Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: An analysis of their speeches

The 2016 Presidential election in the United States is over and Donald Trump has emerged as the winner. As I write this post, the votes are still being counted in some states, but the results will not affect the outcome; Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.

Hillary Clinton and Donald TrumpThe campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was one of the most acrimonious, most brutal ever. I cannot remember a time when the United States was more divided than it is at this moment.

On 9 November 2016, Trump gave his victory speech and Clinton gave her concession speech. Each had the opportunity to start what will be a long, difficult process to bridge the divide and unify the country. My thoughts on each speech are below.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump was the first to speak. He was introduced by his running mate, Mike Pence, and was accompanied by his family and some advisors.

Embed from Getty Images

Compared to most of his speeches during the campaign, Trump’s victory speech was conciliatory and humble. It was the right tone for a President-Elect. I know that many people doubt Trump’s sincerity but what other kind of victory speech was he supposed to have given? Another tirade? He would have been pilloried had he done so.

I am not a fan of Trump—as you can read in this article and blog post that I wrote—and I am not naïve. But the fact is, for better or worse, Americans have chosen Donald Trump to be their President. If the country is to come together, the country has to support him as he begins his Presidency. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but one of the principles of American democracy is the peaceful transfer of power.

As hashtags such as #NotMyPresident and #TrumpProtest swell the corridors of social media, I am concerned that people are chipping away at a pillar on which their society is built. One Tweet that I read captures the sentiment even better: “I hope Donald Trump is a good president. Wanting him to fail is like wanting the pilot to crash the plane that we are all on. Remember that.”

So Trump began on the right tone. He has a long way to go to win back even a modicum of trust from those whom he has alienated. If he starts saying or doing things as President (or President-Elect) with which people disagree, by all means, have at him. But as Hillary Clinton said in her speech (see below), the country owes Trump the chance to lead. He should be judged by what he says and does going forward.

Trump did acknowledge Clinton in his remarks:

I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. I mean, she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely.

But I wanted to hear more. I wanted to hear something that signalled a real burying of the hatchet. Don’t forget, Trump promised to investigate and prosecute Clinton if he became President. The chances of that happening still exist and going down that path would drive the wedge even deeper in American society. Trump said:

For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.

It would have been good for him to reach out for Clinton’s guidance, especially when one compares their political experience.

Trump called on all Americans to come together to heal as a nation. Yes, these are only words and it will be his actions that speak loudest. But every new Presidency begins with these words and he used the right ones.

Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.

He used rhetorical devices:

Alliteration

“… the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world.”

“… an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their family.”

Diacope

“I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It is time.”

“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

Antimetabole

… we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us.”

 Anaphora

No dream is too big, no challenge is too great. Nothing we want for our future is beyond our reach.

Antithesis

We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.

Trump properly thanked his family and closest advisors for their support. The way in which he thanked them was a little chaotic and rambling—Where is Robert? … Where is Jeff? … Who is that? Is that Rudy?—but it was in keeping with his style.

It was smart for Trump to acknowledge, in a special way, Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, especially after their acrimonious relationship over the past year or so. Comparing him to Secretariat was funny, if a bit much. I did think it bizarre for Trump to invite Priebus to speak, given the occasion, but that is part of the Trump persona: unpredictable. To his credit, Priebus kept his remarks short and focused on Trump.

Finally, Trump’s conclusion was terrible. It was terrible because after concluding, and after having thanked more than 20 people, Trump realized that he had not thanked his running mate, Mike Pence.

It’s an amazing evening. It’s been an amazing two-year period and I love this country. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you to Mike Pence.

Note to self: Thank running mate first. You can read the text of Trump’s speech here. The video is below.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dryG8uVBtmg&w=560&h=315]

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton spoke after Trump on the morning after the election. She was introduced by her running mate, Tim Kaine, and was accompanied by her family.

Embed from Getty Images

I was not happy about the timing of Clinton’s speech. The concession speech should come before the victory speech. It is an important moment when the loser in an election can provide words of support for the winner. Clinton only spoke on the morning after the election, several hours after Trump.

