“The Means to Match Their Hatred”: Nuclear Weapons, Rhetorical Democracy, and Presidential Discourse


Bryan C. Taylor is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado–Boulder. His research interests include cultural and critical studies of nuclear and Cold War rhetoric. He is currently working on a book contrasting rhetorical and cultural studies paradigms for studying the Cold War.


The persistence of nuclear weapons evokes four critical issues: they continue to pose significant risk in the absence of compelling security needs; they embody technological autonomy and institutional indifference to democratic deliberation; they are represented in mythic and religious presidential rhetoric that hypocritically celebrates American virtue while unproductively demonizing nuclear opponents; and they remain understudied by rhetorical scholars. This essay responds by conceptualizing the challenges posed by nuclear weapons to the ideal of a rhetorical democracy, and historicizes the related role of presidential rhetoric. It concludes with a tentative vision of presidential rhetoric and rhetorical criticism consistent with a nuclear-rhetorical democracy.