Acknowledging guests during the State of the Union address is not a new practice; however, it has had a peripheral role in the overall architecture of the speech, with presidents typically acknowledging up to seven guests. In his 2018 State of the Union address, president Trump acknowledges no less than eighteen guests, transforming this otherwise marginal practice into an essential part of his discourse. This article analyzes, from a socio-rhetorical perspective, President Trump’s unprecedented use of real-life individuals for image-building purposes during the 2018 State of the Union Address. I use sociological, rhetorical and linguistic concepts such as framing, narrative persuasion and demeanor indexicals to analyze the way Trump portrays the guests as heroes, integrates each into a brief narrative, and finally positions himself as hierarchically superior to them. Finally, I suggest potential directions for further research into the sociological, philosophical, political and cultural implications of this uncommon persuasive strategy.
On April 6th, 1917, one Reed Owen Smoot prayed for aid in troubled times. That is hardly original in itself. The scene would thus be unworthy of note if it were not for further specifics. April 6th, 1917, was the day on which the United States declared war on Germany and entered the conflict now known as World War I. The prayer was offered in the US Senate in response to that decision. But just as significant as the setting is the praying subject. Smoot was a Senator from Utah, a Republican, and an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), that is a Mormon. To which the average reader likely responds, “of course.” If Smoot was from Utah, he was of course Mormon, of course Republican, and of course willing to perform religiosity in public. This essay does not aim to cut through that chain of assumptions. Rather, my discussion offers an account of how these links have been forged: a development that would have surprised the majority of nineteenth-century Mormons as much as their non-Mormon contemporaries. What could be conservative about open scriptural canon, communitarian utopianism, and non-monogamous marriage? Ultimately, however, Mormon conservatism is grounded in particulars of that theology. It has further been shaped, gradually but thereby durably, through shifting principles of LDS political engagement. Consideration of this process offers a case study in how an initially radical formation can fashion itself into conservatism.
Many months have passed since I presented this essay at Göttingen in February of 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. In light of intervening events there is one additional matter I would take note of, one which is arguably a positive development; this is that President Trump’s conduct in office, and that of his associates during the campaign, has highlighted an essential feature of the American political system that often remains obscured. This is that America does not have three coequal branches of government; rather, it has three separate and largely independent branches of government, of which Congress is preeminent. This is appropriate since Congress, the lower House in particular, is directly responsive (by virtue of their short terms of office) to the supreme power of the ‘People.’
Just how powerful, unified, and successful was and is American conservatism? Arguably, the conservative movement has been one of the most powerful and successful uprisings in twentieth-century American history and perhaps the whole of US history. However, reassessing its sixty-year trajectory raises serious questions about its past, present, and future trajectories. In retrospect, this juggernaut looks fragmented, disjointed, and contested. Moreover, the movement and the Republican Party that houses it also seems fractured since conservatives have struggled to govern in the past, are struggling now, and will most likely struggle in the foreseeable future. As such, there is currently a need to reexamine persistent historical myths about conservatism’s rise as well as liberalism’s supposed fall in order to best understand how the American experiment has and will continue to unfold.