Metaphorical mapping in Donald Trump’s discourse (exemplified by his public addresses during the 2015-2016 presidential campaign in the USA)

The role of metaphor in the discourse of Donald Trump and its influence on the political beliefs of the electorate. The study of his language manipulation, which provides the basis for the operation of ideological beliefs of the masses on a large scale.

Рубрика Журналистика, издательское дело и СМИ
Вид статья
Язык английский
Дата добавления 04.11.2018
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The statement of the problem. Needless to say that language is an indispensable component for putting certain political, economic and social ideas into practice since it prepares, accompanies, influences and plays every political action. The enormous domestic and global attention to the phenomenon of the most extravagant political candidate as well as the current president of the USA -- Donald Trump makes it topical to decipher the way Trump dialectically articulates his discourse for the specific purpose of grasping pro-ideologies of masses without giving much room to their real interests. The manipulation of language typical for the President of the USA can be an explanation to his victory in the US elections.

Analysis of recent research and publications. Since the launch of 2015-2016 presidential cam¬paign in the USA Trump's discourse has been fas¬cinating a great number of linguists worldwide. For instance, in «Talking Donald Trump: A Sociolin- guistic Study of Style, Metadiscourse and Political Identity», Jennifer Sclafani analyses the language of Trump's presidential campaign in terms of so¬ciocultural linguistics. She dwells upon different stages of Trump's political career, from his initial campaign for the Republican nomination, up to his presidency. Basing on speeches, debates, and interviews, as well as parodies and public reactions to his language, Sclafani pinpoints how Trump's language has produced such ambiguous reactions among the audience. In providing a detailed analysis of the linguistic construction of Trump's political identity, Sclafani sheds light not only on the discursive construction of political identity but also the conflicting language ideologies associated with the discourse of leadership in modern US society [6].

In such articles as «Understanding Trump» and «Understanding Trump's use of language» George Lakoff examines Trump's discursive peculiarities from the cognitive perspective. He pinpoints basic mechanisms by which unconscious thought works as well as shows the way Trump exploits them to turn people's brains to his advantage. Besides, Lakoff does not underestimate Trump's experience in sales which contributed to the persuasive force of his discourse [4, 5].

Unresolved issues. Despite the abundant emergence of research in the field of analysing Trump's discourse we still lack the understanding of the mechanisms Trump exploits to manipulate the audience. The application of Conceptual Metaphor Theory, which postulates the relation between metaphor and cognition, gives us basic comprehension of the way language manipulation is performed, since metaphor plays a central role in thought thus being indispensable to both thought and language.

The purpose of the article. Cognitive approach to the analysis of political discourse is predetermined by the fact that any cogent account of the relationship between discourse and social structure requires an explanation which first and foremost connects structures in text and talk with structures in the mind. As a consequence, Conceptual Metaphor Theory proves to be a useful tool for revealing the hidden intent of Trump's discourse. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to identify and examine metaphorical mapping in Trump's discourse so as to understand the way language choice is manipulated for specific political effect.

The main body. Metaphors have an influence on cognitive perception while at the same time even native speakers do not always realise the presence of metaphor in a speech or text. The sum of these two valuable features results in its power to influence people's opinions or thoughts and alter their vision of the world. Since politics is closely connected with ideology, metaphors share a great deal in influencing people's political conviction. Therefore, Trump's excessive use of metaphors dealing with various themes contributes to his discourse being memorable, inspiring and comprehensible for the audience. Moreover, metaphors help Trump to construct an identity for him as authentic, relatable and trustworthy, which are qualities that voters look for in a presidential candidate. Trump's metaphors are varied, nevertheless, the ones he applies most are the following: battle/military metaphors, construction / build metaphors, heroic myth metaphors, ma- chine/ process/ technology metaphors, illness / health metaphors. Furthermore, the central metaphor of Trump's discourse is «drain the swamp», which requires detailed linguistic analysis.

