Denise Bostdorff comments on ‘aggressive rhetoric of Trump’s fundraising emails’

October 2, 2020   /  

Denise Bostdorff, professor of communication studies, consulted based on her expertise in political rhetoric in an article by Vox Media that examined “why Trump’s campaign emails feel like someone is yelling at you.”

Denise Bostdorff, professor of communication studies
Denise Bostdorff, professor of communication studies

“They use the kinds of appeals that you would expect to be used if he were selling Trump Ties and Trump Steaks,” Bostdorff told Vox writer Contance Grady, likening it to the “hard sell” tactics used in infomercials. “This language of, ‘This is exclusive! You don’t want to miss this! This offer’s only going to be here a little while!’”

The emails first flatter recipients encouraging them to be a part of the “Trump Army,” to join an exclusive group and then distinctively mark those outside the group. “He doesn’t have opponents, he has enemies,” she explains. “These are not people for his supporters to disagree with. They are enemies that have to be stopped at all costs.”

Bostdorff describes the “trade-off” donors feel as “the authoritarian dynamic.” She said, “Authoritarianism is rooted in the idea that you hand over your power to me and I’ll take care of things. But therefore, there are certain demands I can make of you.” This relationship sets up an expectation of being entitled to the recipient’s money and support and being able to demand it. The article explains that is the rhetorical idea at the center of his fundraising emails. “You’re victimized, and the way you can feel special is to defer to him,” Bostdorff said. “You can be part of history. You can get a flag. He set aside a doormat just for you.”