Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Trumptactic Structures: A Linguistic Analysis of the Clinton/Trump Town Hall Debate

This blogpost written by: 

Jon Schwoerer,  Hunter College, CUNY


Some notes on the debate ( Town Hall Oct 9 2016)

- Trump's extreme misogyny is really on show here. Whenever Clinton spoke, Trump stood right behind her and/or paced back and forth. However, while Clinton often moved around herself and gestured to the audience when she spoke, Trump mostly stood still whenever he spoke. I wonder why Trump didnt move much WHILE he was speaking. Does this also somehow have anything to do with his sexism, or is it just because he isn’t a fine-tuned politician like Hillary is?

- Reading the debate transcript is very interesting. Clinton's spoken language is carefully scripted and worded. She speaks off the cuff in a way most people would write; in complete, even correctly-punctuated sentences. Trump, on the other hand, throws grammar and sentence structure completely out the window, speaking in mostly sentence fragments. 

- Trump's language is also much more colorful than Clinton's. Despite Trump's limitations as a public speaker, Trump uses lots of descriptive language and imagery in his speech -  "ISIS chopping off heads," "drowning people in steel cages" etc. He likes similes - "like medieval times,” etc. He calls Hillary "the devil" ("Bernie made a deal with the devil."). He likes using sarcasm, mockingly "complimenting" her on her record as Secretary of State. He uses lots of gossip and storytelling, even though he is terrible at telling stories. Clinton's language, on the other hand, is very dry and policy-oriented. 

Much of Trump's success lies in his descriptive language. Trump uses copious amounts of metaphors, imagery, etc. in order to paint a VISUAL picture of a world in chaos; a picture people can relate to. However, Trumps paints this picture using extremely base and simple language - language that everyone can understand - while simultaneously appealing to people's direct economic concerns instead of speaking in vague platitudes. This combination allows to Trump to appeal to people on an emotional level rather than a policy or even ideological level; people think Trump is a no-bullshit kind of guy who knows what's wrong and can fix things. It's genius.

- Trump had a VERY LOW bar set for him in the debate in light of the leak of the tapes. Trump surpassed said bar in the debate. Clinton had an unfairly high bar set for her (she's female, considered to be "establishment," other reasons) and I don't think she passed that bar in the debate. Trump's debate performance didn't lose him any support, and even perhaps gained him a couple votes. I do think the leak of the tapes BY ITSELF (and more damaging tapes maybe being leaked in the future) did hurt Trump's standing among some, but not enough to knock him out of the race. I still think Trump will win. Upstate New York is completely Trump territory. I was visiting a friend in Kerhonkson a week ago (pretty rural) and EVERY SINGLE SIGN on almost EVERY SINGLE HOUSE WAS TRUMP. Most of the country is like that, if not worse. People in New York City are very isolated from goes on in the rest of America.