The Current

When Trump says unity, he means surrender, says expert on rhetoric

U.S. President Donald Trump called for unity in his state of the union address Tuesday, but one analyst says he also managed to undermine his own message of bipartisan co-operation.

Language of U.S. president's state of the union speech undermined his own message of unity

U.S. President Donald Trump gives his state of the union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday at the Capitol in Washington, as Vice-President Mike Pence, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/Associated Press)

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U.S. President Donald Trump's contradictory language undermined his state of the union address, making it "two speeches in one," according to a historian of American political rhetoric.

"On the one hand he promised bipartisanship, and working across the aisle, and unity," said Jennifer Mercieca, an associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University.

"And on the other hand, he used division and polarization as a cudgel, to undermine the message that he was making about bipartisan unity," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

In his speech, Trump renewed his vow to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and said he would push Congress to ban the "late-term abortion of children." He also encouraged Congress — newly under control of the Democrats — to "reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of co-operation, compromise and common good."

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"When he says bipartisan, he means capitulation," said Mercieca, who has studied Trump's rhetoric and political style.

"He means that the Democratic party would agree to his policy, and not so much that they would work together to come up with joint policies and plans."

To discuss the address and what it suggests about the second half of Trump's term, Tremonti spoke with:

  • Lenny McAllister, a Republican strategist and former Republican congressional candidate.
  • Chris Whipple, author of The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.
  • Jennifer Mercieca, an associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by Danielle Carr, Jessica Linzey and Idella Sturino.