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Polarizing Political Rhetoric Can Push Policy, Says Pitt Professor

Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump speaks during a visit to Coraopolis.


On today's program: The political rhetoric in the presidential campaign has been polarizing over racial injustice and street protests; Dannielle Brown has been on a hunger strike for nearly ten weeks, and residents of the Hill District have been caring for her. 

Presidential campaign political rhetoric can “appeal more to emotions than the intellect”
(00:00 — 8:14)

President Trump has painted a picture of a country plagued by violence and instability in recent weeks,telling audiences as a campaign event: “The violence is fueled by dangerous rhetoric from far-left politicians that demonize our nation and demonize our police.” 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Bidencountered Trump’s message, saying Trump “...can’t stop the violence because for years he has fomented it.”

This political rhetoric in the presidential campaign is polarizing, saysDr. Paul Johnson, a professor of communication and rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh. “That really has—for some of the population—increased the sense that the American way of life is in danger and they need to do something about it,” he tells The Confluence.

But polarization is nothing new, Johnson says. 

“It has longer roots than just Trump. Trump is just someone who’s well-positioned to, I think, exploit the polarization that’s happening in American politics and, sort of, lean in to its intensities.” 

After nearly 10 weeks at Freedom Corner, Dannielle Brown says “I want the truth”
(8:15 — 17:49)

Dannielle Brown's hunger strike is going on for more than 60 days. Brown made her way to Pittsburgh following the death of her son, and she found community in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, specifically at Freedom Corner. 

She says she's willing to die unless she gets answers to her questions about what happened to her son, a Duquesne student who died two years ago in a dorm-room fall.

“You know this is my son and I’m not leaving here at Freedom Corner until I get answers to what happened to my son,” Brown says.  

As part of a two-part series forAmerica Amplified, 90.5 WESA’sAriel Worthy reports how Brown arrived at Freedom Corner alone—but the Hill District community hasadopted her as one of its own.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
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