Critical Discourse Analysis of Donald Trump’s Presidential Speech

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Critical Discourse Analysis of Donald Trump's Presidential Speech


Critical discourse analysis is one of the practical approaches to linguistic investigation. It analyzes discourses taking into account their different characteristics such as place of communication, its aim, as well as the features of the actualized speech used by the communicants. Its basic presumption is that the actualized speech manifests inner processes of the speaker, which manifest through lexical, grammatical and other analyses. Currently, the applied speeches used for the investigations of discourse range from song lyrics to business presentations and political discourses. The analysis allows tracing the thinking patterns of various people as well as classifying the common features according to different patterns. The benefit of the obtained and analyzed material is that it allows specifying common professional and individual styles of communication. Moreover, it defines the features of the communication, its potential influence, as well as other features, which allow the speaker to reach one’s communicative goal. The current paper focuses on the discourse analysis of the presidential speech of one of the candidates, Donald Trump. It is based on several typical approaches in discourse analysis, which allow identifying the peculiar style of communication of the selected speaker. The obtained results show a comprehensive characteristic of the political speech of a presidential candidate, which has a significant support of the electorate. The speech of Donald Trump has enough features to be called a persuasive political speech that follows the aim of obtaining additional support of the citizens during the elections.

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Literature Review and Theoretical Basis

Before analyzing the selected speech, there is a need for the review of relevant literature, which focuses on various aspects of discourse analysis. Moreover the study needs to consider the investigations focused on political persuasive speeches in order to have a solid basis for the primary analysis. Thus, discourse analysis is a research, which explores the reproduction of “social power abuse, dominance, and inequality” by means of text and talk in various contexts (Schiffrin, Tannen, & Hamilton, 2008, p. 352). Therefore, its peculiar accent focuses on the ways, in which the actualized language can transmit the power of influence in a particular communicative and cultural context. Thus, critical discourse analysis (CDA) asks questions about the way specific discourse structures are deployed in the reproduction of social dominance (Schiffrin, Tannen, & Hamilton, 2008). In the linguistic context, CDA operates with notions such as “power”, “race”, “social structure”, “ideology”, “dominance” and others, which allow characterizing the actualized speech from its basic theoretical premises. Moreover, the analyzed speech is practiced in certain social groups, cultures, and institutions, which frame the range of actualized communicative acts (Gee, 2014). Therefore, the definition suggests that every political speech of a presidential candidate would bear certain common features. However, it is impossible for the speaker to follow general patterns of the communicative situation and avoid using the individual style of discourse. Its style can be traced by means of characterizing the speech through such parameters as significance, activities, identities, relationships, politics, connections and sign systems and knowledge (Gee, 2014). Thus, the speaker has own vision of different aspects, which results in the implementation of peculiar communicative strategies and creates the individual style of communication. Consequently, moving from language to context and from context to language (Gee, 2014), CDA reveals specific traits in word and syntax choice, as well as speech structure. Likewise, the result of the analysis of the discourse presents an individual ideology put into language practice (Fairclough, 2013). The interpretation of CDA is especially relevant towards political discourse, which combines ideology, power and influence.

Political discourse is a talk and text produced regarding concrete political issues or the actual language use of institutional political actors (Tracy, Ilie, & Sandel, 2015). Thus, politicians act within a framework of a communicative situation, which can be characterized as having increased power of influence. Scholars define political discourse as a primarily argumentative discourse (Fairclough, Fairclough, 2013). The application of CDA to the sphere of politics allows revealing the peculiarities of relationship between politics and language. The experts of CDA have two major approaches towards the analysis of political discourse. The first one is through the framework of cognitive linguistics, which views the speech from a cognitive and evolutionary perspective (Fairclough, Fairclough, 2013). Although it does not define political discourse as purely argumentative in nature, it considers the aspects of representation through the usage of metaphors, binary distinctions, role plays and other. The strength of the approach is that it arises from the presumptions that politics is a struggle for power and cooperation to resolve clashes of interest (Fairclough & Fairclough, 2013). Consequently, such type of CDA identifies political speeches as means of pursuing power by attracting more supporters to the idea shared by the speaker. Therefore, the orator refers to different realities, which are shared with the public, addressing common values and hierarchies. The other approach is the discourse-historical one. In its turn, the strategy segments the subject of political discourse into a number of fields and sub-genres. For instance, lawmaking arrangements, the formation of public opinion, political advertising are classified into sub-genres (Fairclough, Fairclough, 2013). Thus, the taxonomic approach identifies a range of political activities and their domains, filling the selected clusters with the sub-genres of political speech. Additionally, scholars claim that it involves various political concepts and their implementation within peculiar discursive strategies. They include nomination, predication, argumentation, perspectivation or involvement, and intensification or mitigation (Fairclough, Fairclough, 2013). Furthermore, the peculiarities of the usage of the aforementioned strategies create a positive or negative self-representation of the speaker from the position of the recipients of one’s speech.

