20 Pathos on the Quad

Tiffany Wang

Keywords: Political Campaign, Speech, Twitter, Biden, Trump



JIA (girl,20) is sitting on the bench. She is holding her laptop in her hand. Her eyebrows twist together, looking confused. We hear a sound of footsteps from behind, someone pats Jia on

the shoulder. Jia turns around and sees George (boy,20)




Jia turns around and waves. George looks and Jia’s computer screen and smiles.


GEORGE Difficult time with your rhetorical class again?


Jia nods as George takes a seat next to Jia’s bench.


JIA We are supposed to write why pathos is an important rhetorical skill for today.




I have zero ideas.


George’s eyes open in gaps as he looks at Jia.


GEORGE Of course, it’s important! You are a politics major Jia! You are interested in the political news going on around the world, right? How can you truly understand what a politician is talking about when you do not even know the use of pathos behind their speech?


Jia turns around and looks at George. She slightly rolls her

eyes in a jokey manner and pats George on his shoulder.


JIA There you are! Talking as if you are a professor again.




Of course I’m interested in the political news, of all kinds! I’m eager to know who becomes the new president of the United States, the new president’s policy towards COIVD 19, and if the decision to Brexit is successful in The United Kingdom like everyone else!


George smiles as he pats Jia on her shoulder, laughs.


GEORGE Trying to help you! Just like the examples you just mentioned, whether it is to win a political campaign, to enact certain policies, or to convince their citizens to make a decision collectively, pathos plays a significant role in persuasion! Understanding rhetoric techniques such as how pathos is used by politicians is an important and effective way to understand the profound political issues going on around the world!


Jia closes her laptop and looks at George. We can see curiosity in her eyes.


JIA OK, George… That sounds…profound.


George laughs.


GEORGE OK, I can start from the very beginning, do you know the definition of pathos?


Jia hesitates and answers.


JIA Yeah! The appeal to emotions?


George nods.


GEORGE Correct! But I mean how do you use it in real life if you were to use pathos to convince others?


Jia looks at George, She tilts her head.


JIA You mean like…OK, let me try.


Jia takes a deep breath. She lowers her voice.


JIA If you don’t help me with the pathos definition, George, I’m going to fail the class! Can’t you see me crying in my room already after I fail this class and can’t graduate?


George looks at Jia and laughs.


GEORGE Yeah! Use of pathos right there Jia.


George clears his throat and continues.


GEORGE According to Aristotle, pathos is awakening emotion in the audience to induce them to make the judgment desired (Aristotle p119).


Jia suddenly realized something. She looks and George, confused.


JIA How do you know all these from the top of your head? As if you are living in my textbook or something.


George laughs again as he looks at Jia.


GEORGE Took the class last semester!


Jia nods.


JIA Tell me more then! There’s like 20 minutes before your next class starts.


George smiles.


GEORGE OK just in case you cry in your room if you fail…


Jia taps George on his shoulder. George looks back and smiles.

He continues.


GEORGE Pathos is used by a lot of politicians to win election campaigns! I remembered my professor mentions that according to Aristotle, pathos is awakening emotion in the audience to induce them to make the judgment desired. The most relevant and relatable example I think I can give here is the presidential election of 2020!


George suddenly notices something as he looks at Jia.


GEORGE How can you not know this Jia? Politics major?


Jia laughs.


JIA Of course I know this! I’m just not paying attention to what kind of rhetorical skills are used!


Jia nods and waits for George to continue.


GEORGE Trump and Biden both had a lot of attempts to awake their audience during the United States 2020 presidential election. Remember Trump’s twitters during the election?


Jia nods.


JIA Yeah! Of course!


GEORGE Trump tweets ‘We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the polls are closed. I think there, Trump is trying to let his audience rage at his competitor by referring to the term ‘steal’ and implied to his supporters that the election result is not ‘just.’ By the tone of this message, Trump is trying to build a sense of trust and credibility among himself and his supporters, claiming that the losing result is not valid

and authentic. The attempts of evoking the resentful emotions here towards the election result exemplify a usage of pathos.


Jia nods in understanding.


JIA This is starting to make sense! So Trump is a using pathos on his social media, right? That sounds like an interesting combination.


George looks at Jia.


GEORGE You can make an example yourself?


Jia laughs.


JIA I mean…I can try. Like I’ll tweet…I studied for a 4.0 GPA that I stay up till 6 am every day! I tried so hard and I’m not going to let one single rhetorical class get in my way. People will see my tweets and feel sorry for me if I really ruin my 4.0 GPA plan?


George pauses for a while as he smiles and looks at Jia.


GEORGE Not quite so but..

