Reagan’s Address to the Nation, Rhetoric Then vs. Now

In today’s politically charged atmosphere, Washington has seen the emergence of a populist driven outsider, who many berate as having a divisively, unfiltered rhetoric. As evident, through his use of blatant, general language, which served to resonate amongst common folk, effectively persuading individuals and rallying sentiment in favor of his proposed agenda.

However, while Trump’s rhetoric stepped away from the traditional political discourse we’ve grown accustomed to, he still retained many of the characteristics of a successful orator, that being a control of tone and an understanding of ethos.

One such president, Ronald Reagan, exploited these very principles exceptionally well; hence, his nickname, “The Great Communicator,” as he was able to effectively convey his message and appeal to the greater audience, as noted through his “Address to the Nation,” only three weeks following his inauguration.

Reagan tended to speak in a rather soothing, often reassuring tone, similar in fashion to a grandfather; addressing the public directly in an informal, consultative fashion.  He began his address stating, “I’m speaking to you tonight to give you a report on the state of our nation’s economy.” In doing so, he established a discussion with the audience, speaking in a casual tone with simple diction, to gravitate attention from viewers and allow them to comprehend his statements.

He furthered, by intentionally avoiding incomprehensible jargon, stating openly, “I’m not going to subject you to the jumble of charts, figures, and economic jargon of that audit, but rather will try to explain where we are, how we got there, and how we can get back.” This rhetoric served to diminish the distance between the President and the viewer, creating a feeling of comfort as though your best interests were shared with President Reagan.

Reagan would later bolster his statements, by appealing to his audience’s sense of logos, referencing “American ideals,” such as home ownership as well as “American intuition,” as noted through the creation of the assembly line. However, he soon after follows this by introducing a comparative conjunction, which highlights a negative possible cause of misfortune.

When addressing America, Reagan stated, “We invented the assembly line and mass production, but punitive tax policies and excessive and unnecessary regulations plus government borrowing have stifled our ability to update plant and equipment.” In doing so, Reagan is able to expertly guide his viewers and transition them from a state of nostalgia to one of directed hate, rallying sentiment to the object he has asserted to be the source of economic hardship.

This, in turn, creates an avenue from which Regan can push forward his agenda or solution to the matter, as he stated that he had “already placed a freeze on hiring replacements for those who retire or leave government service as well as a freeze on pending regulations.” As such, Reagan is able to portray himself as both competent and productive in his pursuits to better the American people.

Likewise, while Reagan expertly exploits sentiment, Trump issues similar rhetorical strategies, as evident during his Inaugural Address, where he appealed to his viewer’s sense of pathos by depicting America in dire need of reform. In his address, Trump noted that “mothers and children are trapped in poverty; rusted-out factories scatter like tombstones; and a failed education system, leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

In doing so, Trump is able to rally frustration amongst his listeners and offer himself as the savior, speaking directly to the viewer, stating, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

As such, though their approach may differ, both Reagan and Trump act in similar rhetorical fashion, speaking in common fashion, omitting large words and verbose statements, while appealing to the sentiment of the constituency base. Therefore, I see a re-emergence of Reagan’s conservative, pro-American rhetoric aimed at rallying the sentiment of the American people in support of economic policies suggested by the President and his administration.


Ronald Reagan Address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8cF2S4QO_w&t=1059s

Donald Trump Address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-mfhjaPvsM

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