Dr. Mercieca’s research focuses on the relationship between democracy and our nation’s communication practices. She has published research on how America’s Founders imagined citizens would act in a government based upon the will of the people, the way that we turn presidents into heroes, the ways that demagogues are dangerous for democratic stability, and she is currently writing a book about propaganda and how to fix our broken public sphere. Historical and theoretically informed, her research aims to make our communication practices more democratic.
Dr. Jennifer Mercieca is an historian of American political rhetoric. She writes about American political discourse, especially as it relates to citizenship, democracy, and the presidency. Jennifer has published three books about political rhetoric: Founding Fictions, The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations: Establishing the Obama Presidency, and Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump.
Her scholarship has been published in The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Argumentation & Advocacy, and Rhetoric Society Quarterly. She is a member of the Editorial Boards of The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Southern Communication Journal, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, and the Texas A&M University Press.
She is a Contributing Editor for Zócalo Public Square. She has written about rhetoric and politics for The Conversation, USA Today, Washington Post, and other major media outlets. She has been interviewed about rhetoric and politics by the BBC World News, NPR’s All Things Considered, NPR’s 1A, Diane Rehm, The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, Vice News, Australia’s ABC Radio, Slate, USA Today, and many other outlets throughout the United States and Worldwide.
She is a 2016 recipient of the Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching, the highest student award given to faculty for teaching at Texas A&M University. She’s been called “probably the leading authority on Trump’s rhetoric” by the Austin American Statesman and her book Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump has been “highly recommended,” by Politico; called a “must read, by Salon; one of the “best books of summer” and the “most anticipated books of 2020,” by LitHub; and, “one of the most important political books of this perilous summer,” by the Washington Post.
- COMM 438: Propaganda
- COMM 440: Political Communication
- COMM 431: Social Movements
- COMM 301: Rhetoric in Western Thought
- COMM 243: Argumentation
- COMM 640: Rhetorical Theory
- COMM 655: Citizenship and the Public Sphere
- COMM 649: American Public Discourse before 1860
- Jennifer R. Mercieca, “Dangerous Demagogues and Weaponized Communication.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 49, no. 3 (2019): 264–79.
- Jennifer Mercieca, “Afterward: Trump as Anarchist and Sun King,” Faking the News: What Rhetoric Can Teach Us About Donald J. Trump, Ryan Skinnell, Ed, (Societas, 2018): 174-179.
- Jennifer Mercieca, “Ignoring the President: Barack Obama’s Post-Rhetorical Presidency,” From Columns to Characters: The Presidency and the Press in the Digital Age, Stephanie Ann Martin, Ed, (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2017): 206-231.
- Jennifer Mercieca, “The Emergence of the Outrage Presidency,” Spectra, March 2020.
- Jennifer R. Mercieca, “The Irony of the Democratic Style,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 11 (2008): 441-449.
- James Jasinski & Jennifer R. Mercieca, “The Constitutive Approach to Effect and the Alien and Sedition Acts,” Rhetoric and Public Address in the Twenty-First Century: A Handbook, Shawn J. Parry-Giles and J. Michael Hogan, Eds, (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Press, 2010): 313-341.
- Jennifer R. Mercieca, “The Culture of Honor: How Slaveholders Responded to the Abolitionist Mail Crisis of 1835,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 10 (2007): 51-76.
- Stephen J. Hartnett & Jennifer R. Mercieca, “Four Theses on the Death of Presidential Rhetoric in an Age of Empire,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 37 (2007): 599-619.
- Jennifer R. Mercieca, “The Fourteenth Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities of American Citizenship,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 101 (2015): 306-311 (100th Anniversary Issue).
Historic levels of polarization, a disaffected and frustrated electorate, and widespread distrust of government, the news media, and traditional political leadership set the stage in 2016 for an unexpected, unlikely, and unprecedented presidential contest. Donald Trump’s campaign speeches and other rhetoric seemed on the surface to be simplistic, repetitive, and disorganized to many. As Demagogue for President shows, Trump’s campaign strategy was anything but simple.
Political communication expert Jennifer Mercieca shows how the Trump campaign expertly used the common rhetorical techniques of a demagogue, a word with two contradictory definitions—“a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power” or “a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times” (Merriam-Webster, 2019). These strategies, in conjunction with post-rhetorical public relations techniques, were meant to appeal to a segment of an already distrustful electorate. It was an effective tactic.
Campaign rhetoric helps candidates to get elected, but its effects last well beyond the counting of the ballots; this was perhaps never truer than in Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Did Obama create such high expectations that they actually hindered his ability to enact his agenda? Should we judge his performance by the scale of the expectations his rhetoric generated, or against some other standard? The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations: Establishing the Obama Presidency grapples with these and other important questions.
Founding Fictions develops the concept of a “political fiction,” or a narrative that people tell about their own political theories, and analyzes how republican and democratic fictions positioned American citizens as either romantic heroes, tragic victims, or ironic partisans. By re-telling the stories that Americans have told themselves about citizenship, Mercieca highlights an important contradiction in American political theory and practice: that national stability and active citizen participation are perceived as fundamentally at odds.