Rhetoric for the Masses

When a presidential candidate’s words have caused mass divisions between the American people, it’s time to consider just how important your vote can be.

By Terry Nguyen, University of Southern California


Basket of deplorables, nasty woman, bad hombres—these are only a few examples of the strange political rhetoric we Americans have heard over the course of this exhausting presidential election.

Many voters have turned their eyes and ears away from following this democratic mess of an election, disillusioned and disheartened by their choice of candidates. Things will finally come to a close on Tuesday, Nov. 8 to the relief of America’s weary citizens. Nevertheless, the road ahead is filled with uncertainty for the candidate who will clinch the office of the presidency.

This was no ordinary election in modern times. No, not because Hillary Clinton was the first female to receive the endorsement of a major political party. No, it wasn’t because Donald Trump has no experience serving in an elected government office.

This time, the political rhetoric espoused hinted at a major turning point in American politics—that there was something more at stake than ever before.

Bernie Sanders’ booming claims against the establishment, Donald Trump’s inflammatory declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border—these politicians’ words rang loud and clear to the American people, creating an irreversible rift between conservatives and liberals.

Why Words Matter More than Ever in the 2016 Election

Image via FOX Sports

Many citizens were swept up in the tide of political rhetoric, which played on personality politics more than ever. It affected everyone from the baby boomers to the millennials, who have become suddenly engaged in politics. It even jolted me out of my teenage naivety to pay attention to the policies and issues of each individual candidate.

Trump’s rallies began to parrot his intense assertions, boiling distrust and hatred aimed at the existing political establishment. “Crooked Hillary,” claims, “immigrants will come and take our jobs,” and the notion of a biased media and rigged elections are all too familiar among Trump’s supporters, who believe he is the only man who can fix this reality of a broken, corrupt America and restore fairness to its deprived citizens.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s rallies are more subdued, as she delivers a calmer, more optimistic version of America. Her campaign slogan, Stronger Together, embodies an idealistic reality of a diverse, progressive America. She only builds emotional intensity when speaking about her opponent, Trump, capitalizing on his most outrageous words and policies which will push the nation into further divide.

Trump and Clinton offer very different versions of America, and their words carry strong weight to the entirety of the American public.

Besides the hilarity of the candidates’ outright disdain for one another and the almost comical spin their debates have taken (with constant interruption and strange sniffles), the election reveals a frightening reality that our nation is becoming increasingly divided during a time when we need to be united.

Trump has created a fearful reality among his supporters, drawing images of immigrants as rapists, drug dealers and terrorists. He paints a version of America on the verge of economic collapse and infested with gun-brandishing terrorists, while lazy politicians suppress the truth from its citizens. Oftentimes, his claims have little to no factual validity, but the emotional weight of these assertions stir up his supporters and the American people.

Although a large chunk of voters do not take Trump’s claims seriously, this damaging rhetoric has created a subconscious stigma among the American people. I know that when I hear Trump’s claims, I find myself browsing the Internet, checking up on sources to see if his words contain a valid point.

To many who take Trump’s words as outright truth, or to those who are not well-educated enough to discern facts from fallacies, his rhetoric could easily make one fear the world we live in. It makes us fear each other and every unfamiliar face we see on the street.

It’s easy to blame Muslim Americans for the acts of terror ISIS has inflicted. It’s easy to “build a wall” to stop crime from passing into our borders. It’s easy to acknowledge that the reason we’re losing our jobs is because companies are outsourcing them to China due to a trade agreement Hillary Clinton’s husband wrote.

It’s so easy to blame and to be afraid because these words strike at the core of our most basic human instincts: Survival.

Trump’s words make it seem like we’re barely surviving as a nation with a weakened economy, distrustful politicians and even a media that will not tell us the truth.

Trump offers a highly distorted version of the truth in his words, one so radical that even young children have begun to pay attention to his wild statements. Clinton’s campaign has picked up on this, calling it “The Trump Effect.” Many immigrant children and those from minority backgrounds have expressed fear of their own deportation, as their classmates picked up on the racist rhetoric (“Build a wall!”) uttered by political figures.

When a man as powerful as Trump says demeaning words about an immigrant or a prisoner of war and his rhetoric is excused by a margin of society, it shows a child watching that these ideologies are acceptable. It justifies his sexually disturbing language as “locker room talk” instead of condemning it as unsuitable for a man running for the highest seat of office in our government.

His campaign has been built on words, empty words that have swayed a percentage of citizens to see Trump’s bleak reality of America and realize that it’s something only he can fix because Trump himself has constructed it.

Clinton’s campaign offers a distinct reality of America, sometimes a little too optimistic and even contrived, that has pushed away voters. Many have entered this election cycle distrusting Clinton immensely, from the numerous scandals and political controversies throughout her career.

Although Clinton’s promising vision and voice of a stronger America is naively wistful during such a divisive time, her words reveal a seasoned politician with pages of policy—one who might be a little too crafty and compromising, but knowledgeable about governance.

There is no stronger contrast than comparing the candidates’ rhetoric. And it goes to show that words matter more than ever in an election that has incited violence, hate and controversy within our nation.

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