Earlier, in the wee hours of the morning, Clinton had sent her campaign chairman, John Podesta, to her election headquarters to tell her supporters that she would not be making a speech at that time because the votes were still being counted. However, by then, it was clear that Trump would win and, indeed, only 30 minutes or so later—while the last votes were still being counted—Clinton called Trump to concede.

Several people have said that she needed time to write her concession speech. I don’t agree. Every candidate must come to election night with two speeches: one if you win; and one if you lose. I have no doubt that the Clinton team was stunned by the results, but you have to be prepared for this possibility.

That said, when Clinton did speak, I thought that she gave an excellent speech. It was heartfelt, emotional, eloquent and gracious. It showed a side of Clinton that had been missing for many people during the campaign.

She was contrite in defeat:

This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for and I’m sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country. … I know how disappointed you feel, because I feel it, too. And so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful and it will be for a long time …

She encouraged her supporters to support Trump. It was critical that she say these words, for all the reasons that I have mentioned above.

… I still believe in America and I always will. If you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.

For me, that 11-word sentence—We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead—was the most important one in the entire speech.

That said, Clinton rightly encouraged her supporters to keep fighting for the issues that they had championed throughout the campaign. Having an open mind now does not preclude vigorous debate and challenge in the future.

So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Making our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet, and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams. 

… we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone, for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people and for people with disabilities. For everyone.

She lightened what was undoubtedly a difficult speech for her with a little humour.

And to the millions of volunteers, community leaders, activists and union organizers who knocked on doors, talked to neighbors, posted on Facebook, even in secret private Facebook sites, I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward.

She used rhetorical devices:

Asyndeton

So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek, and I know you will.

Polysyndeton

And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Antithesis

And let me add, our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time.

Sententia

You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. So, my friends, let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come, and there is more work to do.

She thanked her family and supporters (beginning with her running mate, Tim Kaine) in a thoughtful and structured manner. And she ended her speech by speaking about the country and sounding a hopeful note.

I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us. Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together, and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. … I am incredibly honored and grateful to have had this chance to represent all of you in this consequential election. May god bless you, and may god bless the United States of America!

You can read the text of Clinton’s speech here. The video is below.

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29 Replies to “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: An analysis of their speeches”

  1. Very nice. Thank you John. This 2016 US Presidential election season was a “golden era” of sorts for those who appreciate oratory. Specially the DNC, Michelle Obama’s campaigning, and the last day when Chelsea, Bill, Michelle and Barack all spoke before Hillary. A clinical display of best practices (speech crafting and delivery) and a reminder of the immense power of persuasion and inspiration that can be had from oratory.
    True, Hillary (my choice) did not prevail, but that is another topic and another analysis.
    For what little it’s worth, I had commented a bit on the election as an answer to a QUORA “how-do-I-debate” question, opening with “This general election may some day come to be known as “A Tale of Two Americas, and a Presidential Election Where They Collided.””
    https://www.quora.com/How-do-I-win-a-debate-against-a-Donald-Trump-supporter/answer/Rashid-Kapadia
    Keep up the excellent work and thank again. GOOD LUCK!

    1. Great article on Quora, Rashid. I particularly appreciated this statement: “… a hurting America gravitates toward leaders like Donald Trump, and will continue to create other leaders like him, till there is reconciliation.” You have touched on something fundamental with which I agree. Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a racist (though I’d bet that all racists who voted, voted for him). There are other reasons as well and until America begins to understand and deal with these reasons, the divide that exists will not only continue, it will get bigger.

