Over the course of American history, presidential candidates have been involved in mudslinging. Mudslinging is the use of insults and accusation, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent. This form of denigration carried into the 2016 presidential election, which was arguably the most intense election in the modern era. People throughout the country began to partake in this rhetoric, causing what some believe a fundamental change in how Americans speak about politics. This shift can be seen on a small scale. There are numerous students at William Penn University that believe there has, in fact, been a shift in the rhetoric due to the rhetoric that shaped the 2016 presidential election.
Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques. Throughout the presidential elections of the past, rhetoric has, for the most part, not shifted much. According to Aaron Clemens, a junior studying sociology and criminology at William Penn University, “I would say that it [rhetoric] peaked right after the election.” A main reason as to why Clemens believes that the rhetoric has slowly calmed down after the election is because many Americans were often involved in political discussion prior to the election results. “For being a small liberal arts school, discussion has always been encouraged. I think that there was a lot of conversation between students and faculty.”
To add, Jeremy French, a student at William Penn University, believes that the rhetoric has in fact taken a turn. “I think a lot of the time there is so much negative rhetoric surrounding him (President Trump) that we forget to look at how damaging his rhetoric is regarding climate change and science.”, says French. French is an avid supporter of science and is an environmentalist. He believes that Trump’s rhetoric will have a lasting impact on the future of our climate. “The science community is in a mad rush to grab and secure anything possible because we have no clue what will be left after a Trump presidency and a republican controlled Congress.”
Often times, these various discussions turned into arguments, which Clemens believes is not beneficial to either arguer. “As much as I enjoy a positive discussion from both sides of the political atmosphere, it is tough for everybody to get along. A lot of people, if they hear something they don’t like, they automatically get mad.” Clemens believes that this type of upscale arguing should be avoided. “The discussion goes from a civil discussion to an argument fast. That is the big thing that I try to avoid, I don’t want to talk and it turn into a fight. Discussion is great when both parties are civil.”
Similarly, Nezreen Iskandrani, a freshman studying political science at William Penn University, believes that there has been a shift in rhetoric involving politics. Iskandrani believes that there has been a loss of respect for individuals that differ in political ideology.
“In one of my classes there is a student that has a very conservative leaning opinion, and when Trump comes up in the conversation, he expresses his opinion. He blurts it out, disrespects other people’s opinion, including the professor. It makes me uncomfortable to be honest. With all of the political situations going on right now, I don’t think he takes into consideration of other people’s opinions, or the actual topic of conversation.”
This feeling of uneasiness that Iskandrani feels when involved in political discussion resonates in many different individuals. Bill Cox, a professor of education at William Penn University, believes that many people have been confused as a result of the shift in rhetoric. “Through the discussions I have had with students and faculty- they feel like Trump goes off on tangents that are hard to understand.”
Caleb Pipes-Goulsbra is a junior at William Penn University and studying exercise science. As an English-man, Pipes believes that the rhetoric has a lasting effect throughout the world. “I believe that many people have become emboldened as a result of the 2016 presidential election cycle.”, says Pipes.
For example, Brexit happened as a result of the United Kingdom not wanting to be a part of the European Union. According to BBC.com, Britain decided to leave the European Union because of a referendum that took place. “A vote in which everyone of voting was held on Thursday 23 June, 2016, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU. Leave by 51.9% to 48.1%. the referendum turnout was 71.8% with more than 30 million people voting.”
There are many different times when political discussion comes to a point of figurative speech, without straightforward answers and comments. “People just don’t know what to make of what Trump is doing, or what his goals really are and where he wants to take the country.”, says Cox.
Many people are further confused about our current political situation. Clemens believes that our current political system is a big change for everyone. “Just going from Democrat to Republican, it is a big change for everyone. Healthcare system, immigration, all of that has flipped 180. Regardless of who it is in office, there is always going to be displeasure or support for either party.” Clemens believes that if anything positive has come from this rapid shift in rhetoric it is that the youth is beginning to become actively involved in politics. “The biggest thing for our generation of youth is to know to get out to support who you’d like to get involved. We are going to be the voice of change and who we want to see run this country and be in office.”
Similarly, Iskandrani believes that the rhetoric has immediate repercussions that spreads throughout the world. “It [current political situation] has taken a turn since he [Trump] took office. I think it is getting worse with international relations. It is pretty similar now in this small community.”, says Iskandrani. Iskandrani believes that this change is due to changing times. “With new generations, new times, it’s all going to change. So, with the time being, it changes because we are changing as a whole.”
In addition to Clemens and Iskandrani, Cox believes that the shift can be potentially dangerous to American society. “I feel we are badly polarized as a nation with little sense of working together to accomplish anything.” Many throughout the country are in agreeance with Cox regarding the difference in individuals and politics. “The political parties have seemingly lost the ability to compromise.”, says Cox.
Aaron Petrash, a sophomore studying communications at William Penn University believes that the main problem resulting from the election and its rhetoric is the loss of respect. “I feel like people seem to not care about how others feel if they have differing opinions.”, says Petrash.
There are various aspects as to why there has been an apparent shift in rhetoric not only on the campus of William Penn University, but throughout the nation as a whole. The main commonality seems to be a lack of mutual respect between individuals with differing opinion on different topics regarding politics. Until we can see each other as Americans before Democrats, or Republicans, this shift in rhetoric will only widen.