The Value of Rhetoric for Citizen-Scholars

The following post is written by scholars  Cashaay L. and Chelsea G.

On January 20, 2017, eight scholars and two teachers from Democracy Prep Harlem High traveled from New York to Washington, D.C. to witness the inauguration of Donald J. Trump.  The purpose of this trip was for scholars to analyze the inaugural speech’s rhetorical devices.  However, the trip wasn’t just about that. It included being a part of history in the making. This experience was one that we will definitely pass on to future generations.

As citizen-scholars, we must understand the importance of being able to identify tactics politicians use to persuade their audience. It was clear during this election season that the way a person speaks can evoke many different emotions from an audience. In our opinion, Trump’s use of rhetorical devices played a very important role in his inaugural speech, because it was the one way he could come across as prepared to talk to all of his constituents.  For us, the way he spoke during his speech really mattered in terms of how he got his thoughts across and how effective he was in making sure we understood these thoughts.  We attended the inauguration with a neutral attitude, but also with the hope that in hearing the speech of our next president, we would continue to have faith and hope for positive change.


We know that in order for democracy to be made more perfect, Americans must make a move from generic to more inclusive language.


In Trump’s speech, we observed the use of pathos (emphasis on appealing to emotions), allusion (indirect references to the past), tone (style of speaking or expressing emotion), and most importantly epistrophe (use of the same word/words to end a series of phrases).  Based on what we know about his previous speeches, many of these devices were used to appeal to his core base of supporters, while attempting to assure those who didn’t support him that he will also be their president.

As citizen-scholars, we’ve learned that in America, it’s okay to have your own beliefs and opinions.  However, we also know that in order for democracy to be made more perfect, Americans must make a move from generic to more inclusive language. The way someone communicates shows us whether or not they are credible and knowledgeable about the issues we care about. Lastly, knowing or being able to recognize certain devices can affect how we understand why we view something one way versus how someone living in a different state views that same subject. As future voters, Americans, children of color, and young women, we are looking forward to our new president giving all people in America assurance in his future speeches to come.

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