      1. Thanks again John. I agree there are other long term drivers and reasons to explain what is going on–and the search for these reasons is a delectable detective journey.
        Apart from the Anand Giridharadas Ted talk I referenced in the QUORA response, I think the Harari’s New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/does-trumps-rise-mean-liberalisms-end) and the thinking of Johnathan Haidt best help me understand what may really being going on. Refreshing equanimity from Mr Haidt–in all his TED talks.
        http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_can_a_divided_america_heal
        https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind?language=en

  2. John,
    Many thanks for this record and your interesting analysis of the two speeches. I doubt if the two speakers had these rhetorical devices in mind when composing their speeches in the middle of the night! Or maybe the speeches were prepared well in advance, and in the case of Trump with the help of someone having more literary skills.
    Watch out for a flood of refugees escaping to Canada!
    Best wishes,
    Philip

    1. Thanks, Philip. You are most likely right. Then again, I am a lousy golfer but if I go out and by a complete fluke manage to get a hole in one, it still counts! Cheers!
      PS – Several Canadians are talking about building their own wall.

  3. Hi John. We’re certainly living in ‘interesting times’ aren’t we! Trump is an interesting speaker. Throughout the campaign he delivered speeches that sounded clunky, yet, when you looked under-the-hood, they were packed with rhetorical toys. I suspect he’s a much better speaker than many of us realize — he’s just been dumbing-down his delivery style in order to appeal to his market.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Peter. You touch on a point that I raised in this post a few months ago. I don’t doubt for a moment that Trump had people help him write the speech. But he is also a smart guy who knows how to tap into what the public (or a large segment of it) wants, and he knows how to say it in a way that resonates.
      Hope all is well.

  4. Well Donald Trump is going to drain the swamp in Washington and by the sounds of who he is picking for his cabinet already is filling it with bigger buffoons. Can’t believe he won but then Americans tend to be very gullible. Interesting the polls were so wrong because they said so many Americans would not admit they were voting for Trump!
    Great article John too bad Clinton didnt have someone comparable to you on her writing team.
    Phyllis (Mom)

    1. Thanks, Mom. Draining the swamp to make room for bigger buffoons – nice one! Let’s see how it goes.
      I am not surprised that he won. Everything I had been reading in social media and the non-traditional media these past weeks was diametrically opposed to what was being said on CNN, etc. And he was drawing enormous crowds. I knew Ohio, Florida and North Carolina would go his way. I thought Michigan could go his way. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were the states that surprised me the most.
      For me, the most disturbing thing about the protests currently sweeping the US is knowing that had the result gone the other way, there would be protests sweeping the US. The country is bitterly divided and it is going to take incredible leadership to bridge that divide. Whether that leadership comes, we will have to see.
      xo

  5. Well done, John. I didn’t quite stay up to hear Trump’s speech, so I had only seen the snippets CNN and others showed. (If I can keep an open mind and stomach it, I’ll watch the whole video you posted.) Technique-wise, I also like how you picked up on alliteration that carries over from the back of the preceding word to the following, as in “untapped potential.”
    * You’ve spoiled us with your thoroughness, but one addition that may be helpful is a brief definition for each of the rhetorical devices used…especially, the ones that look like characters in a Greek tragedy. Even though, the devices are fairly clear in the examples, it would be a boon to lazy speakers everywhere to have that as a reference. *
    Per Hillary’s speech, I thought you also nailed it. As she was giving it, I (similarly) mused that this version of Hillary – showing more heart, humility and humanity than anything we saw on the campaign trail and in her almost 100% negative/attack ads down the stretch – may very well have won the election.
    Interestingly, I also watched Obama’s speech – which was shortly after Clinton’s. I’d be interested to know your thoughts about it as well. I thought his first few minutes were dynamic, and sounded the perfect tone of appreciation in thanking “W” for the transition that his administration accorded him, and he offered the same to Trump. The first half of his speech was crisp and on point, but then he seemed to ramble for an additional 5 or so minutes (I didn’t time or watch the clip – just the live address) that somehow diminished it.

