Tag Archives: speech


Tortoise Tuesday: Argument-making in President Macron’s Speech, 1/13/19

In response to the ongoing gilets jaunes protests in France, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed an open letter to the French people on January 13th, 2019. Macron’s letter is not only an indication of the severity of the situation but also exemplifies persuasive and effective writing.

Macron writes:

Dear Françaises, dear Français, my dear compatriots,

In a period of questionings and of uncertainties like the one we are experiencing, we must remember who we are.

France is not a country like others.

The sense of injustice is keener than elsewhere. The insistence on mutual aid and solidarity is stronger.

Chez nous, those who work finance retirement pensions. Chez nous, a large number of citizens pays a tax on their income, sometimes a heavy one, which reduces inequality. Chez nous, education, healthcare, security, justice are accessible to all independently of situation and fortune. The hazards of life, like unemployment, can be overcome, thanks to an effort shared by all.

This is why France is, of all the nations, one of the most fraternal and most equal. […]

In this opening passage, Macron alludes to the situation (“a period of questionings and uncertainties”), but before addressing the issue, he attempts to win over his audience and to define what could be called key terms. “France” itself is the most important definition Macron offers. By defining his country at the outset—and in his own terms—Macron creates an image that he will urge his addressees to live up to in the rest of the letter.

Macron’s stylistic choices add to the effectiveness of his writing. The repetition of “chez nous,” here meaning “in France” but often meaning simply “at home,” “at our house,” emphasizes the unity he tries to affirm still exists in France. The mention of brotherhood and equality hearkens back to the ideals of the French Revolution, an attempt to inspire national pride and recall previous political progress.

Macron continues later in the letter:

I know, certainly, that some among us today are unsatisfied or angry. Because, for them, taxes have been raised too much, public services are too distant, because salaries are too low for some to live with dignity on the fruit of their labor, because our country does not offer the same chances to succeed depending on the place or the family one is from. All would like a more prosperous county and a more just society.

This impatience—I share it. […] For me, there are no forbidden questions. We will not agree on everything; that is normal, that is democracy. But let us at least show that we are a people unafraid of speaking, of exchanging, of debating. And maybe we will discover that we can find agreement, by a majority, beyond our preferences, more often than we believe.

Now acknowledging the grievances of the protesters, reaching the motive of the text, Macron is careful to use the first-person plural throughout, referring to “some among us” and “we” to avoid alienating any readers. In his sudden transition to the singular (“I share it”), following “all” in the previous sentence, he places himself among the people before drawing all addressees together in the plural “let us show.” Framing the issue as one of fear or bravery (“unafraid of speaking”) and especially as one of national honor in the eyes of other countries (“let us show”), Macron appeals not only to the reason but also to the personal and national pride of the addressees.

Macron goes on to outline several policy issues on which he requests citizens’ opinions and participation in debate and to reiterate the importance of dialogue and mutual respect. He concludes with a recapitulation of his argument, a renewed appeal to national feeling, and finally an expression of vulnerability as he expresses hope for the future.

This is how I intend, with you, to transform anger into solutions. […] Françaises, Français, I hope that many of you will be able to participate in this great debate to do useful work for the future of our country.

In trust,

Emmanuel Macron

— Rosamond van Wingerden ’20


“Quatre grands themes et une trentaine de questions: la letter d’Emmanuel Macron aux Français,” https://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2019/01/13/document-la-lettre-d-emmanuel-macron-aux-francais_5408564_823448.html

(my translation)


Tortoise Tuesday: Building Motive in “The American President”

Though mostly regarded as a form of entertainment, movies oftentimes contain powerful examples of rhetoric and quality writing, especially cinematic classics. In “The American President” (1995), Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepherd running for reelection against Senator Bob Rumson. Well-structured and well-argued, Shepherd’s speech at the end of the movie features a series of strong motives building off one another that explains why his speech is significant and needs to be presented in that moment. Shepherd begins by addressing Rumson’s attacks on his character head-on, then transitions into discussing the fragility of the state of freedom, both heated issues in the election campaign that Shepherd must immediately handle. He then returns to the question of character by defending his girlfriend’s character, which had been attacked by Rumson. His speech ends with two concrete actions he is prepared to undertake to fix certain problems in the country, concerns brought up in the campaign trail. Throughout his speech, his motive builds and expands, as the audience comes to understand Shepherd’s purpose in delivering the speech: to clear his name from the attacks of his political rival and to prove to the American people that he is the best person for leading the nation.

—Regina Zeng ’18

For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being President of this country was, to a certain extent, about character. And although I’ve not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I have been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character.

For the record, yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but the more important question is “Why aren’t you, Bob?” Now this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question, why would a senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the constitution? Now if you can answer that question, folks, then you’re smarter than I am, because I didn’t understand it until a few hours ago.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years. And I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it!

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.

Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, ’cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I’ve loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer. And I lost the other ’cause I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now.

Tomorrow morning the White House is sending a bill to Congress for it’s consideration. It’s White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a twenty percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I’m throwing it out. I’m throwing it out and writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people. And if you want to talk about character, Bob, you’d better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll show up. This a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.”

Andrew Shepard’s Speech From The American President