Battle/military metaphor. The concept of political elections can be comprehended via people's experience in a war. The process for each party to prepare for political elections can be conceptualised as the process to prepare for a war, since both human resources and financial resources are taken into account in these two activities. The intense competition among different parties in political elections is like a battle in a war. As a consequence, when using the battle metaphor, Trump tends to deliver a more combative discourse. For example, he presents what he calls «the entire corrupt Washington establishment» as an enemy that beats up on defenceless people or as a battle field though which he is moving or fighting for victory. As a result, this metaphor targets at representing corruption as a struggle or a challenge that needs to be faced or defeated. Corruption may also be represented as a war or a battle:

«I am with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you» [8].

«I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves» [12].

«The problems we face now - poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad - will last only as long as we continue relying on the same politicians who created them in the first place» [7].

«We are going to ask every department head in government to provide a list of wasteful spending, on projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days» [7].

«Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws like they have to be forced» [13].

«But my greatest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens» [12].

Trump uses the battle metaphor not only to invigorate the message and make a speech more memorable but also to arouse emotional response, since he turns political election into a dramatic fight. What is more, he represents himself as the commander in chief who has the duty to lead his army through the war, which in this case implies corruption. He makes himself seem the one in power to take on, eliminate or beat the enemy, who accounts for all threats to American welfare. As a result, the battle metaphor is a beneficial tool for Trump convincing politically.

Construction/build metaphor. Trump benefits from using the construction metaphor, which stands for something that is being created or constructed. Everything that is being planned, turned into, formed or reformed denotes a creation. More specifically, this metaphor can also represent the economy or society as a building that needs firm foundations or a framework to be stable. It has to be built up, established, put in place or even cemented but it can also be destroyed or blocked:

«On the economy, I will outline reforms to add millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth that can be used to rebuild America» [7].

«We will build the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, and the railways of tomorrow. This in turn will create millions of more jobs» [7].

«The Obama-Clinton Administration has blocked and destroyed millions of jobs through theiranti-energy regulations, while raising the price of electricity for both families and businesses» [7].

«Today, I am here to talk about three crucial words that should be at the center of our foreign policy: Peace Through Strength. We want to achieve a stable, peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground» [11].

The function of the construction metaphor mainly aims at oversimplifying complex matters. Therefore, Trump's great appeal as well as his victory in the USA elections is mostly predetermined by his using simple, plain verbs like «create», «plan», «form» or «build». They make his discourse easily comprehensible, which, in turn, contributes to people's perception of him being authentic and trustworthy. Moreover, being a political outsider Trump is believed not to be engaged in the corruption schemes of the USA government. As a result, he is expected to change the state of affairs in the country. The construction metaphor thus reinforces this idea by making Trump seem the architect who has a well-considered plan or who wants to build up something entirely new, which could indicate the function of convincing politically and have a considerable impact on the audience.

Heroic myth metaphor. Trump frequently applies the heroic myth metaphor, which portrays him as a hero. Before him, he has a task or a goal which he needs to achieve. Since he will face challenges to accomplish this, he needs to be brave and bold. It falls to him to save people and be virtuous:

«The first task for our new Administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their commu- nities» [13].

«I'm going to deliver a detailed policy address on one of the greatest challenges facing our country today, illegal immigration» [13].

«To accomplish a goal, you must state a mission: the support networks for Radical Islam in this country will be stripped out and removed one by one» [13].

«The time has come for a new immigration commission to develop a new set of reforms to our legal immigration system in order to achieve the following goals» [13].

«Together we can save American lives, American jobs, and American futures. Together we can save America itself» [12].

«This also means we have to promote the exceptional virtues of our own way of life - and expecting that newcomers to our society do the same» [15].

«We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice» [12].

The heroic myth metaphor plays along with people's emotions through its mythical character. As a result, it contributes to Trump shattering the myth of American exceptionalism. He depicts the USA as the world's best hope: there is only one chosen nation and, as president, all of his decisions work towards making America great. Trump is thus heroically presented as the one who is cut out to save the country. By tying himself to American exceptionalism -- while classifying his rivals as «weak» or «dummies» -- he is able to position them as people who do not believe in or will not contribute to the «greatness» of the nation. Therefore, the prevailing function of the heroic myth metaphor is convincing politically.