That can be pathos to some extent.


Jia smiles as George looks at her and continues.


GEORGE You are getting at the point though. The usage of pathos and the social networking platform during election campaigns are a good combination given the nature of social media like Twitter and Instagram. The benefit of this combination is the light environment on social platforms.


Jia laughs as she nods.


JIA You are speaking like my professor again! So, this environment gives politicians, the group of people who are traditionally depicted as…earnest and reachless, the opportunity to become reachable and real, right? That’s the ‘strategy’ they are trying to use?


George nods.


GEORGE There’s a quote in ‘use of Facebook during the election.’ Let me look it up on my phone.


George is looking down at his phone until he finds something


GEORGE Here it is! Social networking sites have been integrated into political campaigns because they enable politicians to promote themselves freely and to communicate interactively with the electorate and to disseminate information freely without the interference of traditional media and have become semi-public and semi-private spaces where politicians can involve users in online personal encounters (Bar-Ilan).


Jia looks at George.


JIA Biden has a Twitter too, right? I think he also uses pathos in his tweets. Did he?


George nods. He is opening the Twitter app on his phone. He

scans through his phone for a while and looks up.


GEORGE He did! After the election result came out, Biden tweets ‘The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a president of all Americans-whether you voted for me or not.’ By referring to ‘All the Americans,’ Biden is trying to evoke emotions from everyone who believes they are a responsible country. Biden also uses the phrase ‘the road ahead of us is hard’ to tell everyone who is reading the message that he is in this situation with everyone together. This simple message here not only elicits emotions but also creates favorable emotional affection. The power of pathos is so strong that after reading the message, the audience who are not supporting Biden in the first place turned their attitude from opposing to favoring. The channel of the message here along with the pathos combines to contribute to the strong force the simple message delivers.


Jia looks at George as she suddenly thinks of something.


JIA Where else would Biden use Pathos? Like his inaugural speech?


George nods as he pulls out his laptop.


GEORGE I think so! Let me find the speech first.


George stays silent for a while as he looks up for the speech.


GEORGE Here it is! Loads of pathos used here. He writes ‘We can right wrong, we can put people to work in good jobs, we

can overcome this deadly virus’ (Biden). He is creating a sense that the people of the country are facing the problem together by using ‘we’ and connecting it with the difficulties the country is facing. The faith of facing the problem elicited here lets the audience trust the message, and believe in Biden’s ability to solve the problem. Later in the Inaugural Address, Biden states ‘Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness’ (Biden). Biden also uses the phrase ‘the road ahead of us is hard’ to tell everyone who is reading the message that he is in this situation with everyone, together. The channel of the message here along with the pathos combines to contribute to the strong force the simple message delivers. The extensive utilization of Pathos here in the inaugural speech is a key element for the audience to resonate emotionally and for Biden to gain more supporters politically.


Jia smiles as she is listening to George. She is holding her

phone with a tweet on the front page.


JIA I just find out pathos also helps politicians to enact policies successfully! Look at this tweet.




JIA Now I’m going to imitate your tone when you speak, George.


George laughs as he shows Jia to continue.


JIA When enacting the COVID 19 policies, Joe Biden sends a message saying ‘It matters whether you continue to wear a mask. It matters whether you continue to social distance. It matters whether you wash your hands. It all matters and can help save lives.’ Referring to the policy as a matter of lives evokes people’s bad memories of COVID, and thus appeals to emotions. The appeal to emotion here increases the shareability of information and thus helps the policy’s enactment.


George is looking up on his computer. He finds something and looks up at Jia.


GEORGE Here it is! I find a source relating to what you just said. ‘The majority of studies on social media use by various groups including election discourse studies, also strongly indicate that strong emotion plays a powerful role in the shareability of information (Azran et.al).


Jia stands up while picking up her backpack.


JIA I think I get the idea now! Let me try to do a summary.


George laughs.


GEORGE I think I really am lecturing you! Just so that you won’t cry in your room alone after the final exam of this class.


Jia laughs too.


JIA so…pathos creates a sense of trust and empathy between speakers and their audience. The emotional force brought by pathos, especially in the context of politics, is unbelievably strong. The combination of pathos and the forms of media the speaker chooses to use add to the force brought by pathos. Imagine the examples mentioned above without the utilization of pathos. A message would not be as vivid, as convincing, and as evocative without the existence of pathos.


George smiles.


GEORGE You are really getting your A in the course. You owe me dinner now.


Jia laughs.


JIA Haha thanks professor George!


George laughs too. They stand up, pick up their bags and walk

away together.




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Rhetoric in Everyday Life by Tiffany Wang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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