[KB] "Trivial Repetition," "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Fri Sep 19 15:45:20 EDT 2014

Bob and All,

	Thanks to Professor Soetaert for his follow-up on my post about Terrence Deacon’s “Symbol Concept” and Deacon’s research and thought in general.  As I indicated, I want to get back later with more on Deacon’s relevance to Burke studies.  I’ll forward that post to Professor Deacon.

	Here, I’m responding more directly to Bob Wess’s query about what political points I’d want to see emphasized via “trivial [or maybe not so trivial] repetition and dull, daily reinforcement.”  I’ll keep in mind Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (New York: Random House, 2007), as I go.  The Heath’s recommend that we aim for SUCCESS, that is, a message that’s simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story-containing.  Forget about the extra “S.”

	Here’s the simple mnemonically-memorable (I would hope) summary of salient points I think we need to repeat again and again and again:

	“Corporate control and exploitation for themselves of World trade; Wages, taxes, and debt; Wars of choice; and the Warming of our planet are destroying the American Dream and a liveable future for ‘The People.’”

	The mnemonic repetition of the “W” in “World trade,” “Wages,” “Wars,” and “Warming planet” invests the statement with a sermon-like catchiness that can serve to reinforce, make easy-to-recall, this summary of the dire problems the “bad guys,” the counteragents, the “Corporate Interests,” are foisting on “The People” of USAmerica.  I choose Ralph Nader’s pejorative “Corporate” for the dislogistic pole in the dialectic because it insulates considerably against the counter-charge of “class warfare” that something like the “1 percent” would invite.  We would not be inveighing against the financial incentive per se that capitalist orthodoxy says fuels our economic engine, just its current grossly unfair and unbalanced operations.

	I choose “The People” as the eulogistic pole in this dramatic opposition for the reasons Our Hero argued for it in his 1935 speech to the American Writers Congress (Simons and Melia, The  Legacy of  Kenneth Burke, 1989, pp. 267-273).  In summary, “The People” is inclusive, untied to any given type of employment, and un-class warfareish.

	Now, what about a storyline?  Here’s a shortened version:

	“Once upon a time, in the post-World War II, post-Roosevelt U.S., an American---call him Joe Assembly Line---could graduate from high school, get a factory job, marry, and raise a family on one income.

	“Why not today?  Because so-call “American” corporations have bribed our politicians to fix the system in their favor; sold Joe out to cheap foreign labor; pledged allegiance to the one-world marketplace, with its bloated profits and offshore tax havens; thumbed their nose at shared sacrifice and equal taxation, to the tune of an immense national debt; and said to the planet that’s dying under their greed, ‘Go stick it!’”
	Is that emotional enough?  Can it be made concrete and credible?  Easily available documentation, ad infinitum and searingly specific, awaits.

	The “unexpected”?  Not sure about that.  But there is a sharp turnaround in Joe Assembly Line’s fortunes in this scenario, and it did not take long.  I dare say HE wasn’t expecting it.

	Greg Desilet and I suggested a modification of Burke’s call for “comedy” in symbolic action and human relations (RSQ, 2011, Number 4).  In time of war, or a credible threat of war on our nation, adopt the form of an arpeggio (first, part-chord or discord, then chord, in succession, not simultaneously).  Mobilize with rhetorical tragedy, then shift to rhetorical comedy when conditions appear propitious.  And, following Burke’s prescription in “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle,’” ultimately scapegoat the opponent’s scapegoating itself, not adversaries per se.

	Here, I’m enjoining employment of hard-nosed melodrama at the start, before an ultimate shift back to the Burkean comedy of inclusion.  (No death or banishment for all time in melodrama, only sharp political defeat.)  An awareness of our own complicit part in much of these global, economic, political, and social dislocations is required as background, even if not initially put front and center.  An attitude of charity, though sublimated at first, can at least temper our discursive fury.  As Burke said, we can use any dramatic framing, as long as we internally, at least, “discount for language” and its extravagant incentives.

	That’s my counsel, you nationally significant “leftists”---both of you!

	Have a nice weekend.


	P.S. Do you think what’s happening now is something of a reprise of 2003, not with the same level of duplicity necessarily, but with corporate interests, focused in Middle Eastern oil, still pulling the strings?