Machine/process/technology metaphor. Trump mostly uses the machine metaphor in his discourse to represent the economy as a system, for example, when he is talking about the financial system, banking system, tax system, benefit system, etc. This system or machine can break down, distort, fail, but it can also be repaired, fixed or tinkered.

«That is because these interests have rigged our economic system for their exclusive benefit» [7].

«I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence of which there is so much. No sympathy for leaders who fail their cit- izens» [12].

«But his supporters will join our movement, because we will fix his biggest issue: trade» [7].

By using this specific metaphor theme, Trump is presenting a very complex subject of the economy as something that is a mere system or machine. By doing so, he is oversimplifying the subject to make it more comprehensible and accessible to the broader public. In this way, people may feel like they actually understand economy to such an extent that it evokes a positive feeling. Consequently, Trump can be perceived as a conscientious politician who knows what he is talking about. To a certain extent, this theme could thus also be seen as trying to convince politically.

Illness/health metaphor. Trump exploits the illness metaphor to represent «the entire corrupt Washington establishment» as a disease. The political system of the USA is sick, weakened or suffers from a disease and, therefore, needs to be cured. It can recover, strengthen or survive if it gets the right prescriptions to heal. The country's health can thus be bad and one should try to make it stronger and resilient. metaphor political language manipulation

«This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness» [13].

«They are just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely» [12].

«It is time to show the whole world that America is becoming bigger and better and stronger than ever before» [8].

«When you talk about racial healing, I think that I've developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community» [13].

«Now let's look at what the Obama-Clinton policies have done nationally. Their policies produced 1.2% growth, the weakest so-called recovery since the Great Depression, and a doubling of the national debt» [10].

«We will ensure that Е-Verify is used to the fullest extent possible under existing law, and we will work with Congress to strengthen and expand its use across the country» [7].

«A lot of people say, oh, eminent domain, they don't know what it is. But without that power, you wouldn't have the kind of things that you need to survive as a society and as a country» [7].

Functionally, the illness metaphor is applying to emotions. The USA is represented as a sick person of whom we need to take care. It is somewhat as if the sick person cannot help and carries no blame for being sick, but needs aid to recover. Only people capable of providing the right recovery can help this person, because they know what he needs. In this way, Trump is presented as the doctor capable of curing the country, which may also indicate its function of political conviction.

The use of metaphor «drain the swamp». A good central metaphor is typically one of the hallmarks of any effective political speech. It provides a logical core around which an argument can cohere. In a press release from October 17, Trump unveiled a central metaphor of his discourse which has also become his major campaign slogan: «drain the swamp»:

«It's time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. that's why I'm proposing a package of ethics reforms to make our government honest once again» [9].

Later, Trump reported on his intentions to «drain the swamp» on his personal blog on Tweeter introducing the hashtag #DrainTheSwamp:

«I will Make Our Government Honest Again - believe me. But first, I'm going to have to #DrainTheSwamp in D.C.» [14].

Since then, Trump and his supporters have punctuated tweet after tweet with the hashtag #DrainTheSwamp.

Trump used the term broadly to refer to what he called «the entire corrupt Washington estab- lishment», including the outsized influence of lobbyists, political rewards for campaign donors and outright corruption.

«Drain the swamp» is not just a vivid conceit with a revolutionary flair. It also alludes to the stubborn myth that Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp, which, fatefully, had to be drained to accommodate the new seat of American democracy and power. However, the myth lacks in scientific rigour since, according to historians and scientists, only a tiny fraction of the District, for all its humidity, was ever swampy enough to require any such drainage and the ecosystem is actually closer to a tidal marsh. Nevertheless, the myth aside «draining the swamp» has been firmly established over the course of the 20th and 21st century and has been extensively used by Democrats and Republicans, socialists and capitalists to condemn whatever particular malady they believe is plaguing the USA government. For example, in 2006, newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledged to «drain the swamp» in Congress after 10 years of Republican control. After 9/11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld committed to «drain the swamp» of terrorism. Moreover, the phrase was a favourite one of George Bush administration officials during the ensuing wars they launched in the Middle East. Earlier, in 1983, President Reagan described his chief mission as «draining the swamp» of big government [2].

