From Ask Figaro:
As an academic rhetorician—the type of guy who calls demonstrative rhetoric what it is, epideictic rhetoric—I am increasingly, year by year, aggravated by various public figures engaging in excessive hypophora. Whether it’s a political figure or a coach in college sports, people overuse rhetorical questions. The rhetorical question followed by the quick answer seems rhetorically schizophrenic to me since people use it so much.
Any thoughts on why rhetorical questions are being overused?
Quintilian B. Nasty
You’re right that the hypophora (hy-PAH-phor-a)— the figure that asks a rhetorical question and then answers it — is getting a workout these days. You know why that is? I’ll tell you why that is. Our society has become increasingly demonstrative, as your question implies. (“What do we want? Groupthink! When do we want it? Now!”)
In a demonstrative society, deliberation goes out the figurative window. Any opinion or fact that’s contrary to the received wisdom smacks of disloyalty. And what’s the best way to deliver received wisdom? By immediate answers to rhetorical questions.
Demonstrative rhetoric — or epideictic, as you Greek-talking Romans insist on calling it — brings the tribe together through talk of shared values. It can inspire patriotism and self-sacrifice, but too much of it results in tribalism. And tribalism is democracy’s kryptonite.
The American founders knew that tribalism inevitably leads to dictatorship. It was the one thing they feared the most. And who is Figaro to argue?
Nobody, that’s who.