Date of this Version
Published in Quarterly Journal of Speech 106:1 (2020), pp 2–24.
This essay contributes to and reframes the preliminary scholarly assessments of President Donald J. Trump’s appeals to rage, malice, and revenge by sketching the rhetorical dimensions of an underlying emotional-moral framework in which victimization, resentment, and revenge are inverted civic virtues. I elaborate on the concept of ressentiment (re-sentiment), a condition in which a subject is addled by rage and envy yet remains impotent, subjugated and unable to act on or adequately express frustration. Though anger and resentment capture part of Trump’s aﬀective register, I suggest that ressentiment accounts for the unique intersection where powerful sentiments and self-serving morality are coupled with feelings of powerlessness and ruminations on past injuries. Thus, shifting focus from the rhetoric of resentment to that of ressentiment explains how Trump is able to sustain the aﬀective charge of animus without forfeiting the moral high ground of victimhood to his audience’s “oppressors”— Democrats, the press, criminals, immigrants, foreign adversaries, welfare recipients, the Me Too movement, “globalists,” and racial Others.