“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” –Donald Trump, June 2015
The utilization of fear has been a historically effective way to gather political support, so it is not surprising to see President Donald Trump demonstrating his talent for exploiting the public’s anxieties. Through our performative discourse analysis of Trump’s speeches, we have found that of the nine discourse categories that we score for, opportunism is the second highest category used (for more details on the analysis methodology, visit our About page). To understand why Trump employs opportunism so heavy-handedly when speaking to the public, we must consider which fears and misconceptions are being taken advantage of and how they are being used.
What does opportunism look like in President Trump's speeches?
When scoring for the discourse category of opportunism in Trump’s speeches, our team looks for moments where popular fears and misconceptions are being taken advantage of (e.g., "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."). During his remarks at a rally at the Greenville Convention Center in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump stated: “…we are going to begin implementing plans for construction of a wall along our southern border. This will keep out the violent cartels and gangs, as well as their drugs that are poisoning our youth.” Similarly, during his remarks at the WNC Agricultural Center's Davis Event Center in Fletcher, North Carolina, Trump claimed that he would “fight for every mom who lost her child to illegal immigration, and drugs and gang violence.” Trump here is taking advantage of not simply the fear of crime, but the perception that crime is coming from “outsiders” coming in.
Is it a fear of crime or a fear of immigrants and demographic change?
According to a Gallup poll conducted in March 2016, fifty-three percent of U.S. adults said that they worry "a great deal" about crime and violence. The fear of crime and violence understandably occurs across all major subgroups. This worry has, however, increased the most among those without a college degree and those living in households earning between $30,000 and $75,000 annually (Gallup). Morever, findings from the American Values Survey indicate that fifty-five percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support Trump are white working-class Americans and that eight in ten Trump supporters say “immigrants today are a burden to the U.S. because they take American jobs, housing and healthcare” (Brookings). This suggests that some Americans are ascribing their economic fate to the demographic shifts of the last several decades.
Why use opportunism?
President Trump employs opportunistic discourse because they are quite effective. It is understandable why people are afraid of crime and violence. By misdirecting this fear onto immigrants and other minorities, Trump invites his white working-class followers to express their economic grievances through a lens of rejection of immigration. Trump is well aware of the growing economic stresses faced by blue-collar workers, just as he is aware that they believe it is being caused by a demographic change.