	I ask.                         

On Thu, 9/18/14, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] "Trivial Repetition," "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"
 To: "Carrol Cox" <cbcox at ilstu.edu>, "HERBERT W. SIMONS" <hsimons at temple.edu>
 Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
 Date: Thursday, September 18, 2014, 11:41 AM
 Carrol,, Herb, and All,
     Carrol, I may be guilty of underplaying
 Democratic malfeasance in all this, but I think you are
 overplaying the matter with the “Democrats are the more
 effective evil” theme.  Thomas Frank may be near to
 your view, and substantially correct, if he’s suggesting
 that Democrats are only “MARGINALLY better” than
 Republicans.  But I would caution that the Dems are
 still “marginally BETTER.”
     Take the Iraq war.  (As Henny
 Youngman might say, PLEASE!)  I have a hard time
 believing, if the judicial coup of 2000 had not occurred,
 and he had been awarded the presidency, that Al Gore would
 have taken us into that disastrous conflict.  The
 Afghanistan fiasco might have transpired, but Iraq? 
 Not likely.  (We had to do something in
 Afghanistan.  The scapegoat motive was just too
 intense.  I think a Burkean ought to realize
 that.  Air strikes and covert/commando raids should
 have been the MO, not all out warfare and nation
 building.  But, sadly, the requisite temperament for
 such restraint is not usually inherent in viable, ambitious,
 presidential aspirants.)
     You’re right to condemn Carter on
 deregulation and Clinton on NAFTA (and CAFTA), and you could
 add Clinton’s signing off on the gutting of Roosevelt’s
 reform of investment banking.  But Clinton and the Dems
 did raise taxes in 1993 (without one Republican vote), which
 brought budget surpluses and a temporary halt to our
 downward slide into horrendous debt.  Can we call that
 successful effort just another facet of the “more
 effective evil” of these sly Democrats?
     And remember, too, the historic pressure
 on Democrats to take on something of the coloration of
 conservatism, as the 60-or-so-year political pendulum swing
 began to turn rightward after the upheavals of the
 1960s.  Just as Dewey, Eisenhower, and even Nixon
 weren’t all that conservative by today’s standards (they
 had to go a bit with the zeitgeist, as well), a turn toward
 the center was perhaps inevitable for a Democrat to get
 elected president in the 1990s.  Let’s shift some of
 the blame to global trends and conditions, while we’re at
 it.  (Doesn’t that make me a respectable, orthodox
     As for making Elizabeth Warren part of
 this “axis of political evil” you reference, give me a
 break.  Talk about pressure to wink at Israel’s
 “crimes” in Gaza: It’s far stronger even than not
 treating Iraq as a wasteful, mendacious misadventure in
 which our troops died “in vain.”  I don’t think I
 need to go into all the reasons why.  The word
 “Holocaust” serves as a good start.
     Let’s pull this discussion back toward
 Burke before we invoke a reprimand.  I spoke of the
 power of the scapegoat mechanism that even a Burkean
 “comedian” can’t totally ignore.  Let me add that
 my initial post on “trivial repetition” and “dull,
 daily reinforcement” points in the direction of a
 rhetorical dilemma I have not yet explored: How can a
 political leader without a death wish repeat and repeat and
 repeat again a position on the issues I think need to be
 highlighted, when those accusations will indict virtually
 everybody, all the usual suspects having dirty hands to one
 degree or another?  We may need something along the
 lines of, “Choosing a Rhetoric of the Enemy: Kenneth
 Burke’s Comic Frame, Warrantable Outrage, and the Problem
 of Scapegoating, Part II.”
     Herb’s “Requirements, Problems, and
 Strategies” quandary comes to mind.
     As tightwad Jack Benny, when confronted
 with the challenge, “your money or your life,” after a
 long pause, would say: “I’m thinking, I’m
 On Thu, 9/18/14, HERBERT W. SIMONS <hsimons at temple.edu>
  Subject: Re: [KB] "Trivial Repetition," "Dull, Daily
  To: "Carrol Cox" <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
  Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
  Date: Thursday, September 18, 2014, 7:55 AM
  perceptive. YES, there's a pattern here.
  On Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at
