Facilitation – Communities, Identities, and Politics (Barry Brummett)

In this essay, Barry Brummett aims to refine the modern definition of rhetoric without compromising the integrity of the term, but through considering new forms of communication and media. Specifically, he examines political rhetoric through four 21st century changes: imaginary, commodified, local, and dialectic. 

Image is the publicly presented style of a person or group, and is carried in aesthetic materials and narratives. Ever since the development of TV and cinema, image has been the center of politics. Brummett gives the example of the commonly accepted viewpoint that John Kennedy won his election because of his good looks. Now, however, politics play games with images. Rather than being focused on policy and action, political campaigns are based upon rhetoric, statistics, polls, and attacks on image.

“Commodified” refers to the way that politics are reduced to terms of the market. Nearly any kind of struggle is framed as a product of a hurting economy, and the fastest way to better anything is to create jobs and money. This commodification essentially eliminates some of the country’s most pressing issues from discussion, in fear that they might stand in the way of economic growth and capitalism. People see political struggle and social issues as entertainment in their favorite TV shows, but these issues aren’t really addressed.

Political rhetoric is local in the sense that it can present personally engaged material (opposite to the “image” idea previously discussed), yet it creates an illusion of local involvement by discussing personal and domestic issues. For example, the largest news and media companies will mainly cover national news and issues, People sense a disconnect from large, national news and take the issues to a local level. Local protests or signs of support for national issues are often a way that people reduce the most complex issues down to a manageable level, often through some sort of material support. Brummett gives the example of the social struggle over the role of women, which Hillary Clinton embodies, and so supporters of this very large and complex issue simply support her as their way of feeling a part of the bigger women’s rights movement.

The most important aspect of dialectic is structure. This becomes very important in times of change and instability, where people search for structure in political language or ideas that gives them their sense of stability back. This explains why the creation of new ideas often pulls rhetors from the old idea. Brummett claims that many struggles over terminology, such as the term “Muslim terrorist” or the distinction between “terror” and “crime” are dialectic struggles which characterize this century’s political rhetoric.

A recent example of political rhetoric can be found in Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign. In this video, Trump announces that he is running for President. He promptly commodifies the entire country, calling it a business and claiming that it can only be made great again by someone who knows how to make business deals. He cites claims that a successful person could never be elected into office but then attempts to reason that he knows he can, and that that attitude is what will get him elected. He is attempting to create his image but fails to use any sound logic or reasoning, yet he sets himself up as a candidate who has nothing in his way. Trump also uses the structure aspect of dialectic in his phrase “Make America Great Again.” Everyone knows that a new president entering office is a change, but the simple us of the word “again” makes his audience think that America was once great, and that he must have a plan because he’ll simply do whatever was done to make it great in the past.


9 thoughts to “Facilitation – Communities, Identities, and Politics (Barry Brummett)”

  1. This facilitation does a great job of breaking down the forms of modern-day political rhetoric. We do live in an extraordinary time for politics as we have elected a reality TV star as our president and have all sorts of celebrities hinting at potential campaigns. This is good news in many ways because as a country we are more engaged in politics than ever, however, there are many pitfalls with this development.
    Trump’s merciless tweeting and attacks on people’s appearance, character, and overall superficial comments certainly make a debate or a campaign more interesting but this technique also has other consequences. If we have created a political world where the most successful people are simply the best “gotcha” commenters rather than the smartest people, we have created a deeply flawed system. The largest economy in the world should not be handled by those who are simply the most entertaining.
    Ultimately civic engagement is incredibly valuable and important but should not be so highly sought after that we are willing to encourage our candidates and leaders to push aside the moral values that made this country great to begin.

    1. It breaks down the modern day forms of rhetoric nicely. With where we are as a country and the strides we had made before the Chinese Virus came about showed us that we didn’t have to rely on people outside of our own country to get things that we needed. Off topic, sorry.
      That being said it does a nice job of splitting up rhetoric and attacking what it truly means in our day today. It also stresses the need for the US as a whole to know more about our political infrastructure so that we can elect better leads and oust ones who have been there far too long.

    2. A solid response here, although one wonders how feasible it is to convince those in politics who have seen the effectiveness of these techniques to change their behavior. What persuasive resources do those of us who consider them harmful have to convince those who come along after them? This is something we should be talking about in the latter half of the course.

  2. You did a great job in this facilitation, I think your example over Trump’s “make America great again” imagery was very well placed and that we can take this idea of politicians using imagery to support their campaign in another (more recent) way. As we all are well aware, the Corona virus is ravaging the country and places like New York are some of the hardest hit both in cases and financially. During this crisis though, a figure almost unknown to the rest of the country is rising rapidly in popularity and know-ability. This person would be the Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has painted himself as a white knight amongst other politicians, with him ‘sacrificing’ his chances in any election in the future in order to save lives in New York (When other politicians would rather keep their chances of wining election rather than saving lives). Cuomo has a large following in the past weeks by focusing on actions to protect the public rather than save the economy, and as such has set himself up perfectly as a candidate that is focused on the public good rather than their own. This imagery as a white knight is something that the American public have hardly ever seen before, and as such they are latching on to it. While he has yet to have announced anything yet, it is thought that all of this is a gambit to set him up on the political stage for presidency in 2024. This follows the idea of Barry Brummett specifically, with the public coming to “know [Cuomo’s] … image as” (Barry Brummett 295) something to think positively of and also creates an “emotional sense of bonding” (Barry Brummett 295) with the individual in regards to Cuomo, with the individual trusting Cuomo to be looking out for their best interests as he has shown he is capable of during this crisis

      1. Fascinating – this hadn’t occurred to me before, but of course it makes complete sense. Keep your eyes peeled for the announcement in 2022!

  3. The use of donald trump’s speech was a great way of breaking down political rhetoric. We do live in a time where technology and social media is big thing and that can be seen extremely well through the fact that our president tweets everyday. There has also been some weird times when electing candidates because some people have mentioned that people like Oprah or Kanye West should run for president, that might be why Trump won the election because he was popular at the time and had a lot of money. But now we can see through Trump’s tweets and everything he does that he wasn’t a good fit. He attacks everyone on social media, celebrities, people talking about gay rights, people that talk about campaigns or he just says whatever is on his mind during something like this pandemic. We should’ve have chosen someone that had better ideas on how to change our government or someone that would put us out of debt- a smart person. It shouldn’t be handed to someone that has no idea what he is doing and has never been politics before. Even though his slogan is “Make America Great Again” doesn’t mean he has a plan to make america the way it was in the past.

  4. All I have to add to this discussion, as Jacob Kobos did a very excellent job at explaining Brummetts ideas, is that political rhetoric techniques tend to be used together which means trying to separate strategies and compare isn’t giving a full picture on how these work. Brummett explained in his part about “local” rhetoric that it “seems contradictory with the [other techniques] and contradictory within itself” but to me it doesn’t seem contradictory at all. Locality is relative. Politicians and political staff can still use their image to push their agenda in small areas even if these small areas have the personable attachments to certain ideas. Usually what happens is a mix occurs where the politician begins to immersive themselves within communities problems while of pushing the same image from the national level. Some of the time this is to go against local problems but that’s still “locality” as defined by Brummett. This can extend to a national level as well. I feel as if Brummett doesn’t emphasize enough that these categories usually blend together creating a more complex rhetoric that might not be clearly defined from these techniques that he proposes.

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