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Post-Election Concession Speech Analysis Assignment

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A little over a week after the 2020 election, it seems that the entire country is in a state of exhaustion. No matter who we voted for, we are worn down and exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. What an ordeal.

Of course, now the real work—of actually governing—needs to go on. Or begin. But as the so-called transition goes forward, perhaps it would be good to take a time out and to reflect on what we’ve experienced, to write about those experiences and feelings, to share with others, and to begin or to carry on conversations intended to help us understand each other a little better.

I also like the idea of backing away from the intense drama and emotion-laden angst of these last few weeks and going in for a little analysis. And because so much of our knowledge comes to us today via the sound of the human voice, I think it would be appropriate to analyze several speeches. Three that I think would provide rich material for analysis and reflection are the “non-concession” concession speech Stacey Abrams gave when she lost the race for Georgia’s governor (Nov. 16, 2018), the concession speech Hillary Clinton gave when she lost the presidential election (Nov. 9, 2016), and either Donald Trump’s concession speech following his defeat in this election (if he ever gives one) or John McCain’s concession speech when he lost to Barack Obama (Nov. 5, 2008). The questions:

  • What are the characteristics of an effective concession speech?
  • Does there seem to be an average length for a concession speech? If so, what is it, and why does that length seem effective—or not?
  • How would you describe the tone of each concession speech? In what ways are they similar or different in tone?
  • What role do personal pronouns (I, me, you, we, they) play in concession speeches? How do they affect the tone?
  • How does the speaker in a concession speech characterize or refer to the person who won?
  • How does the speaker try to relate to the audience? To build credibility?

Of course, we could ask students to compare and examine other kinds of speeches: the ones candidates give when they have won an election, or the acceptance speeches they give at conventions. In any event, the goal is to get some emotional distance from recent political upheavals and to focus on how language works or fails to work in sending messages to others. So—a little rhetorical analysis as a post-election elixir.

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3926344 by lograstudio, used under the Pixabay License

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.