Graduate Student Profile: Jacob Justice
Research in political communication is often difficult, given the challenges of researching and writing about the ever-changing arena of politics. This is uniquely true of the current political environment. It would appear that much of what we know about campaign and presidential rhetoric has been upended by the 2016 presidential campaign and election of President Donald Trump. Despite these challenges, rhetorical analysis is more important than ever before. One such person trying to make sense of this new political landscape is Jacob Justice, PhD student in Communication Studies.
Jacob started his research at KU by writing his Master’s thesis on anti-smoking advertisement campaigns like The Real Cost and Tips From Former Smokers, trying to understand both why some were more successful than others and the role of visual argument. Jacob says, “My thesis explored how very American values such as individualism and the drive for independence have acted as obstacles to anti-smoking campaigns. Although I am still actively researching these campaigns, my research has also begun to explore how these same values manifest themselves in the rhetoric of conservative politicians."
Thus, since starting his PhD program, Jacob has become more interested in the realm of political communication, especially in presidential and campaign rhetoric. Jacob has two broad research interests within this field. First, he is interested in rhetorical genres, especially jeremiads and their use by conservative figures such as Marco Rubio and John McCain. Jacob’s most recent publication, “From Communist Nightmare to American Dream: Hybrid Rhetoric in Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 Tribute to José Fernández” is an example of this. The article, which won NCA Top Paper and Top Student Paper awards in the Sports Communication Division, explores Marco Rubio’s articulation of the American Dream myth in a eulogy he gave on the Senate floor for the beloved Cuban baseball player José Fernández.
Jacob’s second research interest is in the evolution of populist rhetoric from Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump. He is currently working on a project that explores the similarities in rhetoric used by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and Andrew Jackson in the 1824 and 1828 presidential elections. This research will show how, in many ways, the Trump phenomenon is part of a deep-rooted tradition in American politics and not as anomalous as it first appears.
For both areas of research, Jacob finds it useful to have some background in history. For the past few semesters, he’s been taking classes in the history department at KU to ground his political knowledge. Jake explains, “Understanding how a piece of rhetoric influences an audience always requires an understanding of the cultural context. The two history seminars – on 19th and 20th century history - I’ve taken have helped me put any piece of given rhetoric in a broader, more long-term perspective.”