    1. Hi Matt. I appreciate the detailed comment. As I now live in Switzerland, I stayed up to watch all the action, rarely dozing given how dramatic it all was.
      I have to say that I am not surprised by the result. Everything that I had been reading on social media and non-traditional news was the direct opposite of what the main stream media was saying. I was convinced that Ohio, North Carolina and Florida would go Trump. I though Michigan was possible. I was surprised at Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
      Glad you enjoyed the analyses. I could have gone longer on each one but I had to cut them off somewhere. One thing about the names of the rhetorical devices, if you check the post, each one is a link. Those links will take you to posts devoted to each rhetorical device – including an explanation of what each means. In plain English.
      As for Obama, I watched his talk and I agree with you. I especially liked the callback to his transition with Bush. I toyed with the idea of including his speech in this post, but it was long enough with two speeches!
      Cheers!

  6. “If the country is to come together, the country has to support him as he begins his Presidency.”
    The country does not need to come together. Healthy differences of opinions and protests that are non-violent is good. I don’t know what really you mean by “come together”, and, “support”. If he wants our support for a good cause, no American will deny him that. If he wants our support to grab another you-know-what, he will not get it. With him, as with every president, we must hold him accountable. If he puts up a judicial activist in the mold of Scalia, Thomas, Alito or Roberts, we do not need to support that. We need to be vigorous in our opposition such that justices who will harm the progress of the nation are withdrawn. It is up to him to show that he is everyone’s president.

    1. I disagree with you that the country does not need to come together. If there is a country in the world that needs to come together at this moment, it is the United States. Coming together does not mean that there cannot be differences of opinion. But what is happening now – protests in the streets with people smashing things, other people grabbing hijabs from women and threatening minorities, people declaring they will not support Trumpp – that is way behind “healthy differences of opinion”.
      The fact is that Trump won the Presidency as hard as it is for some people to believe it. To say that he will never be their President flies in the face of what democracy is supposed to be all about. Now, having said that, where I agree with you is that he must be held accountable for his actions (or attempted actions) when he is President. If he tries to advance a policy with which people disagree, that is the time to challenge him.

      1. I don’t think we are saying very different things. Smashing things and violence against anyone or harassing people is illegal and not warranted.
        The time to challenge him is right now. He is putting a climate denier as the EPA chair. If we wait, we cannot shape the conversation as effectively. We will suffer the consequences.
        Mr. Trump will not be my president. Barack Obama is not my president either. They are/will be my country’s president. I do not feel close enough to either one or agree with their actions enough to call either my president. Will I consider him the legitimate president of my country? Yes. Is he my president? No. Excessive national jingoism has resulted in wars.

        1. I have no problem challenging him on concrete proposals, legislation, etc. that he puts forward and with which people disagree. My concern is with people now challenging his election. I am not against free speech, so if they want to do it peacefully, fine. But the time to march in the streets against his election was before 8 November. To march now, calling for him not to be inaugurated is to march agains the very democratic process on which the US was built. So to the extent, we are talking about challenging him on concrete legislation, proposals, etc., we agree.
          As for claiming that he is not your President, if it makes people feel better to say it as a way of expressing their disapproval, then fine. But the reality is that the President of a country is President of its citizens.

  7. John,
    You may be interested in these comments by a friend on your blog:
    Thanks Philip, I have just read this piece, which was fine so far as it went. However, to me he seemed to miss out “the elephant in the room”. He talked about Trump being conciliatory, but he hardly mentioned the absolutely outrageous things Trump had said during his campaign. It wasn’t that he occasionally said things which were questionable, but he repeatedly came out with things which were completely false, or for which he had not a shred of evidence.
    And a comment by the same person on your interview about rhetoric: Very good talk but the interviewer was out of her depth!
    I hope this feedback is helpful. Best wishes, Philip
    >

    1. Hi Philip. Thanks for passing that along. But your friend is incorrect. I didn’t miss out on what Trump had said during the campaign; I’m pretty sure that everybody is well aware of what he said on the campaign and in the post, I referenced two articles that I wrote several months ago about that. I described using words like “repugnant”, “juvenile” and “incoherent”. It would have been easy to revert to the same thing, but I wanted to focus solely on the speeches themselves. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for the comment. For me, compared to her other speeches, you could hear the emotion in her voice and see it in her eyes, which were glassy at times. Many people were looking for this during the campaign and for many it was lacking.

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