President Trump’s 1st Address to Congress

This past week, Donald Trump made his first address to Congress as president of the United States. In contrast to his negative inauguration speech about “American carnage,” this speech was more positive and hopeful. You can read the transcript of the speech here.

Trump supporters were very pleased with the speech and claimed he was very “presidential.” Critics of Donald Trump were quick to point out many factual errors in his speech and were not very impressed. The Washington Post found errors on many different issues including immigration rates, defense spending, crime rates, welfare statistics and unemployment rates. You can read the summary here.

 

Regardless of the controversies surrounding the speech, I found that the frequency and type of metaphors also differed significantly compared to the inauguration speech. It has taken me a week to sort through all the different examples of metaphors in this long speech. Although there were many negative metaphors involving physical forces, there were also positive metaphors of vision and journeys looking forward as one might expect in an address to Congress. Here are a few interesting examples. As always, the quotations are taken directly from the transcript. I have added italics to mark the metaphors under analysis. In some cases, quotations are repeated if they contain more than one type of metaphor.

Building

            This speech presents an interesting contrast between using some metaphors in a negative manner, while using others in the same category in a positive manner. President Trump describes various aspects of the country as if they are buildings that are crumbling, collapsing or imploding. However, he also talks about building for the future.

crumbling

Example: “And we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”

Example: “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land.“

collapsing

Example: “Obamacare premiums nationwide have increased by double and triple digits. As an example, Arizona went up 116 percent last year alone. Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky just said Obamacare is failing in his state — the state of Kentucky — and it’s unsustainable and collapsing.”

Example: “Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been totally broken.   Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. (Applause.)”

imploding

Example: “Action is not a choice, it is a necessity. So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster. (Applause.)”

building

Example: “We must build bridges of cooperation and trust — not drive the wedge of disunity and, really, it’s what it is, division. It’s pure, unadulterated division. We have to unify.”

Example: “I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester — (applause) — and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

Example: “The only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters, in many cases, is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long, long process of rebuilding. (Applause.)”

Example: “We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and so many other places throughout our land.” 

Machines and Tools

Similarly, Trump’s speech contrasts what can be broken and what can be fixed as if the United States is a machine. He also offers to provide the proper tools to the U.S. military to prevent war.

broken, fixed

Example: “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing and hope.”

tools

Example: “Finally, to keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war — if they must — they have to fight and they only have to win.”

Physical Forces

            The Trump speech also contains a large set of metaphors in a category of what I called physical forces, i.e., using a physical action to describe an abstract process. Donald Trump uses many of these metaphors to describe the state of the country, in some cases, in ways similar to his ideas of “American carnage.” We find that the middle class is shrinking, and we have job-crushing government regulations while he desires to demolish, destroy and extinguish ISIS. He also claims that drugs are pouring into the country. In contrast, he also uses metaphors of physical forces to describe positive efforts. He describes a desire to expand treatment for drug users, while national pride is sweeping the country and optimism is surging in the United States.

shrink

Example: “For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries.”

crush

Example: “We have undertaken a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations, creating a deregulation task force inside of every government agency.”

demolish, destroy and extinguish

Example: “As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, and women, and children of all faiths and all beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet. (Applause.)”

pour in, expand

Example: “We’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.”

Example: “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth, and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted. (Applause.)”

sweep, surge

Example: “A new national pride is sweeping across our nation. And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.”

Binding objects

Similarly, we find examples of a specific type of physical forces dealing with using force to bind two objects together. Again, these metaphors can be used with either positive or negative connotations. He spoke movingly of a young woman named Megan who suffers from a rare disease and whose father had to fight the government to approve new drugs to help her. Thus, Donald Trump speaks of FDA regulations are restraints that need to be slashed, while the girl had the unbounded love of her father. He also said that we should not be bound by the failures of the past but have an unbroken chain of truth, liberty and justice in America.

restraints

Example: “If we slash the restraints, not just at the FDA but across our government, then we will be blessed with far more miracles just like Megan. (Applause.) In fact, our children will grow up in a nation of miracles.”

unbounded

Example: “Megan’s story is about the unbounded power of a father’s love for a daughter. But our slow and burdensome approval process at the Food and Drug Administration keeps too many advances, like the one that saved Megan’s life, from reaching those in need.”

bound

Example: “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears; inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past; and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.”


unbroken chain

Example: “Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present.”

Fragile Objects

            Processes can be described metaphorically as if they are fragile objects. Trump uses some of these metaphors to describe various aspects of government policies and processes. He claims that President Obama broke many of his promises about the Affordable Care Act, while we must break the cycles of poverty and violence. He also claims that we have an unbreakable alliance with Israel.

break promises

Example: “Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been totally broken.   Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. (Applause.)”

break the cycle

Example: “But to break the cycle of poverty, we must also break the cycle of violence.”

unbreakable

Example: “I have also imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel. (Applause.)”