  4:13 PM, Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
  At 84
  I've given up out-living the Age of Neoliberalism. One
  of my reasons for this glum  conclusion is the
  preponderance among men and women of good will of the
  expressed by Ed Appel below, which he nicely summarizes in
  the following words: ". . . what’s happen, by
  DELIBERATE policy on one side of the aisle, and culpable
  acquiescence on the other, to USAmerican jobs, USAmerican
  taxation, and USAmerican debt. . . ."
  This is, I fear, the standard liberal understanding of the
  Democratic Party: They see that party as
  "opportunist," "cowardly," even
  "stupid." They fail to see that the DP is, as Glen
  Ford of Black Agenda puts it, "The More Effective
  Evil." It is the DP, primarily, that has determined
  U.S. policy over the last half century. (Consider the
  analogy to "Good Cop / Bad Cop." It is the Good
  Cop (the DP) who does the real damage. Three acts by the
  Carter Administration marked the all-out assault on the
  working people of the U.S.:
  1) Carter's virtual signing of of Bishop Romero's
  Death Sentence
  2) The Deregulation of Air lines and trucking
  3) The appointment of Volcker as Fed Chairman
  Subsequent administrations have but filled in the dots.
  of the high poits:
  Reagan's crushing of PATCO
  Clinton's pushing through of NAFTA
  Clinton's Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism
  Unanimous Congressional Approval of Afghanistan and Iraq
  Senator Warren's aggressive support of Israel War
  As to Obama, he richly exemplifies Noam Chomsky's
  observation that "War Criminal" is part of the job
  description of U.S. presidents.
  Ed is certainly correct that no Left exists in the U.S.
  Earmarks of a hypothetical Left:
  1. Liquidate the Prison System
  2. Withdraw all U.S. troops from the world
  3. No U.S. Foreign Aid (it is all open or disguised
  aid to tyrannies)
  4. Open Borders. No human is Illegal.
  -----Original Message-----
  From: kb-bounces at kbjournal.org
  [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org]
  On Behalf Of Edward C Appel
  Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 1:58 PM
  To: wessr at onid.orst.edu
  Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
  Subject: Re: [KB] "Trivial Repetition,"
  "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"
  Bob and All,
          Your list for “trivial repetition and dull,
  daily reinforcement” by the left would be as good as
  mine.  Maybe we could start by taking a cue from Teddy
  Roosevelt, much on the agenda at PBS the last three
  nights.  TR comes across as a ridiculous,
  heroism-obsessed blowhard in some ways, but as also a
  man, great leader, and great egalitarian spirit, as
  (Not perfectly egalitarian, for sure, but wondrously so
  his time.)
          Roosevelt’s mantra about the Constitution
  being for the good of the people as a whole, rather than
  vice versa, a strait jacket into whose supposedly tight
  18th-century constraints all contemporary common sense has
  to be bound, should be our guiding principle, too (see
  on the “Dialectic of Constitutions,” GM).
          The first question I’d ask, though, is,
  do we find the USAmerican political “left?  I know one
  place I can find the left-wing US commentariat.  See the
  amalgam of voices gathered together on CommonDreams.org,
  instance.  But among our political leaders?  Maybe
  and Sanders, but even Sanders echoes Obama on the taxation
  question: The wealthy ought to be paying “a little bit
  more.”  A LITTLE bit more?  When their contribution to
  the commonweal has gone from 51 percent of earnings 60
  ago to about 16 percent today, less than the average
  middle-class earner?  When average CEO pay has burgeoned
  from 40 to 1 to 400 to 1 in respect to average salaries in
  given industry in the past three to four decades?  When a
  candidate for the presidency can get away with disclosing
  one, and only one, tax return, at 13 percent (!), and
  run for that highest and supposedly exemplary office, and
  get away with it?
          I don’t see much of a “political left”
  our nation, or much of a sense of what a “political
  left” should look like, among our citizenry.  (See
  Barlett and James Steele, The Betrayal of the American
  Dream, for requisite numbers; see Thomas Frank, What’s
  Matter with Kansas, on how Democrats have become only