«Drain the swamp» is a metaphor, which is bound to bear a strong emotional load in political discourse and, therefore, has a very wide appeal among American politicians. Its literal meaning is to eliminate the mosquitoes (or snakes and alligators, in other iterations) that breed disease. However, ironically, in political discourse the original disease the metaphor referred to was the sphere Trump has built his campaign on -- big business. Etymologist Barry Popik has traced «drain the swamp» back to the socialist movement of the early 20th century [2]. In a 1903 letter to «the Daily Northwestern», Winfield R. Gaylord, state organiser of the Social Democratic Party, precursor to Eugene Debs' Socialist Party of America wrote:

«Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capitalist swamp; they want to drain the swamp» [2].

Another Wisconsin socialist, Victor Berger, provides a textbook example in 1912:

«It cannot be avoided any more than malaria in a swampy country. And the [financial] speculators are the mosquitos. We should have to drain the swamp -- change the capitalist system -- if we want to get rid of those mosquitos» [2].

The following year, labour and community organiser Mary Harris deployed the phrase:

«The capitalist and striker - both men are all right - only they are sick; they need a remedy; they have been mosquito bitten. Let's kill the virulent mosquito and then find and drain the swamp in which he breeds» [2].

The mosquitoes, for Harris, were the deeper, industrial forces that pit labour against bosses.

Therefore, being anti-capitalistic in nature the metaphor contradicted Trump's political interests. As a result, having become the President of the USA Trump started conducting policy that deviates from his campaign slogan. Trump's rejecting the idea of «draining the swamp» was confirmed by former House Speaker and a close Trump's adviser Newt Gingrich in an interview for National Public Radio published on December 21:

«I'm told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore» [1].

Gingrich went on to say that it is time to be «marginally more dignified than talking about alligators in swamps» [1].

The former speaker, though, liked the phrase, which he argued «vividly illustrates the problem, because all people in this city who are the alligators are going to hate the swamp being drained» [1].

Gingrich, for his part, has quickly adjusted to Trump's wishes, abandoning the popular rhetoric right along with the president-elect:

«You know, he is my leader, and if he decides to drop the swamp and the alligator, I will drop the swamp and the alligator» [1].

The reason why Trump moved on from the bold rhetoric lies in the essence of the idea of «draining the swamp». In terms of the USA context «drain- ing the swamp» presupposes placing some limits on money in politics. In a real swamp, it is water that runs into a low lying area and stays that gives rise to the swamp that supports its inhabitants. The analogous thing in D.C. is the money that flows into campaigns from lobbyists, wealthy individuals and corporations. However, Trump has never said a word about changing the amount of money involved in politics. Trump even bragged openly in the primary debates that he had given money to many candidates on both sides of the isle. Therefore, when he asked for things he always got what he asked for from those he donated to. He promised to «drain the swamp» he helped to create by changing its inhabitants, not stopping the flow of money that creates it. In fact, a regular forced turnover of inhabitants actually gives people like him a greater chance to influence those who are there. Millions voted for him because he was not a politician and did not belong to the establishment. Nowadays, he is hiring all kinds of establishment insiders -- financial and governmental -- to work for him. Therefore, Trump is a part of the financial and economic establishment that has corrupted the USA.

Conclusions and further research prospects. The article gave us gleanings on metaphorical mapping in Trump's discourse during the 2015-2016 presidential campaign and demonstrated that the application of Conceptual Metaphor Theory to the study of political discourse gives an opportunity to decipher Trump's ideological component. The results, however, are far from conclusive and open for further research.


