purpose of this essay, I will be watching the conference in its entirety and noting his most apparent uses of ethos, pathos and logos to develop his responses. I will then evaluate his argumentative structure as he addresses the news media that he has demonized. Following the advice of Kellyanne Conway, who, when asked about Trump’s statements, said this, "Why is everything taken at face value? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart,” I will be further analyzing everything he says and does, to determine what his “heart’s” true intentions are.

Trump has told a plethora of blatant lies; however, whenever his critics point out his dishonesty, he turns the story around and accuses the media of being “fake news.” During his press conference, in fact, Trump used the term “fake news” at least ten times. Trump has managed to alter the original meaning of fake news -- which originally referred to libel -- into an attack mechanism he uses to discredit the media. And it’s working. A poll held by Emerson college found that the Trump administration is considered truthful by 49 percent of registered voters and untruthful by 48 percent; Furthermore, the news media is significantly less trusted than the administration, with 53 percent calling it untruthful and only 39 percent finding it honest. Trump himself retweeted this poll, further promoting himself and his administration with the use of ethos. He has been constantly abusing ethos by discrediting the news media with the use of the term “fake news,” then continued on by claiming that his administration is the only honest source of information. This is the a key element of fascism. According to google, the definition of fascism is “ an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organizations.” Fascist regimes use tactics of mass manipulation to put the public in the dark. They do this by degrading and destroying institutions that oppose them. They claim to be acting in the best interest of the nation by making radical changes with the intention of bettering the nation. ( Think about his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again”). Trump at one point tweeted that “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, the people want border security and extreme vetting.” In this tweet, he literally makes the declaration that “any negative polls are fake news.” This absurd allegation is then supported with Trump's claim that “the people” are willing his policies forward. Despite him losing the popular vote, he continues to pursue the idea that “the people” support him, and that the only reason he lost the popular vote was because of three million cases of voter fraud, which he has no evidence to backup.

Four minutes into the conference, Trump begins his attack on the media. “ Unfortunately much of the media in Washington DC, along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and the people profiting off of a very very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest, that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it. We have to find out what's going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control. I ran for president to represent the citizens of our country. I am here to change the broken system.” He then continues on to say that he inherited a “mess” and that it’s his duty to fix it.

First of all, Trump begins his message by calling out various news platforms indirectly, while still being direct. He states in a matter-of-fact tone that news media outlets are manipulating the people and that he is here to act as a sort of knight-in-shining-armour and will save America from the mess it’s become. This statement is a combined use of ethos and pathos; which is why it’s working so well for him. He begins by, once again, discrediting the news media. If American citizens can’t trust the media to deliver them honest news, then who can they trust? Trump’s precise use of ethos to cover up his lies by claiming that the news media is “fake news” is quite brilliant honestly. American citizens are now questioning what the truth is, and how you can know what is really true. This is leading to a distrust of media and typical news sources that ultimately leads to people giving their trust to the Trump Administration. Now that he has used ethos to invalidate the people's source of information, he is free to make any statement he pleases. If the news media says that it's false, then he can just call them fake news and his supporters will blindly cling to his words. He acts as if not bashing the news publically would be a disservice to the people. This is a use of pathos. He is displaying signs of caring about the American people and acting as if what he is saying works in their best interest. He claims that he ran for the unheard citizens, and that he will change the “broken system.” Americans who have fallen victim to the flaws in our system hear his promises and are given hope. It’s mass manipulation at it’s finest.

While Trump is a fan of ethos and pathos, he lacks the use of one of the most important persuasive arts; and that is logos. As Kellyanne Conway says, “This is the problem with the media. You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.” Trump is relatable to many Americans ( particularly white, heterosexual, conservative males) in the sense that he says a lot of problematic things. Kellyanne backs up his words, by saying that everyone takes him much too literally. Because, apparently, you shouldn’t take everything the President of America says seriously. Nobody is able to criticize Trump without his administration turning it on them with the use of alternative facts. Fake news is only one example of Trump winning arguments through language. Call him inexperienced? False. He says that he is a Washington outsider living in real America, representing the unheard voices. Assert that he is vulgar? Oh no, he’s just telling it how it is and rejecting the diplomatic and political correctness that stops him from speaking his mind.

For the sake of length, I will bring an end to my essay here. Donald Trump is the master of manipulating the public through verbal deceit and blatant lies. He has molded ethos to work in his favor while simultaneously appealing to the fear that people have been feeling with the use of pathos. It is a rarity to see Trump using logos, and when he does, the facts he typically uses are far from the truth. While I didn’t end up analyzing his entire press conference, or even past the first five minutes, the argumentative strategies that I mentioned in this paper appear to be a reoccurring pattern with Trump.