Moreover, scholars define another CDA approach, which is referred to as Foucauldian, because it was proposed by Michel Foucault (Wodak & Meyer, 2009). The core of the theory is in consideration of the knowledge validity regarding the place and time of communication, its sources and application, as well as function and social consequences. Therefore, it addresses the actualization of general, individual and specific knowledge in political speeches, evaluating its relevance and cause-consecutive social effect. Furthermore, Foucault views discourse as a flow of knowledge, which is the exercise of power through speech. Thus, he claims that the discourse power is “a whole series of particular mechanisms, definable and defined, that seem capable of including behaviors or discourses” (Wodak & Meyer, 2009, p. 35). Therefore, Foucauldian approach to CDA analyzes discourse as a sum of its characteristics, which are knowledge, setting, and means of influence, their functions and effect. Thus, despite the fact that discussed approaches differ in their nature they characterize similar political concepts and frameworks when analyzing political discourse.


The analysis of Donald Trump’s presidential speech is based on certain methodological principles. The analysis of the speech structure as well as the content is a few of them. The structural analysis involves the discussion of the characteristics of the speech organization defining its most critical segments. Likewise, the analysis of the content includes the characteristic of the chosen vocabulary as well as means of stylistic expression of the speech. Additionally, the approach allows characterizing the relationship between the parts of speech as well as its cohesion. It is worth mentioning that the analysis of the speech involves its references and connections with the time and place of its delivery and possible social and historical references. The analysis of the structure, metaphors, symbols, and other means of expression would allow evaluating the degree of argumentation presented in the speech. Moreover, the evaluation of its content would allow identifying the range of sub-topics discussed by the orator. As a result, the paper suggests obtaining the characteristics of the speech, which allow identifying the individual style of political discourse of the author. A particular interest for the study is the fact that the orator is not a politician with experience. Thus, it is suggested that, being a man of corporate world, Donald Trump might introduce business concepts into the political speech.

Presidential Speech Analysis

Analyzing the speech of a presidential candidate Donald Trump, one should notice that it begins in a free manner. The initial reaction of Trump when starting the speech was as if he had never seen so many listeners “Wow. Whoa. That is some group of people. Thousands” (Trump, 2015, p. 1). The strategy presents him as a person, who is not a politic and has the aim of trying one’s best at the place. It is evident that the speaker speculates on the topic of him not having experience in politics several times during the speech. For instance, he claims to be not a politician because “politicians are all talk, no action” (Trump, 2015, p. 3). Moreover, he refers to oneself as a person, who has been unsuccessfully led by politicians “How stupid are our leaders? How stupid are these politicians to allow this to happen?” (Trump, 2015, p. 6). Instead, Trump positions himself as a candidate, who prefers doing rather than saying “I am a nice person. I give a lot of money away to charities and other things. I think I’m actually a very nice person” (Trump, 2015, p. 12). Additionally, the speaker establishes the opposition of the image of a politician and himself. For example, Trump indicates that the politicians are unable to transform the country because they are controlled by the lobbyists and their personal interests. However, he is proud to claim “I don’t need anybody’s money … I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists… I don’t care. I’m really rich” (Trump, 2015, p. 10). The vivid example of the influence, which highlights his words, is that the presentation is delivered in the Trump Tower, which is owned by the candidate. Therefore, from the premises of cognitive approach to CDA, Trump’s aim is to conceptualize oneself as an independent and prospective citizen and a prospective businessman. Likewise, he claims to be a skillful leader, who wants to help his country. The assumption is supported by the words:

“This is going to be an election that’s based on competence … I’ve employed tens of thousands of people over my lifetime … I don’t have to brag. I don’t have to, believe it or not … just to sum up, I would do various things very quickly … Nobody can do that like me. Believe me. It will be done on time, on budget, way below cost, way below what anyone ever thought” (Trump, 2015, p. 16).

Furthermore, from the position of discourse-historical approach in CDA, the analyzed speech is a role model of a sub-genre of political speech. The structure of the speech defines that the orator begins with nomination, defining the awful state of the international policy of the state and economy. Fox example, Trump argues that “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore”, claiming that China, Mexico, and Russia are taking over the US (Trump, 2015, p. 1). Furthermore, the speaker mentions the terrible state of the overall wealth, providing real-life examples and referring to the problem of unemployment. For instance, “They can’t get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs” (Trump, 2015, p. 3). Likewise, the speaker stresses that even the military sphere of the country is weak. The candidate claims “We got a military that needs equipment all over the place. We got nuclear weapons that are obsolete. We’ve got nothing” (Trump, 2015, p. 3). Furthermore, the orator resolves to predication, claiming that the country needs a number of changes, ranging from political to the economic ones. Additionally, he uses argumentation, which is mostly based on individual and real-life cases. The typical example is “I’ve been on the circuit making speeches, and I hear my fellow Republicans … And they don’t talk jobs and they don’t talk China” (Trump, 2015, p. 4). Gradually, the speaker involves the listeners in the critique of the contemporary government and politicians. Eventually, he gives a hint to the audience that he has a plan and many supporters. Therefore, Trump effectively uses the rules of political discourse, according to which he aims for obtaining the power for the electorate by means of attracting one’s supporting groups. The intensification of the speech, in its turn, is achieved with various stylistic means of speech.

