The severity of COVID-19 seemed to sweep the planet in only a number of days, establishments closing with next to no notice and people instructed to stay at home overnight. The speed with which this virus changed our lives has meant that scientists and governments have had trouble preventing its spread. In part, this is because especially at the beginning of the virus, there was little knowledge about it – so political leaders could not rely on the ‘what’ to persuade people to stay home, but instead, had to rely on tactics like ethos, pathos, and logos.
Different nations have had varying levels of success in getting their citizens to act fast. Political leaders in Italy and the UK had success persuading their citizens to take preventive measures before a global lockdown ensued.8 Their success might be attributed to their use of the three primary modes of persuasion. For example, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte used ethos to emphasize the credibility of his government’s COVID-19 policies: “We always acted on the basis of the evaluations provided by the technical-scientific committee.” Conte also employed pathos by playing on people’s patriotism to encourage optimism: “We are a strong country. A country that does not give up, this is in our DNA.” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used logos to show people why staying at home could save lives: “It is vital to slow down the spread of the disease. Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time so we can protect the NHS’ ability to cope and save more lives.” 8
Donald Trump: Defying Standard Forms of Persuasion
Although extremely controversial, Donald Trump certainly has a loyal herd of followers. Many people cite his persuasive capabilities as the reason he was elected, which demonstrates the importance of rhetorical strategies like ethos, pathos and logos.
One of many of Trump’s controversial speeches was on the status of Jerusalem. There has been controversy as to whether Jerusalem resides in Palestine or Israel, and on December 6th, 2017, Trump claimed that Jerusalem was Israel’s rightful capital. His speech was persuasive and garnered agreement from crowds, making it an interesting piece to study from a linguistic perspective.9
A linguistics study examined the Jerusalem speech and concluded that it was persuasive because Trump effectively used the three primary modes of persuasion. Achmad Fanani and his team analyzed that within his speech, one clause related to ethos, which suggested that his position in office meant his decision was unbiased and therefore ‘true’. 50 clauses related to pathos to arouse positive and negative emotions, such as his statement that “above all, our greatest is hope for peace, the universal yearning in every human soul.” 20 clauses included appeals to logos, in which he provided facts to support his decision.9
Although the speech and the speaker himself have certainly drawn backlash throughout his presidency, Trump’s ability to effectively use ethos, pathos and logos might help explain his presidential success and his standing army of followers.