The Choice: A Rhetorical Deconstruction of the First Presidential Debate

Rhetoric is the arts of ruling minds of men. -Plato

Watching the presidential debate stirred up many emotions; excitement, anger, happiness among some of them. Throughout the entire hour and a half of debate, I couldn’t help but think about the power that words and speech have on influencing people’s hearts and minds, all around the country. A record breaking 84 million people watched the debate, more than ever before, those who watched were Americans who will be voting for the next President of The United States and people from different corners of the globe to watch how the next leadership of America will unfold.

Let’s rewind to the first time that a debate had a significant impact on how a particular candidate was viewed. The debate in reference was the Nixon vs Kennedy debate, a debate which had a profound influence on voters and changed the world’s view of presidential elections and stature of candidates. It was the first debate to be televised and according to Alan Schroeder, a media historian and associate professor at Northeastern University, “it’s one of those unusual points on the timeline of history where you can say things changed very dramatically — in this case, in a single night.” Part of the reasoning is because how they appeared and how they spoke, “Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident.” , It helps to realize that the truth of the any real debate is not to find answers, but to make your answer considered right over your opponent. A highly intelligent individual can have extraordinary ideas but without articulating them efficiently, their ideas would not come to fruition.

In Hilary Clinton’s opening remarks, she made a comment about her grand daughters birthday. This appealed to make Clinton seem more emotional in such serious circumstances. Throughout the night she utilized repetition of words to prove her point. As far as the rhetoric is concerned, Hilary Clinton stated that “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.” While this comment is outlandish and exaggerated, her meaning is that Donald Trump does not take climate change seriously. However, since she had put it in this way, it becomes jarring and impactful to those listening.

Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton shaking hands before the First Presidential Debate.

As far as Donald Trump’s rhetoric, I don’t agree with the premise of Mr. Trump’s argument, “Let’s Make America Great Again,” it assumes that our country is not necessarily great. His argument centers around reflecting on a grander time in the United States history where the manufacturing industry was booming and the unemployment rate was low. The economy is his point of reference. However, I am skeptical since most people look at the past with a sense of nostalgia. All that being said, I do believe in American Exceptionalism and America’s role as being a leader of the free world. However, I would encourage who ever may be the next president of the United States to be more forward thinking about these issues and for the case of Trumps candidacy he may appeal to more voters by being a person of eloquence.

Additionally, when Hilary Clinton spoke for her two minute allotted time spots, she seemed well prepared and her argument was easy to follow, she began with a claim, followed it up with some evidence and concluding remarks. On the contrary, Donald Trump made several claims however did not bring them full circle. The facts and figures that were used by both candidates definitely added credibility to their arguments, however, it was the organization of the argument that defined the impact on the audience.

In conclusion, one’s ability to communicate their argument in an effective manner can significantly impact the influence they have on an audience. In the case of the presidential race, this could make a difference between appealing to the American or falling flat.