Today the New Statesman released and article about the American Presidential candidates and in particular how Bernie Sanders uses classic notions of Orwellian rhetoric to win America over to his left wing ideas. Now as both an Englishman and English student this was interesting, even if its only because I'm still scared from my first year module on rhetoric.
But before I start on what is most likely a rant about the use of language, I have to stipulate that my personal views are left wing, I'd hash away at the proletariat struggle as much as the next anti-establishment university student, or feel the BERN, as much as Sanders' sanctimonious twitter supporters. However, while I agree with the NS, Sanders' does use Orwell's classic ideas of rhetoric, moving away from 'dying metaphors' and 'pretentious diction'. It's the concrete imagery of Sanders' speeches which make it so effective, moving away from the abstract Change of the Obama administration in to a physical frame which translates to the ideas of literal change for the American people. The article relegates Trump's oratory to: 'Shouting about Mexicans and walls' and while this is true (Oh how I wish we could box him in Trump tower with his high walls and leave him there), both Sanders' and Trump's oratory are two sides of the same coin.
The take away rules from Orwell's argument are:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Bernie does all these things, focussing on honesty and his status as a fringe candidate to ally himself to the public not engrossed in the political process. But crucially so does Trump from a different perspective. All of his speeches vocabulary range is that of an average American 4th grader (Year 5 to us English plebs). His lexis is specifically chosen to keep to the first five points of these rules. The difference being not to foreground his honesty and amicability, but to prey on the fear of an uninvolved public, creating fascistic scapegoats much like the historic dictators of right wing past. Trump's difference to Sanders his disregard for the sixth rule, Sanders focusses on the morals and justice of his campaign, delivered in a succinct and easily intelligible format, compared to the coins reverse. A simple and understandable rhetoric of fear, designed to target on the insecurities of an uninvolved American public.
So the New Statesman is right, Good Old Bernie is making politics accessible just as Orwell taught us, but Trump can't solely be relegated to a Mexican and Muslim fearing Loon. He uses the same tactics but doesn't listen to Orwell's final point and ends his views as a modern day barbarian.