  “marginally better” than Republicans; see a study by
  Martin Gilens [Princeton] and Benjamin Page [Northwestern]
  on how “’the preferences of the average American
  to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically
  non-significant impact upon public policy,’”
  of American Democracy,” Robert Reich, 8/21/14], as the
  result of the takeover of political outcomes by
  and the executive’s  corporate paymasters.)
          But, if we had a “political left” of some
  dimensions (let’s fantasize!), what would be the three
  most salient issue-positions I’d recommend a strong,
  repetitive, dull, daily emphasis upon?  It would be the
  I recommended in “Democratic Narrative” and in my post
  on the nefarious Iraq War, to wit:
          Drum home “agaaaiiinnn and aggaaaiiinnn and
  agaaaiiinnn” (I can hear FDR exclaiming it!) what’s
  happen, by DELIBERATE policy on one side of the aisle, and
  culpable acquiescence on the other, to USAmerican jobs,
  USAmerican taxation, and USAmerican debt, over the last
  three and a half decades.  American jobs have been
  to low-wage sweat shops in Asia, Indonesia, Mexico, and
  beyond, to the economic benefit of the entrepreneurial
  class, who can then sell their products to consumers
  worldwide.  They don’t need Americans to make their
  goods, nor do they need them as much to buy their goods. 
  Manufacture cheap and sell across the globe.  You lose
  high-paying factory job as a result?  Go work for
          And while we’re at it, let’s cut taxes to
  the bone.  “Starve the beast!”  As Reagan insiders
  Donald Stockman and Bruce Bartlett have revealed, the idea
  was to cut taxes to such an extent, and run up deficits so
  onerous, Congress and some future administration would be
  forced to dismantle the “welfare state.”  George W.
  Bush admirably followed suit, at the outset of his dubious
  war, no less!---and there’s reported evidence on things
  that Bush privately said that indicate he was just as
  deliberate.  (See Venomous Speech: Problems with American
  Political Discourse on the Right and Left, pp. 109-116,
  ample documentation.)
          Democrats left fingerprints over all of this
  chicanery, as well.
          Who’s got clean-enough hands to pound home
  this narrative, repeatedly, in our day, and the political
  courage to boot?
          More, later, on the other two mantras, and how
  Heath and Heath might simplify the tale---and on the
  "identification" angle.
  On Mon, 9/15/14, wessr at onid.orst.edu
  <wessr at onid.orst.edu>
   Subject: Re: [KB] "Trivial Repetition,"
  "Dull, Daily Reenforcement"
   To: "Edward C Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
   Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
   Date: Monday, September 15, 2014, 9:58 PM
   Ed, Burke is surely right
   about the power of repetition. The
   advertising industry leaves no room for doubt  about
   identifications might the left try to repeat ad
   What might Burke advise?
   Quoting Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>:
   > Burkophiles,
   >     I asked in a
   chapter in Praeger’s Venomous Speech last year,
   > Is the Democratic Narrative, FDR
   Style?”  That piece had mainly to
   do with the polemical malfeasance of the Dems in
  with,  > rhetorically pretty much  ignoring, what
  globalization has done to  > aggravate the income gap
  USAmerica the  past three and a half  > decades. 
  policies are culpable, too, we know, in multiple  >
  ways.)  Senator Warren appeared on Moyers  on PBS last
  Sunday.  She  > listed  four Democratic proposals
  thinks are winning issues  going  > into the Fall
  elections.  Moyers asked her why, then, aren’t we 
  hearing more about them from Democratic  candidates and
  their  >  spokespersons?  Warren really had no good
   >     Burke says in
   the Rhetoric (p. 26), “Often we must think of  >
  rhetoric not in terms of one particular  address, but as
  general  > BODY OF  IDENTIFICATIONS that owe their
  convincingness much more to
   > trivial repetition and dull daily
   reenforcement than to exceptional
   rhetorical skill” (emphasis in original).
   >     I monitor Fox
   News daily.  That propaganda network masquerading as 
  > a news channel (I know, we can say the  same thing
  about MSNBC) is  >  near-fanatically repetitive in
  promoting its conservative,
