Heinrichs has already talked about ethos, the argument by character. Now, it’s time to talk about the “black arts of ethos,” the strategies that a persuader can manipulate to gain an audience’s admiration.
A persuader’s job is to impress an audience, and sometimes doing so requires some dishonesty—seeming to be one thing but actually being something quite different.
Demonstrative rhetoric brings out tribal instincts in people, and the universal fear of being an outsider. It also brings people together by giving them a common identity, whether in a beautiful love letter or a great speech. One of the most basic ways of asserting one’s membership in a group is to use the group’s words. Therefore, rhetoricians learn about code grooming: the art of using insider language to get audiences to identify with them. In spite of his reputation for being a poor speaker, George W. Bush was a master of code grooming; for example, when speaking to Christian groups, he repeated the word “believe” again and again. Bush’s “genius” was that he used code grooming without saying anything in particular, so that audience focused on his trigger words, and little else. When he spoke to Christians, the words that really stuck with his audience were “I believe.”
As Heinrichs discussed previously, one of the most basic principles of rhetoric is that people like to fit in with a group. Therefore, a good rhetorician who’s speaking before a large crowd needs to understand how to 1) show some kind of affiliation with the crowd and, at the same time, 2) unite the crowd around a specific culture. For example, George W. Bush emphasized Christian buzzwords when speaking before right-wing Christians, thereby drawing his audience together as one and, implicitly, establishing Bush as the leader of the group and an important moral authority.
Heinrichs isn’t saying that people should speak like George W. Bush—indeed, Bush himself probably wasn’t trying to “speak like Bush.” Nevertheless, readers can learn a lot about rhetoric by studying Bush’s words. Bush used a technique that Heinrichs dubs “reverse words”—repeating “words that mean the opposite of what hurts your case.” For example, when Bush described the Iraq invasion, he said, “It was not a peaceful welcome.” In this way, he framed the unsuccessful invasion in positive language (welcome), and added an incidental “not,” which didn’t interfere with people’s positive associations with “welcome.”
Heinrichs isn’t being entirely serous when he says that Bush was a great rhetorician (he was known for his many verbal flubs). Nevertheless, readers do have a lot to learn from Bush: the fact that somebody with verbal skills as poor as Bush’s could be such a successful orator confirms that (contrary to what most people would like to believe) repetition, code sourcing, and cheesy emotional appeals are often more effective than polished, intelligent speeches.
Code grooming is a powerful technique because it gets the audience on the persuader’s side right away. Rhetoric is a kind of “social glue,” and the right words can build a good relationship between the persuader and the audience.
Rhetoric is more than just a way for a speaker to persuade an audience; it’s a way for the speaker to bring their audience together by reminding them of their common culture and identity. A rhetorician can manipulate a group’s identity for selfish ends or for a more noble purpose.