Rhetorical Confinement, Contrasting Metaphors, and Cultural Polarities "Yes we can" Meets "Carnage in the cities"

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Metaphor & the Social World

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In this study we contrast metaphors and metaphorical stories in President Trump’s 2017 inaugural address with those of former President Barack Obama’s first inaugural address. We draw on the concept of ‘rhetorical confinement’ (Patterson, 2011) to show how the contrasting life trajectories of the two leaders are reflected in the contrasting themes and tone established by their metaphorical language. We argue that Obama’s rhetorical tone, including his use of metaphors, was at least in part a response to the compound constraints of race and class. In contrast, Trump’s rhetorical tone and use of metaphors reflects and reinforces his image as a political outsider, as a challenge to the constraints of ordinary political discourse. The contrast between the rhetorically confined politeness of Obama’s discourse (lampooned as ‘political correctness’ by many of his opponents) and the unconstrained crudeness of Trump’s discourse (lauded as ‘telling it like it is’) apparently legitimates the open expression of previously suppressed resentments and encourages an extreme rhetoric that is symptomatic of, and may contribute to, the growing polarization in American political discourse.


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