This isn’t what I wanted to be my first blog post. I had a nice fluffy piece about magic and coincidences and how I was going to make 2021 my year. But nah, a bunch of idiots in America decided to throw a coup and I’m sitting here watching along with half the world feeling helpless, feeling the need to do something but being unable to actually do anything, as I live in Scotland and don’t know anyone in America. And then Donald Trump releases a video urging ‘calm’ in such a weaselly way that I saw red. I’m not an expert in politics or crisis situations but I know words. So let’s analyse this speech so that when people come along later and say ‘Oh no, he told the protesters to stop, he’s innocent’ we can prove that by action and word no, he is not.
The first thing that’s important when analysing any piece is context. The important context here is that Donald Trump lost the election and has been defiantly telling his supporters that he hasn’t. That American democracy is at threat and that the country, and the world, will go to hell in a handbasket if he gets ousted. He’s been backed in this by numerous Republican colleagues. His supporters believe this, and believe that they need to act to prevent this. He said in a speech at a rally just before all of this began that ‘these people (his supporters) aren’t going to take it any longer’ and that ‘we will never concede.’ He includes a call to action, that his supporters will go to the Capitol Building to protest. Which directly led to the current situation.
Now that we have the context, let’s look at the actual words spoken in the video:
I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it. Especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time, there’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us. From me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home, we love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.
At a first skim through there’s a few interesting things to notice. Out of the 161 words 64 of them are talking about the need to stop this. 98 of them are about how the election was stolen from him, and by extension from his supporters. The second is just how much he’s empathising with them. A lot of people say that Trump loves no one but himself and yet in this he puts himself completely on the side of the people who have violently occupied the Capitol Building. He doesn’t direct his voice at some other person. He says ‘we.’ He is there with them, he is on their side. Now let’s start breaking it down.
I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it. Especially the other side. But you have to go home now.
At first glance this is good because, you know, he’s telling people to go home. A good negotiation tactic, and a good tactic in writing, is to emphasise with the people you’re persuading, get them to think that you’re on their side and then use that to change their mind. In a vacuum this is a good start. But this is where context comes back into play. Remember, Trump’s been telling his supporters for months that the election was stolen and, ultimately, that this is the only way to keep him in power, which is needed for democracy to prevail. And at the start of this statement he once again reiterates this. He is telling them that they are right to do what they are doing. But that they need to go home.
We have to have peace. We have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time, there’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us. From me, from you, from our country.
Here’s the appeal for calm. We have to have law and order. A good message. But he’s already said that the election was stolen, that there’s already a break down in law and order, and he reiterates it again at the end of this section. He’s calling for peace but the same time he’s once again suggesting that it’s the other side that is breaking the law down and that, once again, the people that are occupying the Capitol Building are doing nothing wrong.
This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home, we love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.
Let’s quickly go over ‘Othering,’ which I’m sure is a phrase you’ve heard here and there over the last few months/years. Othering is, very simply, separating people into an Us vs Them mentality and making Them the bad guys. It’s used as a means of manipulating people and spreading anger. We see it a lot in this speech, from ‘Especially the other side’ to ‘But we can’t play into the hands of these people.’ The best way to use othering is to keep it vague. This ambiguous Them are attacking everything you love, they are cunning and they are seeking to trap you. Arguably the phrase ‘But we can’t play into the hands of these people’ could suggest that it’s the Other’s fault for this whole situation to begin with but that is debatable. What isn’t is that Trump is once again declaring that the supporters are the good guys and the Others (the democrats, the people who don’t support him) are the bad guys. And good guys fight bad guys. The phrase ‘you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil’ might well by the summery of every vigilante film ever.
Taken altogether his message is saying this: That his supporters are right to be there, that there is evil out there trying to hurt their country but please go home. He hasn’t actually given them a reason why they should leave, hasn’t said that they were wrong about the underlying issues or even their methods. In fact he’s said they’re right.
Let’s be honest, this is a message of support. And when they hang Trump out to dry over this (as I hope they will) he will claim that this message was his attempt to bring order. It isn’t.
Addendum: I got finished typing this all up and figured I should have a quick look to see if Trump has said anything else on the subject. I got this tweet:
These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!
Might as well analyse this as well. It won’t take long.
First sentence is once again reiterating the idea that people occupying the Capitol Building are good people who aren’t doing anything wrong. That they are good people who have been unfairly treated, with the subtext that the unfair treatment will continue. It projects the blame onto the people who ‘stole’ the election. Then comes a quick call for people to go home. And finally ‘Remember this day forever.’ That’s actually an interesting sentence because it is unclear who he is addressing. If he’s addressing his supporters then it’s absolutely endorsing what they have been doing, that they should remember this and be proud. If it’s directed towards the Them this could easily be seen as a threat and a promise that they could happen again. Either way, this is not making the situation better.