Logos, Ethos, Pathos: How Trump Delivered A Highly-Effective #SOTU Speech

By Dan Cirucci
Posted with permission from The Dan Cirucci Blog

It was Aristotle who first identified the three most effective ways to advance an argument.

He called these three ways logos, ethos and pathos.

What those three words mean is that you can persuade by making an appeal to facts (logos) or to a sense of right and wrong (ethos) or you can make and appeal to emotion (pathos).

Put another way, you can appeal to the intellect (logos) or to the soul/conscience (ethos) or to the heart (emotion).

We know from experience that appeals to emotion frequently offer us the shortest and most effective route to success.

Because, let’s face it, appeals to the intellect or to a sense of conscience are more selective. Not everyone’s intellect is the same and that holds for everyone’s conscience as well. Some intellects are more finely developed, more attuned, sharper, smarter. And some people are simply more moral and have a greater sense of right and wrong than others. But emotion is the great equalizer.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Trump mostly appealed to our sense of  loyalty to our nation, our sense of decency, our desire for protection and self-preservation and many of our deepest and most intense emotions.

As such, he relied no so much on facts as on a sense of right and wrong and, most compellingly, on some of our strongest emotional longings. He brought all of this to life via real, everyday stories embodied by ordinary Americans who had accomplished extraordinary things. In humanizing his argument this way, Trump fashioned a series of powerful, interconnected emotional tales. He used pathos and he used it liberally.

And, guess what? It worked!

And not only did it work, but the more it worked, the more it made those who did not respond to it (the Democrat senators and representatives on the floor) seem uncaring and, ultimately downright mean.

Consider the significance of this: President Trump turned the tables on his opponents to the extent that he came out looking caring and tender-hearted and they came out looking cold-hearted.

We don’t know how much Trump studied Aristotle or how much he knows about the psychology of persuasion.

But we do know that his instincts are keen and he possesses an admirable understanding of the human condition. He’s a world-class salesman and deal-maker. He knows what motivates people. He’s attuned to their most basic impulses. He understands that these heart-based impulses are great equalizers, great common denominators.

In his State of the Union address, Trump took a dash of ethos, mixed it in a teary stew of pathos and had everybody eating out of his kettle. It was a masterful performance.