Back in 2013, I analyzed President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address after the contentious 2012 election campaign. I copied the transcript for his address and ran it through a word cloud generator (at the time, Wordle) to see what words he used more, and thus what ideas he emphasized in his speech.
In that posting, which you can find here, I discussed how while references to America being common made sense, they were not as common as references to “jobs.” Given the continued shaky nature of the economy at that time, coming off the catastrophe of the 2008-2009 Great Recession, it made sense that such would be the focus of his speech.
I decided to do the same activity this year with Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union address after winning the presidency. Full disclosure: I hate Trump and find him to be a vile human being. That said, I will offer here my thoughts on what the word cloud (this time generated with WordItOut) indicated about his speech as objectively as possible — but please let me know if my biases are clouding my interpretation of this data.
I copied the entire transcript from CNN’s report on the White House release. As with my previous word cloud, I did not omit any words. What is displayed are those words that were mentioned 3 or more times by Trump during his 80-minute speech Tuesday night.
As with Obama’s 2013 speech, what immediately jumps out is the emphasis placed on America. Interestingly, the emphasis is less on “America” the country and more on the people of the country, with the most references being to “American” or “Americans.” Such emphasis seems to align with Trump’s goals of addressing the divided people of the country in an attempt to unite them. Going into, and through, the SOTU, Trump needed to make the case that he could unite the country, and he called for bipartisan actions while doing so in the policies he addressed, such as infrastructure investments. He also highlighted specific Americans who have done exemplary good for the country, and thereby model the “American way” or “American life.”
At the same time, the emphasis on this language plays to his base, who are concerned about the dismantling of what they see as the “American way” or “American life,” and could be construed as being a dog whistle to white supremacists who view what is “American” as being primarily European-centric. By also referring to all Americans as “dreamers,” Trump undercut the rhetoric used by progressives to identify and support DACA recipients. A white-focused reading, as seen in the response from renowned white supremacist David Duke, could undercut Trump’s desire to be seen as a uniter and not a divider.
Trump also did not emphasis jobs to the extent Obama did. In fact, beyond emphasizing the country and her people, Trump did not focus on one particular issue. The variety of words in the word cloud indicate that he touched on numerous topics in those 80 minutes — sometimes catering more to Republican goals, such as immigration reform, and sometimes catering more to Democrat goals, such as prison reform. Since the speech, analysts have said that they heard a lot of ideas (and depending on the analysts’ ideologies, they framed those ideas as good vs. bad), but they heard less details for how to accomplish those ideas. The word cloud would suggest this to be the case: if no big issues stood out, then that issue was not frequently discussed, suggesting that Trump referenced the idea and then moved on.
In a sense, then, his State of the Union address was similar to his campaign, where he could fire up a crowd with a lot of ideas in his rallies, but then he wouldn’t spend much time going into the finer details of how to enact such policies when given the chance. The range of ideas also reflects what has been his leadership style thus far in his presidency. He has focused less on being a negotiator and working out the details of legislative policies, and more on being the one to instigate discussions, either through his planned or off-the-cuff remarks (in person and via Twitter).
Given this address, then, I wouldn’t expect to see much change in his behavior, either in terms of being a uniter or a policy and detail focused leader. Obama also faced issues with being a uniter, given the opposition he faced from Republicans in Congress, but Obama did (at times to his detriment) focus on policy details rather than communicating with the American people. Trump seems more comfortable communicating his ideas, writ large, with the American people, but perhaps is less comfortable with working out the nitty-gritty details to make his ideas a reality.
After such a speech, what remains are the actions, and Trump has thus far had an uneven history, where his actions do not always align with his words. For example, he called for a bipartisan deal to handle immigration, but when given one, he refused to support it (all of which got lost in the news reporting, which focused on his comments about Haiti and African countries). Another example happened with Trump attended the Davos World Economic Forum, and suggested he would be open to returning to both the Paris Climate Accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, after withdrawing American support for both.
What Trump says does not often align with what Trump does. In his first SOTU, Trump outlined a great many things America, and Americans, need to do. What remains to be seen is what work Trump will be willing to do to make these things happen.