150 | CCN: 24514

Rhetoric of Contemporary Politics

Toxic Rhetoric: The rhetoric of fear, anger and resentment in contemporary American politics

Instructor: Michael Wintroub,

4 Units

There is no better way to create unity and a sense of common purpose than through the creation of others—as dangers to be quarantined, persecuted, feared, or destroyed. In America these targets have taken diverse forms: witches, communists, intellectuals, “cultural elites,” terrorists, etc. Despite its many and changing figurations, the trope of the other has played a crucial—perhaps even a defining—role in American politics. In this class, we will be particularly interested in the most recent history of this rhetoric; our aim will be try to understand it in context. That is to say, we will try to understand the genealogy of a number of different instances (or targets, if you will) of this rhetoric, both in terms of the unique socio-historical situations within which they appeared (e.g., the existential angst of the nuclear age, economic crises, the civil rights movement, feminism, 9-11, or the twenty-four hour consumer/media cycle), and in terms of more durable, longer term, histories of religious revivalism, notions of American exceptionalism, and traditions associated with rugged individualism and the spirit of the frontier. We will focus our discussions and our readings on the presidential election.