The US presidential campaign dragged on seemingly forever. And it was–even by political standards–ugly, dirty, and mean spirited. I’m glad it’s over.
I wish I could draw some positive lessons about public speaking and persuasion from either of the candidate’s speeches, but I can’t. I was largely uninspired by Clinton’s speeches. I was appalled by Trump’s rhetoric.
What concerns me most–as a citizen and, more specifically, as a speechwriter–is how frequently and effortlessly misinformation, distortions, and flat-out lies were asserted, only to be refuted (by those pesky little fact checkers) and then repeated.
It’s no surprise that the Oxford English Dictionary selected post-truth as the international word of the year for 2016.
Post-truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
“Appeals to emotion and personal belief” have always played a key role in persuasive public speaking. Over 2,500 years ago Aristotle identified three proofs of a persuasive speech:
- Ethos: The character and knowledge of the speaker
- Pathos: Appeals to the audience’s emotions, interests, and imagination
- Logos: The clarity of the message’s logic and the evidence put forth to support it
In this recent election pathos was the clear winner. Ethos and logos were almost nowhere to be found.
In future posts I’ll examine why pathos was so dominant. I’ll draw some lessons about the use of pathos in public speaking and persuasion. And I’ll point out why in non-political arenas pathos, divorced from ethos and logos, is not only ineffective, but calamitous.