   > anti-Obama agenda.  Fox is
   relentless.  Case in point: Bill O’Reilly  > has
  invidiously targeted the President in  his opening
  “memo” for as  > many  nights as I can
  Another: Wish I had even one  dollar  > for every
  I’ve watched  our consulate in Benghazi burn on my 
  >  Channel 48.  They don’t let up.
   >     Add this mantra to the list: Bush 2 
  “won” our righteous “War on  >  Terror” with
  the surge in Iraq.  Obama came into office,  took our 
  > troops out of that country,  and now has “lost”
  war that Bush,  > Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz
  brought a U.S. victory and peace  >  to!
   >     The
   rhetorically inept, more accurately altogether missing,
   > response by Obama in his “leading
   from behind” speech on Wednesday,
   and in his fumbling precursors to that address, are 
       First and foremost, Obama was and is uniquely 
  situated to  > characterize the Iraq  War for what it
  plainly was: A mendacious  > military adventure,
  on USAmerica  by subterfuge and  > deception, a 
  cynical exploitation of the shock of 9/11, not merely a
   > “dumb war.”  Fifteen Saudis and
   four Egyptians, under the leadership
   of a wealthy Saudi, trained in Afghanistan, highjacked 
  four  > commercial jetliners and  perpetrated the
  mayhem of that frightful  > day.  Saddam, we knew
  then, had  nothing to do with it.  Nor did  > his 
  chemical weapons, if they even had existed and they 
  didn’t, nor  > did his so-called  “mushroom
  cloud” potential, pose any real threat  > to this
  nation.  Again, we knew even then  that Iraq’s
  > ambitions,  even if real, were as yet no more than
  hope, if not  > fantasy.  And, for anyone paying 
  attention, the Bush-Cheney  >  fear-mongering had
  already been shot down in an op-ed in the  NYTimes  >
  by Ambassador Wilson, and by  clear-headed reporting 
  >  by the  McClatchy News Service.
   >     So, what happened after waste of a 
  dollars (it will be  > three  trillion or more after
  medical expenditures are exhausted  a  > half-century
  from now), loss of  thousands of American lives, tens
  >  thousands of maimings and woundings, and
  and  shattering  > of this jerry-built  nation of
  warring sects that only a tyrant like  > Saddam could
  hold together—what happened  after the candidate who 
  > promised to  end the Iraq War came to power?  He
  stopped calling the
   > war what it really was and started
   treating it pretty much like a
   somewhat legitimate enterprise we had to bring to an
   > “responsibly.”  Obama was even
   planning to keep fifty thousand (or
   was it eighty thousand?) troops in Iraq in perpetuity, 
  before  > al-Maliki said “no way”
   to our insistence on military immunity.  > (And
  doesn’t even defend himself  on that issue.)  > 
       You may object that Obama had to metamorphose into
  a  “war  > president,” since he was  then
  Commander-in-Chief.  Can’t in any way  > imply that
  our soldiers died in vain in a  conflict subversively 
  > motivated by  oil, Israel, Bush family
  or plans for  > victorious re-election in 2004 by a 
  flight-jacketed president after  >  “Mission
   >     Upshot: There exists a corrupt
   context to what Obama and USAmerica
   face in the current chaos of the Middle East.  It is
  context that  > requires repetition and  more
  repetition still by leadership that has  > some
  semblance of the near-self  -destructive insanity of
  America’s  >  vaunted “War on Terror.”  As he
  takes us into yet  another phase of  > this 
  resource-draining, quick-sand tugging, tar-baby of a 
  conflict,  > someone with a megaphone  has to stand
  and shout down the McCains  > and Foxies who current
  occupy the  rhetorical terrain uncontestred.
   >     I have no hope that Obama’s the
   >     Ed
   > KB mailing list
   > KB at kbjournal.org
   > http://kbjournal.org/mailman/listinfo/kb_kbjournal.org
  KB mailing list
  KB at kbjournal.org
  KB mailing list
  KB at kbjournal.org
  Herbert W.
  Simons, Ph.D.
  Emeritus Professor of
  Dep't of  Strategic
  Communication, Weiss Hall 215
  University, Philadelphia 19122
  Home phone:
  215 844 5969
  Academic Fellow, Center for Transformative
  Strategic Initiatives (CTSI)
  -----Inline Attachment Follows-----
  KB mailing list
  KB at kbjournal.org
 KB mailing list
 KB at kbjournal.org

More information about the KB mailing list