Nature and Natural Disasters

            Metaphors of nature are very common in political speeches. I have already analyzed Donald Trump’s frequent claim of draining the swamp, meaning the process of removing corrupt officials from government. He uses the metaphor again here. However, he also uses more powerful metaphors of natural disasters comparing the tremendous rise in his popularity during the election campaign to an earthquake, even describing the earth shifting beneath our feet. In one case, he has an odd mixing of metaphors saying that the chorus became an earthquake.

drain the swamp

Example: “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials and a lifetime ban — (applause) — thank you — and a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.”

earth shifting

Example: “Then, in 2016, the Earth shifted beneath our feet. The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds — families who just wanted a fair shot for their children and a fair hearing for their concerns.”

earthquake

Example: “Finally, the chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first.”

Military

Along with the large sets of conceptual metaphors described above, the speech contains a nice variety of unusual metaphors that occur only once. We find there are metaphors of the military, animals, light, literature and sports. In one military metaphor we find the example of a beachhead which is the area on a shore where an invading force lands in order to bring troops and supplies. Metaphorically a beachhead is the first step of progress in a complex operation. Here Trump compares the growth of ISIS to a beachhead of terrorism.

beachhead

Example: “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists. (Applause.)”

Animals

Animals have great strength and are often used as sources of metaphors. In one case, Trump compares the dying American manufacturing companies as lions that will come roaring back to life.

roar

Example: “Dying industries will come roaring back to life.”

 

 

 

Light

            Metaphors of light are often used in political speeches. Trump claims that his new government policies will light up the world. 

torch, light up

Example: “That torch is now in our hands. And we will use it to light up the world.”

Literature

            Politicians often claim that their policies will begin a new chapter of life as if American history is a book that is being written and they are the authors.

chapter

Example: “I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart. A new chapter — (applause) — of American Greatness is now beginning.”

Sports

There is also a wide variety of sports metaphors used in political speeches. Strangely, I have not seen many of these yet in Trump’s speeches. However, there is one unusual metaphor used here describing tax codes for the middle class as being on a level playing field with corporations. As described in a previous post, the idea of a level playing field is derived from the problem in the early 20th century of creating level footballs fields so one team would not have the advantage of being able to run downhill and possibly score more points. Strange but true!

level playing field

Example: “At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class. We must create a level playing field for American companies and our workers.”

Synecdoche

I also found a very strange and unusual example of synecdoche, the type of figurative language in which a part represents a whole. In this case, Trump speaks of “two world wars that dethroned fascism.” This is complex for two reasons. For one, the idea of dethroning a government implies that the throne represents the government because the leader sits on the throne to rule the country, a classic example of synecdoche. However, there is also an element of personification in that fascism is described as being a person, i.e., the leader that sits on the throne. It’s amazing that we can understand this type of figurative language!

dethrone

Example: “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War, and defeated communism. (Applause.)”

Personification

Speaking of personification, I found many examples of these types of metaphors. Trump compares cities to babies being born or having a rebirth, while America is strong, and we need to strengthen national security. We also find that countries are described as either friends or enemies.

rebirth

Example: “And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety and opportunity. Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people. (Applause.)”

strong, strengthen

Example: “All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”

Example: “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation’s security; and to restore respect for our laws.”

friends and enemies

Example: “All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”

Example: “America is friends today with former enemies. Some of our closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposite side of these terrible, terrible wars. This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world.”

Vision

The final two sets of metaphors are very common in political speeches in which the speaker tries to convince his or her listeners that the country is moving forward with a strong vision and everyone in the country is on the same journey together.  Although these types of metaphors were absent in previous Trump speeches, they make their appearance here, perhaps initiating a newly positive direction for his speeches. In terms of vision metaphors, we find that Trump wants to focus on specific goals for the country with a collective vision for the future. In a nice contrast of light and dark, Trump contends that we need to be guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.

focus

Example: “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation’s security; and to restore respect for our laws.”

vision

Example: “When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before — for all Americans. This is our vision. This is our mission.”

Example: “When we fulfill this vision, when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.”

guided, not blinded

Example: “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears; inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past; and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.”

Journeys

Finally, we find many examples of journey metaphors as Trump speaks of finding the right vehicle, following the correct path, clearing the way of obstacles, restarting the engine of the economy or reaching milestones in our journey to become a better nation.

vehicle, path

Example: “Free nations are the best vehicle for expressing the will of the people, and America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path.”

Example: “Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path towards civil rights and the work that still remains to be done.”

clear the way

Example: “We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines — (applause) — thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs.”

restart the engine

Example: “But to accomplish our goals at home and abroad, we must restart the engine of the American economy — making it easier for companies to do business in the United States, and much, much harder for companies to leave our country. (Applause.)”

milestones

Example: “It will be one of the great milestones in the history of the world. But what will America look like as we reach our 250th year? What kind of country will we leave for our children?”

*******

            As one can see, President Trump’s first address to Congress contains a wide variety of metaphors. Although there are many examples of metaphors with negative connotations as in previous speeches, for the first time here we see some metaphors that are more positive and look to the future. Time will tell if President Trump can achieve all of the goals he laid out in this speech. Stay tuned for more analyses of Trump speeches… As always, comments and questions are welcome!

 

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