Manage episode 330627153 series 2460300
In the wake of shooting massacres in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY, public outcry has been sustained and vociferous, recalling similarly intense reactions to previous mass shootings over the past 10 years. But in the US, public policy responses to such events are rarely as swift or sweeping as most of us would prefer. Just two days after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, in which 19 children between the ages of 9 and 11 were shot and killed in their classroom, the US Senate recessed for its annual Memorial Day holiday, delaying any possibility of legislative action to address mass shootings by nearly two weeks. Yet, while the Senate's flaws as a democratic institution have received lots of attention from scholars, journalists, and activists, less often critiqued in terms of public accountability for resolving ongoing crises is the office of the presidency.
On today's show, we attempt to fill this gap by examining President Biden's public statements about the massacres in Uvalde and Buffalo, the impending Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Across these issues, we've noticed a common discursive trope that demands closer scrutiny, which we've dubbed, "we're all trying to find the guy who can do something about this!" In President Biden's rhetorical style, this strategy connects to his cultivated identity as “Eulogizer-in-Chief.” Under our Eulogizer-in-Chief, we are constantly reminded of how sad and unjust ongoing events are, and we are often told how much these events "are not who we are as Americans", but we are rarely if ever informed about what our MOTUS (Mourner of the United States) plans to do about them. In terms of classical speech genres, epideictic (ceremonial) rhetoric has crowded out deliberative (policy) and forensic (legal) rhetoric. The result is a public discourse of despair, in which the only actions that leaders frame as feasible are individual citizen actions -- "vote harder!" or "organize harder!" -- rather than concrete government plans and policies. Politics becomes increasingly marketized and commodified, with engagement by grassroots activists compared in terms of pure numerical value to that of astroturfed corporate lobbying efforts, and the "winner" of such contests (invariably the side with more money) granted the executive or legislative action of their choice. Leaders, for their parts, dispassionately analyze these market dynamics in their public messaging, creating a feedback loop of demobilization that comes to affect even their own perceptions of their power to act.
However, we hasten to point out, many significant executive actions have been taken over the past 20+ years to combat terrorism and other security threats, often without formal approval of the other branches of government. This suggests that Biden has the capacity to do much more than he is currently doing. Overall, we argue that it is crucial to demand something other than hollow words of grief and virtue-signaling tweets from the most powerful people in the world.
Works and Concepts Referenced in this Episode
Beasley, V. B. (2010). The rhetorical presidency meets the unitary executive: Implications for presidential rhetoric on public policy. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 13(1), 7-35.
Ore, E. J. (2019). Lynching: Violence, rhetoric, and American identity. Univ. Press of Mississippi.
Rood, C. (2018). “Our tears are not enough”: The warrant of the dead in the rhetoric of gun control. Quarterly journal of speech, 104(1), 47-70.
Too, Y. L. (2001). Epideictic genre. Encyclopedia of rhetoric, 251-57.
See also the Wikipedia entry for epideictic.
Zarefsky, D. (2004). Presidential rhetoric and the power of definition. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 34(3), 607-619.
Speech w/ Biden defining Buffalo shooting as “domestic terrorism” https://twitter.com/POTUS/status/1527064065314627584?s=20&t=ehy5LY4DwBd_zfF_sfHYXQ
Speech w/ Biden calling Buffalo shooting a “racially motivated act of white supremacy”: