Cody Johnson – Team 15 – Final Essay

Thanks Cody, I’ll provide comments in that email. 

*I emailed my Word document version to my grader which contains my images and works cited page in their proper format. Thank You.

The Communication Emergency Behind President Trump’s Border Wall

As President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to expedite construction of an improved border wall, coverage and rhetoric of national media and political parties have portrayed President Trump’s actions as two distinct emergencies – a matter of national security or overstepping of constitutional boundaries. As a traditionally bipartisan issue, the President’s rhetoric surrounding the need for improved border wall security, was no surprise. However, the methods and rhetoric used by President Trump and the democratic competition surrounding the process were unconventional.

From the Rose Garden of the White House, President Trump used pathos to constitute his decision to declare a national emergency when he stated “We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border, and we’re going to do it one way or the other” he continued, to use pathos and ethos when he stated “It’s an invasion, we have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country.” (Baker) As an additional medium to deliver his pathos, New York Times contributor Peter Baker reported that Trump invited spouses and loved ones of people killed by undocumented immigrants (Baker). As Marshall McLuhan so famously stated “medium is the message,” had President Trump made this same announcement isolated in the Oval Office facing a camera, the message would not have been able to use the pathos rhetoric as successfully.

In opposition of President Trump’s rhetoric, Speaker Nancy Pelosi labeled Trump’s announcement as “plainly a power grab by a disappointed president, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.” Pelosi who was appointed as Speaker of the House of Representatives in January 2019, used contrastingly ethos and logos rhetoric to denounce Trump’s declaration as a constitutional emergency. In a New York Times article, Robert Draper stated that “until recently, Americans have tended to view immigration less as a moral issue and more in crass economic terms.” (Draper) As this perspective shift has taken place, with it has come a requirement for deeper pathos rhetoric in order to connect policy with position, politician with public.

By implementing more pathos in his rhetoric, President Trump can appeal to the public that values emotion over fact. For example, as estimates for the construction costs of a new border wall have fluctuated between $4 and $12 billion (Oliver), Trump used pathos and ethos to alleviate concerns over potential costs of his border wall. The greatest instance of ethos usage comes when Trump touts his business background to explain how he can construct the border wall cheaper than estimates suggest. Understated is how Trump’s pathos and ethos coalesce to appeal to his supporters and influence how we know what we know about this event. When President Trump proclaims that Mexico will pay for the wall because of his business negotiation ability, he portrays Mexico as an opponent, for in a negotiation there must be a winner and a loser. As Mexico is portrayed as an opponent from the ethos perspective, proponents of Trump’s position align that rhetorical mode with their emotions towards illegal immigrants who they feel are stealing their jobs, transporting drugs across the border or committing crimes in their neighborhoods.

The issue of a border crisis – perceive or factual – has followed for decades. As authors Samuel Truett and Maribel Alvarez describe in their analysis of U.S. and Mexico border relations in the 1950s “So thwarted our political public discourse on the “border crisis” has become that a scheme as managerial and contrived as a chamber of commerce project today seems progressive” (Border Spaces 37). In Draper’s New York Times article, Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal took the stance that Democrats should take a more direct approach in their rhetorical response to the President’s attempts at immigration reform; “We should just make it clear: We support immigrants, this proposition is ludicrous and move on. That’s a better approach than trying to hew to the old method of trying to make everyone feel comfortable” (Draper). In attempts to make everyone feel comfortable, President Trump’s “logos-lacking” rhetoric is given credence in political matters that should be defined by logos. Jayapal’s appeals for greater logos would enable opposition to expose contradictions and misinformation in the President’s delivery that are disguised by emotional appeals. According to a study conducted by the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency, arrests of illegal individuals with criminal convictions has fallen steadily since the 2016 fiscal reports. (Customs and Border Patrol)

                                                                        FY 16              FY 17              FY 18

U.S. Border Patrol Criminal Alien Arrests    12,842             8,531               6,698

Marshall McLuhan’s suggestion that “the medium is the message” was showcased by Trump’s ability to use Twitter as a conduit for pathos induced, and pathos motivated by interactions. The immediacy enabled from Twitter’s form of social encounters promotes emotional responses that further forgoes logos or ethos responses or critiques. This precedent effects the global culture by creating an atmosphere of contention rather than one of discussion, placing a larger emphasis on the rhetoric being used rather than the logistics behind the debate. Had Twitter and Facebook not existed in their current form, the trajectory of Trump’s pathos rhetoric would not have been as emotionally charged and perhaps would have been presented with more logos foundation. Pushback of Trump’s rhetoric also centered around its effect on global populations of immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. As President Trump habitually labeled those entering the country illegally as “criminals” the national perspective on asylum seeking immigrants was in danger of reflecting the same pathos-based sentiments of the President.

Marshall McLuhan suggested that the advent of print medium gave rise to individualism and nationalism which correlates with President Trump’s “trigger man” form of communication. A trigger man is defined as people using rhetoric to get their point across. If President Trump utilized critical theory to a greater extent there would have been greater potential for policy change. Where critical theory seeks to liberate and establish a world which satisfies the needs and powers of human beings, emotional appeals will only be as effective so long as the emotions of the audience are compatible. The communication emergency behind Trump’s border wall is encompassed by both channels relying too heavily on single rhetorical modes that don’t properly reflect the complexity of the issue.

Works Cited

Baker, Peter. “Trump Declares a National Emergency, and Provokes a Constitutional Clash.” The New York Times Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2019,

Border Spaces : Visualizing the U. S. -Mexico Frontera, edited by Katherine G. Morrissey, and John-Michael H. Warner, University of Arizona Press, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Brandys, Roy R., et al. “United States-Mexico Border Wall: The Past, the Present and What May Come.” Real Property, Trust & Estate Law Journal, vol. 53, no. 1, Spring 2018, pp. 131–162. EBSCOhost

“Criminal Alien Statistics Fiscal Year 2019.” Criminal Alien Statistics Fiscal Year 2019 | U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 9 Apr. 2019,

Draper, Robert. “The Democrats have an Immigration PROBLEM.” New York Times Magazine, Oct 14, 2018, pp. 32-37,47,49. ProQuest

JON, LEE A. “Boundary Issues.” The New Yorker, vol. 93, no. 31, Oct 09, 2017, pp. 24. ProQuest

Oliver, John. “Border Wall: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Mar. 2016,


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