An Analysis of the Rhetorical Devices in the Speeches of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump

Categories: Policy

“Each day we meet different people, encounter unfamiliar situations, and see media that asks us to do, think, buy, and act in all sorts of ways” (Carroll 46). Throughout our entire lives we are trained to perform rhetorical analyses. Rhetoric is present in almost every aspect of our lives from what we wear, to how we speak, to the products we choose to buy. Therefore, it is important to learn how to decipher the rhetorical devices imposed on us because, “the more we know about how to analyze situations and draw informed conclusions, the better we can become about making savvy judgments about the people, situations and media we encounter” (Carroll 46).

The speeches during the national party conventions exemplify the use of rhetoric in our lives. Each candidate uses various rhetorical devices to sway the audience to vote for them. The numerous techniques used generally fall into three main categories: ethos, pathos, and logos. In their speeches, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump use all three types of rhetorical devices, some more than others, to persuade the audience to share their views and beliefs on various issues.

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While many of their rhetorical strategies align, their focal ones differ; Hillary Clinton focuses heavily on ethos, while Donald Trump relies strongly on pathos.

The most prominent strategy used by Hillary Clinton is ethos. Clinton delivers her impressive resume which she believes qualifies her as the better candidate for presidency. “Now, sometimes the people at this podium are new to the national stage. As you know, I’m not one of those people.

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I’ve been your first lady. Served eight year as a Senator from the great State of New York. Then I represented all of you as Secretary of State” (“Transcript: Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech, annotated”). Throughout her speech, she shares her remarkable achievements in politics. Her past civil service separates her from Trump, who has no political background under his belt. She establishes credibility by characterizing herself as a policy wonk, “I sweat the details of policy,” successfully portraying herself as an expert in administrative and government policies. Clinton proves she has the qualifications necessary to formulate intricate new policies, simply because she has already done so. “Well, look at my record. I’ve worked across the aisle to pass laws and treaties and to launch new programs that help millions of people. And if you give me the chance, that’s exactly what I’ll do as president.” Clinton shares her other experiences which includes writing the book “It Takes a Village” twenty years ago. She even expands her validity by recounting her past, showing she had legislations passed before ever entering office. She discusses her job as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, where she fought to get equal opportunities in education. While establishing her credibility, Clinton impressively intertwines it with pathos, an appeal to the emotions of the audience, as she fights for the disabled and underprivileged. Clinton does this again by discussing her part in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “Children like Ryan kept me going when our plan for universal health care failed and kept me working with leaders of both parties to help create the Children’s Health Insurance Program that covers 8 million kids in our country.” Here she is pulling at the heartstrings of the audience while simultaneously presenting her accomplishments. Using the rhetorical strategy of ethos is very effective for Clinton, because it serves to highlight Donald Trump’s own lack of political experience.

Donald Trump may not rely on ethos as much as Hillary Clinton, but he still utilizes this rhetorical device. When describing his views on immigration and closed borders, Trumps asserts that he has the backing of the US border patrol which greatly serves to add credibility to his views. “We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities. I have been honored to receive the endorsement of America’s border patrol agents, and will work directly with them to protect the integrity of our lawful, lawful, lawful immigration system” (“Donald Trump’s complete convention speech, annotated”). Furthermore, when discussing gun legislature Trump stands to uphold the 2nd Amendment and states, “I, on the other hand, received the early and strong endorsement of the National Rifle Assn. and will protect the right of all Americans to keep their families safe.” Trump goes on to recount his personal achievements in business, “I have made billions of dollars in business making deals – now I’m going to make our country rich again.” As someone who is so successful in business, he believes it qualifies him to establish beneficial trade agreements. He believes this to be unlike Bill and Hillary Clinton, who as he claims have supported bad ones. “She supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will not only destroy our manufacturing, but it will make America subject to the rulings of foreign governments.” Secondly his business background highlights that Trump understands the ins and out of tax laws and he proposes the largest tax reduction of any candidate who has run for president this year – Democrat or Republican.” He believes that this will create new companies which will then create new jobs. Although he does not share the political past of Clinton, his own unique background validates his reforms for the country’s economy. Unlike Clinton who mixes ethos with pathos, Trump sticks logos in. He believes his own economic successes logically qualify him to help America achieve the same. He also inserts statistics to give his beliefs credibility. “That is why Hillary Clinton’s message is that things will never change. Never ever. My message is that things have to change – and they have to change right now. Every day I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation…. No longer can we rely on those elites in media and politics who will say anything to keep our rigged system in place.” He uses his lack of political experience as a credibility, believing that what America needs now is a fresh pair of eyes, devoid of corruption.

