Reason and Logic Cannot Counter Trump’s Rhetoric

Christopher Witt —  August 9, 2017

Reason and logic in a speech do not rouse audiences, lift their spirits, set their hearts on fire.

Reason and logic do not shape the way people imagine the world or what is possible and desirable.

Reason and logic do not move audiences to action.

Doubt me?

Consider Donald Trump.

His speeches do not employ logic or reason, verifiable facts, or consistency of thought. And yet they have mobilized an army of true believers.

Trump’s opponents try valiantly to counter his rhetoric. They “fact check” his statements and show them to be demonstrably false. They quote him against himself, showing earlier video clips or tweets that contradict his later claims. They poke gaping holes in his reasoning, such as it is.

But all the well-reasoned and logical efforts of Trump’s opponents fail to dampen the appeal of his message, the fervor of his followers.


Because we are not primarily rational creatures.

Reason and logic aren’t built into us. We come into this world with hardwired urges, appetites, instincts, and emotional predispositions.

No one needs to teach us to fear or envy or covet or resent, or to love or enjoy or trust or hope. (To be sure, others may teach us who or what to fear, envy, etc. And they may distort or enrich our urges and desires.)

But we have to learn how to use reason and logic.

And it’s a tough slog.

For most of us, most of the time, reason and logic fail to sway us from what our guts tell us, from what feels right.

To counter Trump’s rhetoric, a more reasonable and logical counterargument isn’t sufficient.

I’m not sure what will work.

I’m playing around with the idea that an approach more persuasive than reason and logic is based on three principles:

  1. The importance of belonging and adhering to the rules and customs of a tribe.
  2. The power of stories to shape our understanding of the world and how it works.
  3. The appeal of magical thinking.

In future posts, I’ll try to tease out what I mean by tribe, stories, and magical thinking.

What do you think?




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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

3 responses to Reason and Logic Cannot Counter Trump’s Rhetoric

  1. Great post. One of my fave books is “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger — gave me a real insight into what’s happening in America. Keep going! Can’t wait to read the next post

  2. Great topic Chris. I’m also coming to the realization there are different levels of persuasion and you see it all the time in political speeches.
    1. Logic (weakest) – This plan will reduce carbon emissions 10%
    2. Emotion/Benefits – We’re going to put coal miners back to work
    3. Values/Identity – We promised to repeal Obamacare so we need to keep our promise
    4. Visceral/fear/status/lossl – We need to protect the homeland from terrorists

    Trump spends a lot of time in #3 (Identity) and #4 (Fear/Status). Of course, a lot of politicians do, calling on American patriotism or religious values or social justice to win arguments. The way to beat Trump is a new spokesperson, with values even more closely matched to his base (maybe a Clint Eastwood type?) who dresses like a working man, talks straight and doesn’t need to put others down to build himself up. I’m developing this further in my latest book.

  3. Rich, I’ll look into Tribe. Thanks.
    Bruce, I like your list. I think I’d add “Vision” to it. And I’m looking forward to your next book.