Characterizing the individual style of the speaker, one has to denote that Donald Trump has peculiar features, which allow differentiating him from any other politician. For instance, Trump uses comparisons to negatively characterize his opponents “I can tell, some of the candidates, they went in. They didn’t know the air-conditioner didn’t work. They sweated like dogs” (Trump, 2015, p. 1). The audience reacted with laughter, which indicates that the speaker has earned the positive evaluation and established a good contact from the very beginning. Furthermore, when criticizing the current leaders of the nation, Trump uses a comparison with a card game “We have all the cards, but we don’t know how to use them. We don’t even know that we have the cards, because our leaders don’t understand the game” (Trump, 2015, p. 11). Additionally, one can notice that Trump often uses repetitive grammatical constructions and syntax in order to intensify his speech. The reason for it is that he mostly uses no metaphors or comparisons, while preferring citing real-life cases. The example of the construction is “They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime” (Trump, 2015, p. 2). Moreover, the speech has only one imaginary created metaphor, which explores Trump’s opinion regarding the perspective of building a Ford factory in Mexico. Trump uses the metaphoric case in order to depict his future actions in case he is elected a President. Thus, he promotes the idea of the defense of the citizens, their rights for acquiring jobs and living in a rich country. Likewise, the speech has a unique characteristic, when Trump uses figurative third-person speech, claiming that the world leaders may use the words mentioned by him. The aforementioned means of expression intensify the stated problems “Putin and all of the other people that look at us and they say, “That is a group of people, and that is a nation that truly has no clue. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know what they’re doing.”” (Trump, 2015, p. 3). Along with the figurative speech, the similar stylistic tool is used when Trump characterizes the wishes of the citizens “people are saying, “What’s going on? I just want a job. Just get me a job. I don’t need the rhetoric. I want a job.”” (Trump, 2015, p. 4). Furthermore, Trump uses a strategy with a peculiar style of political speeches, which is the appeal to family values. For instance, he uses the opinion of his family about him as well as the positive characteristics of his family.

The word choice of the orator indicates that he prefers actions, which supports the general appeal of his message. Thus, Trump uses the verbs “get rid of”, “reduce”, “be careful”, “strengthen”, “take care of”, “build”, “rebuild” and others when describing his will and initiatives. Moreover, he characterizes other countries as rivals using the constructions “they send”, “they beat us”, “they are laughing at us”, “they are killing us economically” (Trump, 2015, p.1). Likewise, when criticizing the government and politicians, Trump tends to classify them as people of no action “they say the sun will rise, the moon will set, all sorts of wonderful things will happen… And it’s going to get worse” (Trump, 2015, p. 1). Moreover, in certain cases, he resolves to words of negative connotation, such as “we have people that are stupid … that aren’t smart … that are controlled … we have losers … morally corrupt” (Trump, 2015, p. 7). Instead, the candidate presents self-identification by the words of positive meaning such has “I’m a free trader… I know … I’ve employed … ” (Trump, 2015, p. 7), which create positive effect. Consequently, the choice of stylistic, syntactic and lexical features of the language, actualized in the analyzed political speech, accomplish the aim of pursuing power in political discourse.

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Findings and Interpretation

The performed analysis allows identifying a speech, which is peculiar in a political framework, but is enriched with the features of business discourse. The speaker tends to use a standard speech toolkit of a political discourse, such as metaphors, positive self-esteem and negative characteristic of the opponents. However, Trump has a benefit of successful individual activity, the experience that he uses as an example of his professionalism, and the support of one’s viability as a future politician. Thus, he claims to be an effective leader, who has employed hundreds of people and made his business prosper. The position allows the presidential candidate to transfer his leadership from the corporate activity to the possible political career. Likewise, his choice of lexis and syntax allows creating the impact of an uncompromised speaker. For instance, he criticizes his opponents by means of a wide use of metaphors, as well as providing real-life examples contrasting them with one’s own reputation and success. Moreover, his position of being a regular citizen allows gaining additional support of the audience and allows uncompromised criticizing. Furthermore, he uses critical discourse to indicate that other countries are more successful because of their leaders. Consequently, he argues that he should be in charge of the country because he is more successful than the US politicians and he has good relationship with other countries. Therefore, the study concludes that the presidential speech of Donald Trump is an example of political speech enriched with the means of business discourse.


Summarizing the presented information, the paper comes to a conclusion that the presidential speech is an example of a style of businessman aiming at obtaining political power. The reason for the statement is that the orator uses the strategies and speech tools identifying oneself as a representative of business and a person from ordinary citizens. Therefore, the approach allows the speaker to criticize the government using real-life examples and virtually creating cases as political arguments. Moreover, Trump uses the examples of one’s successful activity clashing them with negative real-life experiences, which are the result of the government regulations. Furthermore, the analysis of the speech tools explores that the speaker marks the opponents as talkers, who lack initiative. Instead, the candidate uses verbs of active action when discussing the perspectives of one’s activity in case of becoming the President. Consequently, the critical discourse analysis of the presidential speech of Donald Trump classifies it as a speech of a businessman, who enters the political framework.