Monday, December 11, 2017

Tongues of Conquest: A Powerful Address

This Blog Was Written By 
John Ribauldo

In his first address to the United Nations general assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump employed a variety of rhetorical approaches to advance the interests of American foreign policy. Although Trump campaigned on the idea that he speaks plainly and not to obscure truth― a quality he felt differentiates himself from other politicians― his language was equally as frustrating and steeped in assumptions. Using a rhetoric mastered by his political opponents and predecessors, President Trump is able to mask his administration’s agenda with the appearance of normalcy.

Most notably, the President uses specific terms of address to refer to other nations― particularly those under the immediate crosshairs of his foreign policy. Without mentioning either Iran or North Korea (DPRK) by name, in the third minute of the address, Trump references “rogue regimes” that “support terrorists and threaten their own people with the most destructive weapons known to man”. Being steeped in the rhetoric of today, we can infer that Iran and North Korea are the targets of this statement. 

Many nations, including some key partners to the United States, have murky connections to terrorist groups, yet when we hear President Trump speak about state-sponsored terrorism, we immediately think only of Iran. Likewise, despite the fact that several nations possess nuclear weapons (and that the US is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in combat), the association with “the most destructive weapons known to man” is firmly cemented onto both Iran and North Korea. Why is this? It’s all about those pesky terms of address!

Trump is able to make such strong references to the targets of his regime because the American mass media has associated the “boogie man”-like phrases with countries like Iran or North Korea. Trump is simply tapping into a reservoir of linguistic trickery that was assembled by such previous leaders as George Bush and Barack Obama. Trump continues to use these empty scare-words against other targets of US foreign policy: Syria is a tyrant’s dictatorship, Venezuela is a failed state, and Cuba is a rogue socialist nightmare.

Mass media has created easily accessible and shared terms for the international community to use when referencing other nations. This is a very useful tool for whoever gets to set these terms, because these terms’ implications can be immensely powerful and indicative of how international relations are conducted.

Not only do these terms of address set the narrative for how we discuss and think about countries unaligned with U.S. interests, but it also facilitates the exertion of power; i.e. when President Trump refers to North Korea as a rogue regime, he isn’t just referencing a country, he’s making a call to action. Speech acts are utterances that do something or accomplish a goal. By strongly condemning North Korea, President Trump is commanding his international constituents and junior partners to join him in the condemnation and ostracization of North Korea.

By subtly tapping into the wealth of established communicative practices that he inherited from presidents past, Mr. Trump is given a variety of ways through which his mere words could command attention, mobilize nations, and conquer the narrative.

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