Every presidential transition also involves a change in the regime of language. This year the juxtaposition between the outgoing and incoming regimes is especially stark, something President Obama’s evening farewell address followed by President-elect Trump’s press conference the next morning vividly depicted. However, underlying their many obvious differences, they both employ the common rhetorical device of repetition—Obama to inspire and affirm shared values, Trump to peddle insults peppered with gratuitous modifiers.
In his address, Obama demonstrated his familiar composure marked by effective use of timing, repetition, and storytelling, a style well-documented by Geneva Smitherman and H. Samy Alim. The next morning, Trump demonstrated his own style marked by, as Kira Hall, Donna M. Goldstein, and Matthew Bruce Ingram point out in their analysis of his campaign’s success, visual excess and hyperbole. The stack of manila folders placed on the table next to the podium, which Trump theatrically pointed to as evidence—visible, physical evidence—of his efforts to distance himself from business interests epitomizes that visually-oriented, gesturally-rich style.
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Adam Hodges is a linguistic anthropologist specializing in political discourse. His books include The ‘War on Terror’ Narrative: Discourse and Intertextuality in the Construction and Contestation of Sociopolitical Reality (2011, OUP), and his articles have appeared in Discourse & Society, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Language & Communication, and Language in Society.