38 Trump, Pathos, Exigence, on January 6th

Tayte Dupree

Keywords: Politics, Exigence, Ideograph, Power, Diction


How does one man convince hundreds of mature adult aged humans to commit federal crimes and risk their lives with just his words? It is always said that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The real question is not if words can hurt you, but what can they convince you to do? For a speaker, Pathos is used as a way for the audience to emotionally connect with what the speaker is saying. This is a perfect way for the speaker to get the audience to be attentive and put everyone in the same boat. Making the speaker’s pain their pain or the speaker’s problems the audience’s problem creates a much stronger connection between the speaker and the audience. Pathos can control and sway emotions of an audience and that begs the question of, can pathos be used to take advantage of an audience? Pathos is a powerful and dangerous tool to a desperate audience who wants change and a captivating speaker who wants their unquestioned support.


On the fateful day of January 6th, 2021, one orange man with a bad haircut spoke to hundreds of his supporters in the nation’s capital of Washington D.C. Donald Trump and his fan base had finally reached a boiling point with his constant claims of fraudulent voting results and government conspiracy theories. Something about his speech on January 6th really flipped a switch to make people take physical action. Analyzing Donald Trump’s speech in Washington and most every speech in his political career we can see consistent rhetoric and examples of pathos to bring urgency and emotional appeal to his movement.


Aristotle defines Pathos as “in terms of a public speaker putting the audience in the right frame of mind by appealing to the audience’s emotions. He further defined emotion as states of mind involving pleasure and pain, which in turn influence our perceptions.” Trump may not have seemed like the smartest man to sit in the oval office, but there he was excellent at using emotional appeals whenever he spoke publicly. Throughout his time as president, he always was labeling himself and his supporters as the victim, implying that everyone was always out to get them whether it was the democrats or the horrible fake news media. By putting himself and his supporters in the same boat, he encouraged them to support him, because he might be their only hope. This sense of desperation and pity for our 45th president was what made his base so loyal, in ways similar to the strategies used by charitable foundations, as they acquire money from people by creating a sense of pity to the recipient’s situation. In an article about the rhetoric used in charity letters asking for donations, Marshall Myers explains, “While it is debatable what the reasons are for donors to give so much money, most donors seem to be moved to contribute by pathos, particularly pity.” Trump used many strategies and specific diction to invoke pity and anger within his audience convincing them to believe they were under attack.


Trump always wanted to create urgency whenever he spoke to his audience and did this by creating exigences. In Lloyd Bitzer’s “The Rhetorical Situation,” he defines an exigence as “an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a thing which is other than it should be.” Similar to the way Churchill spoke during the second world war, Trump created persistent pressure whenever he spoke, but then reassured his base that since he was in charge he could make the changes necessary to save everyone. Trump always spoke as a wartime president. There was always an enemy, but there was always a solution he had in place to solve it. A couple examples of Trump’s “enemies” that he used throughout his presidency were: immigrants, China, Mexico, North Korea, media, democrats, ANTIFA, and countless others. Trump was quite good at using these “enemies” to further grow in the mind of his supporters how badly they needed him in these trying times. Even in his speech on January 6th, 2021, there were many examples of him creating an exigence, including “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Trump implied to his supporters that their country is in danger and if they do not do something about it, they will not have a country anymore. That quote is also the main quote that is being used in Trump’s indictment in the Senate.


Now to the main question, how did Trump persuade hundreds of people to leave his speech and raid the Capitol building while the house was in session? Firstly, it is important to look at who Trump’s audience is. Trump’s audience falls under the category of people who are just fed up with normal politicians making decisions for everyday hard-working Americans. Many of his supporters are blue collar people who think they have been stepped on by the government for too long. Trump rode that anti-government wave all the way to the oval office getting his supporters to trust the media and the democrats less and less. Trump has been slowly stirring the pot ever since he started his campaign, but the rhetoric he used in his actual speech turned all the anger Trump created into physical action. Towards the beginning of his speech, after bashing the “fake news media,” he said, “I’m honest. And I just, again, I want to thank you. It’s just a great honor to have this kind of crowd and to be before you and hundreds of thousands of American patriots who are committed to the honesty of our elections and the integrity of our glorious republic.” This quote screams emotional appeal and pity. He thanked everyone, said how good of Americans they were, and then proceeded to tell them they had an election stolen from them. This is only the beginning of what really turned the crowd over. Trump continued to use examples of pathos to the crowd through their loud chanting and cheering. “Our exciting adventures and boldest endeavors have not yet begun. My fellow Americans, for our movement, for our children, and for our beloved country.” He is making his fan base feel as if they are only getting started and if they want a better life for themselves and their children, they need to support him and his movement. This is where Trump’s emotional appeal can become very dangerous, because people cannot see what he is doing. His use of Pathos is not genuine; it is to get his base riled up and make sure he has their unwavering support. Trump’s speech brings to forefront the dangers of Pathos and what effect it can have on a desperate audience. Through Trump’s emotional appeals, he used his words as the spark to light the fuse of his supporters to raid the Capital and put countless lives at risk.

Works Cited


Aristotle, W R. Roberts, Ingram Bywater, Friedrich Solmsen, and Aristotle. Rhetoric. New York: Modern Library, 1954. Print.

Hyde, Ari. “Wartime Rhetoric’s Finest Hour: What We Can Learn from Winston Churchill’s Rhetoric in a Post-9/11 World.” Conference Papers — National Communication Association, Jan. 2009, p. 1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=54434638&site=ehost-live.

Kraus, Manfred. “How to Classify Means of Persuasion: The Rhetoric to Alexander and Aristotle on Pisteis.” Rhetorica, vol. 29, no. 3, Summer 2011, pp. 263–279. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1525/RH.2011.29.3.263.

Myers, Marshall. “The Use of Pathos in Charity Letters: Some Notes Toward a Theory and   Analysis.” Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, vol. 37, no. 1, Mar. 2007, pp. 3–16. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2190/2M77-0724-4110-1413.

Miller, Arthur B. “Rhetorical Exigence.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 5, no. 2, Spring 1972, pp. 111–118. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=16173382&site=ehost-live.

Naylor, Brian. “Read Trump’s Jan. 6 Speech, A Key Part Of Impeachment Trial.” Npr.Org, 10 Feb. 2021, choice.npr.org/index.html?origin=https://www.npr.org/2021/02/10/966396848/read-trumps-jan-6-speech-a-key-part-of-impeachment-trial.


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

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