Both Clinton and Trump utilize the rhetorical strategy of pathos, however Trump uses it throughout as a theme. The underlying theme of Trump’s speech is fear, which he uses in various forms. Donald Trump focuses on fear for the country’s current state and demands drastic changes to rebuild America; therefore, his campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again.” “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.” He appeals to the audience’s fear of increased criminal activity, adding statistics to prove it. “Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.” His beliefs on illegal immigration also addresses the fear of American citizens, who believe these immigrants are taking their jobs, wasting their resources and may even be physically dangerous to them. He says no more American children should be sacrificed “on the altar of open borders.” “The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.” He then uses their fear of unemployment as a rhetorical method to support his immigration reforms. “Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African American and Latino workers. We are going to have an immigration system that works, but one that works for the American people.” Trump then employs the public’s fear of corruption in office to discredit Hillary Clinton by bringing up the private server scandal. He states, “And when a secretary of State illegally stores her emails on a private server, deletes 33,000 of them so the authorities can’t see her crime, puts our country at risk, lies about it in every different form and faces no consequence – I know that corruption has reached a level like never ever before in our country.” He then uses fear of terrorism and anti-American values to gain support for his desire to close the doors to Syrian refugees. “We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.” This opposes Clinton’s proposal of a 550% increase in Syrian refugees. Trump wields the nation’s fear as a weapon against Clinton. His speech has a very different tone to that of Clinton’s which paints a much brighter picture of America. However, Trump is still able to appeal to their desire for change by depicting himself as America’s savior in a time of crisis. Pathos is an effective rhetoric strategy that Trump employs, as Carroll says in her essay, “Few of us are persuaded only with our mind, though. Even if we intellectually agree with something, it is difficult to get us to act unless we are also persuaded in our heart” (53).

Hillary Clinton, like Trump, employs the rhetorical strategy of pathos in the form of fear. Also like Trump, she uses fear as a method of discrediting her opponent, but it is not her overall theme. She utilizes it as fear of Donald Trump himself and the kind of president he stands to be. She paints him as someone who completely goes against American values. “Our country’s motto is e pluribus unum: out of many, we are one. Will we stay true to that motto?” She is implying that Trump’s statement of “I alone can fix it”, directly opposes the American motto. In this way, she is trying to frame her campaign as something larger than herself, an effort to protect America against a demagogue. She uses Trump’s strategy of appealing to the county’s fear against him by saying, “He wants us to fear the future and fear each other. Well, a great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than 80 years ago during a much more perilous time: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”” She raises alarm at his negative view on America’s current state and expresses her own optimistic views. Her theme of unity is expressed in her use of the words “we” and “our” and repetition of her slogan “Stronger Together.” Clinton expresses that our country’s Constitution was created “so America would never be a nation where one person had all the power.” Clinton says that Trump’s temperament makes him unfit for commander-in-chief. She then goes on to discredit his views on manufacturing within the US by pointing out his overseas manufacturers. She successfully turns his own slogan against him by saying, “Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again – well, he could start by actually making things in America again.” In addressing her audience, Hillary adds, “So whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign.” In the support of unity and the opposition of autocracy, Clinton makes an appeal to all Americans, not just the democratic party, making her speech highly effective in its emotional appeal.

Using different rhetoric strategies both candidates take considerable efforts to emphasize the country’s need for change. However, while Trump does so in a very negative light, Clinton truly expresses a greater hope for tomorrow is lacking in his speech. With all her arguments, ethos and pathos included, she successfully portrays Donald Trump as someone who is unfit and unworthy for this country’s greatest honor, presidency. In this sense her rhetorical strategies are incredibly successful. The bleaker approach of Trump is less appealing to the masses. I happen to have grown up in a Republican household and have always supported their views. However, after reading both these speeches, I readily admit that Clinton’s speech employs stronger rhetorical strategies. The poet Emily Dickinson describes hope as follows, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sing the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” Clinton understands the strength of hope; therefore, she emphasizes it as her overall theme.

Works Cited

  1. Carroll, Laura Bolin. “Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps toward Rhetorical Analysis.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, edited by Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky, vol. 1,
  2. Parlor Press, 2010, pp. 45-58,–backpacks-vs-briefcases.pdf. Accessed 12 Sept. 2016. 
  3. Los Angeles Times Staff. “Donald Trump’s complete convention speech, annotated.” The Los Angeles Times. 21 July 2016. convention-speech-transcript-20160721-snap-htmlstory.html. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.
  4. Los Angeles Times Staff. “Transcript: Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech, annotated.” The Los Angeles Times, 28 July 2016, convention-speech-transcript-20160728-snap-htmlstory.html. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.

Cite this page

An Analysis of the Rhetorical Devices in the Speeches of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. (2021, Sep 23). Retrieved from

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