1. Gingrich N. Gingrich Says Trump Must Address Business Conflicts Soon, Urges Monitoring / Newt Gingrich // Newt Gingrich gives an interview for National Public Radio, December 21, 2016. - [Last access: 2018, February 18].

2. Kelly J. What's With All Trump's Talk About «Draining the Swamp»? / John Kelly // Lexicon Valley: A Blog About Language, October 26, 2016.

3. Lakoff G. Metaphors We Live By / G. Lakoff, M. Johnson. - [1st ed.]. - Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2003. - 242 p.

4. Sclafani J. Talking Donald Trump: A Sociolinguistic Study of Style, Metadiscourse, and Political Identity / Jennifer Sclafani. - New York: Routledge, 2018. - 114 p.

5. Trump D. An America First Economic Plan: Winning The Global Competition / Donald Trump // Donald Trump's economic plan speech in Detroit, Michigan, August 8, 2016.- [Last access: 2018, February 18].

6. Trump D. Donald Trump Explosive Rally in Kinston, North Carolina [Electronic resource] / Donald Trump // Donald Trump delivers campaign speech rally in Kinston, North Carolina, October 26, 2016.

7. Trump D. Donald Trump Speech 10/17/16 Green Bay, Wisconsin [Electronic resource] / Donald Trump // Donald Trump delivers campaign speech rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, October 17, 2016.

8. Trump D. Donald Trump Trade Policy / Donald Trump // Donald Trump's trade and jobs plan speech Monessen, Pennsylvania, June 28, 2016.

9. Trump D. Second Amendment Speech / Donald Trump // Donald Trump gives controversial comments about Second Amendment dealing with Hillary Clinton in Wilmington, North Carolina, August 9, 2016.


Politics is a struggle for power in order to put certain political, economic and social ideas into practice. In this process, language plays a crucial role, for every political action is prepared, accompanied, influenced and played by language. Therefore, Donald Trump dialectically articulates his discourse for the specific purpose of grasping pro-ideologies of masses without giving much room to their real interests. Metaphor plays a significant role in his discourse for it is capable of influencing people's political conviction while going unnoticed. Thus the analysis of metaphorical mapping in Trump's discourse gives an opportunity to trace his language manipulation which provides a strong base for the exploitations of the ideological assumptions of people on a large scale.

Keywords: language, discourse, political discourse, metaphor, conceptual metaphor, metaphorical mapping, ideology.

Політика - це боротьба за владу з метою втілення певних політичних, економічних та соціальних ідей в життя. Мова відіграє вирішальну роль у політиці, оскільки вона не лише супроводжує але й впливає на кожну політичну дію. Дональд Трамп діалектично формулює свій дискурс задля конкретної мети, а саме узяти під свій контроль ідеологію мас, не даючи їм можливості висловлювати власні інтереси. Метафора відіграє вирішальну роль у його дискурсі, оскільки вона має здатність непомітно впливати на політичні переконання електорату. Отож, аналіз метафоричного мапування у дискурсі Д. Трампа дає можливість прослідкувати його мовну маніпуляцію, що забезпечує міцну основу для експлуатації ідеологічних переконань мас у великих масштабах.

Ключові слова: мова, дискурс, політичний дискурс, метафора, концептуальна метафора, метафоричне мапування, ідеологія.

Политика - это борьба за власть с целью воплощения определенных политических, экономических и социальных идей в жизнь. Язык играет решающую роль в политике, поскольку она не только сопровождает, но и влияет на все политические действие. Дональд Трамп диалектически формулирует свой дискурс для конкретной цели, а именно взять под свой контроль идеологию масс, не давая им возможности выражать собственные интересы. Метафора играет решающую роль в его дискурсе, поскольку она обладает способностью незаметно влиять на политические убеждения электората. Итак, анализ метафорического картирование в дискурсе Д. Трампа дает возможность проследить его языковую манипуляцию, что обеспечивает прочную основу для эксплуатации идеологических убеждений масс в больших масштабах.

Ключевые слова: речь, дискурс, политический дискурс, метафора, концептуальная метафора, метафорическое картирование, идеология.

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