So the main part of my research was doing the actual analysis of the convention speeches. So without further ado I’ll just get into some examples of the analysis I’ve done.
Lexical phrases or expressions represent and guide mental categories and thought processes. Lexical phrases are evaluative much of the time. Often they are phrases that are repeated by certain parties or groups that not only guide the audience’s mental schemas of these things, but also serve as a way a person can align themselves with a certain group.
A common example is “pro-choice” versus “pro-life”. Each phrase is evaluative in its presentation (after all, who would want to be anti-choice or anti-life?) and each phrase also aligns the speaker to a certain ideology.
The most common example is ‘illegal immigrant’ versus ‘undocumented immigrant’ or simply ‘immigrant’. Both phrases are evaluative: the former puts the blame on the immigrant, that they themselves are illegal, while the latter puts the blame on the system, that they are immigrants, but merely undocumented. Both align the speaker with a certain ideology as well.
While that example was present in both speeches (Trump referring multiple times to ‘illegal immigrants’ and Clinton referring to them simply as ‘immigrants’) and while I did discuss it in my paper, I think that a more interesting phenomenon comes in a more subtle way.
Trump uses a lot of lexical phrases, but one of Trump’s most repeated phrases was “law and order”. This phrase is not his own, but draws on decades of history. While “Law and Order” is also a popular TV series, the phrase in context most closely resembles Nixon’s use of the phrase during his election in 1968 as part of his Southern Strategy. When Nixon used the phrase ‘law and order’, he was alluding to the urban unrest that many white southern voters associated with black communities. In this way, Nixon was able to draw on white southerners’ racism in order to consolidate votes while at the same time not being overtly racist himself. Trump does much the same.
In his convention speech, Trump uses the phrase “law and order” four times. Each time, the context of his speech refers to terrorism, immigration, or attacks on police. In each scenario, race, ethnicity, or faith is a prominent factor that he is alluding to. With regard to terrorism, he’s alluding to Muslims or Middle Easterners; with immigration it’s Latinxs, especially those here illegally; with attacks on police it is African Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement. By saying that he is for law and order, he is implying that these communities are monolithically breaking the law, implying that they have no respect for America and therefore are against American ideals. In this way, Trump is using coded language to tap into racist and prejudiced ideology without saying overtly racist things.
Another thing I looked at was how Hillary portrayed the founding fathers.
In her speech, Hillary invokes the founding fathers, creating a narrative of finding common ground.
The act of constructing a narrative around the founding fathers has been present in American political rhetoric since the 1820s, when the last of them died out. Since then, invoking the founding fathers has been used by every political party, trying to persuade the nation of the merit of their policies by insisting it was part of the original intent of the founding fathers.
However, Clinton does something slightly different than most politicians in referencing the founding fathers. In most cases, the “founding fathers” is used as a monolithic group, homogenous in opinions. Clinton, on the other hand, emphasizes some of the political discord among the founding fathers, claiming that:
“some wanted to stick with the king and some wanted to stick it to the king”
After this, though, Clinton returns to the reducing the founders to a group, using only the pronoun “they” and no names, emphasizing her claim that America is “stronger together”, that compromise is the ultimate expression of democracy and unity.
In recent years, the rhetoric of “founding fathers” and “original intent” has been dominated by the conservative movement, particularly the faction known as the “Tea Party”, which even in its very name evokes the founding fathers by referencing the historical event of the Boston Tea Party. Liberals, on the other hand, have shied away from using the founding fathers as role models as they are seen more and more as slave-owning wealthy white men, excluding many other voices of that time period.
However, with the advent of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, liberals have been more at ease with invoking the founding fathers, as Hamilton portrays them as people of color, reclaiming the founding narrative and shifting the moral focus from men like Jefferson, a wealthy slave-owner in favor of states’ rights, to Hamilton, an orphan immigrant who called for a stronger federal government. Hillary even likens her own campaign to that story by quoting Hamilton in her closing remarks.