“Bully Pulpit” or The Bully’s Pulpit?

President Trump’s prominence on the stage of national politics has brought with it a new wave of rhetoric in defiance of “political correctness.” President Trump’s speech is littered with personalized imagery and extreme vilification- the US and its people are victims, constantly being taken advantage of by outside powers. Americans are “trapped in poverty” and “deprived of knowledge” and China is “winning.” Often praised for being different and bringing a new dawn of truth to Washington, he is simultaneously deepening divisions in society by using schismatic language, often racially charged, that has overshadowed all of his policy issues. In the zero-sum game Trump so ardently subscribes to, there are only winners and losers. On one side, the self-proclaimed “patriots” who would support him and (white) Americans to any end. On the other, those who are always in the wrong, like the Mexican immigrants who “are rapists” and “bringing crime” [1].  

The words we use and how we use them tell a deeper story of who we are and what we believe. The rhetoric Trump uses is rarely presidential, sometimes accusatory, often heated, and almost always divisive. The following word maps depict the inaugural addresses of President Trump and President Obama. The larger the words are, the more often they were used. 

Obama
Trump

These word maps show what each man cared enough about to mention more than once in their speeches. Some of Obama’s principal words were “nation, new, must, time, generation, work, common, women, peace, spirit, prosperity, people, ideas.” Trump’s were “America, American, now, great, Obama, citizens, power, jobs, peoples, factories, world, nation, right, dreams, never, moment.” In this skeletal form, the values and aspirations each President holds dear become more obvious: on the one hand, a global perspective and emphasis on internationally-held ideals. On the other, a domestic focus and assertions of grandeur. 

Trump, more so than any president in recent memory, eagerly places the blame for America’s failing institutions squarely at the feet of the politicians themselves, a general “we” that he mentions often. This is readily apparent in his inauguration speech where he proclaimed, “We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon… We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own… For many years, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” [2]. From his very first speech as president, Trump was in the trenches digging deeper divisions into American society. 

There are several important similarities in the topics that both Obama and Trump choose to highlight. One is terrorism and the way that both of them talk about it is indicative of their innate beliefs. In the same inauguration adresses, Trump declared, “We will unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.” Obama, on the same subject, stated, “And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken – you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” Trump identifies the villain as Islamic Terrorism whom he will “eradicate off the face of the earth.” Obama chose not to use any terms that were religiously insensitive, thus playing the diplomat by choosing language that was thoughtfully delicate. His message is also one of positivity: “our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken – you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you” [3]. “Political correctness” is not a liberal attempt at repressing truth, it is recognizing the sensitivity that certain circumstances demand. 

The events of early January are further evidence of the power of rhetoric in both inciting action and bringing to the surface hidden principles. An example of the latter is in President Trump’s response to the capitol rioters versus the Black Lives Matter protestors last summer. In various tweets, Trump called the BLM supporters “thugs” and said that he would greet them with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.” In tweets directed at those who stormed the capitol, Trump said to “go home in peace” and that he “felt their pain.” The stark difference in these responses is alarming not only because Donald Trump is the leader of the Western world, but because whoever sits in the oval office is an illustration of American beliefs and values at any given moment. 

The way that Trump speaks to Americans and the world does not just show his own opinions, although it most certainly also does that. President Trump exists in a spotlight that only the person in his position can inhabit: the bully pulpit. As the only person in office elected by all Americans, his message is representative of the opinions held by the United States, and it is our responsibility to make sure that the message we are sending is one we are proud to own.

PULL QUOTE OPTIONS: 

“The words we use and how we use them tell a deeper story of who we are and what we believe.”

“‘Political correctness’ is not a liberal attempt at repressing truth, it is a call for the sensitivity that certain circumstances demand.”

Citations- (didn’t know what format was preferred so here are two ways)

[1] — https://time.com/4473972/donald-trump-mexico-meeting-insult/

[2] — https://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/full-text-donald-trump-inauguration-speech-transcript-233907

[3] — https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2009/01/21/president-barack-obamas-inaugural-address

¹Reilly, Katie. 2016. “Here Are All the Times Donald Trump Insulted Mexico.” TIME, August 31. 

²Politico Staff. 2017. “Full text: 2017 Donald Trump inauguration speech transcript.” Politico, January 20. 

³U.S. President. 2009. “President Obama’s Inaugural Address.” 21 January. Accessed January 10, 2020. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2009/01/21/president-barack-obamas-inaugural-address
³Politico Staff. 2017. “Full text: 2017 Donald Trump inauguration speech transcript.” Politico, January 20.

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Amelia Charles

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