Dept. of Word Lists

Victorious and No Longer Vindictive?

Donald J. Trump, newly elected President, delivered a speech in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 to celebrate his victory and thank his supporters. In contrast to much of his campaign rhetoric, these remarks sought to reach out to former adversaries and heal old wounds.

Comparing the poetic language of Barack Obama's 2012 victory speech with the comparatively plain-spoken language of President-elect Trump's address gives us a window into two very different ways to accomplish many of the same goals.

Traditionally, presidential acceptance speeches are confident expressions of victory. As the winner, the President-elect can look forward, offering a vision for their presidency while also looking back at the journey just completed, and perhaps offering an olive branch to their now-defeated opponent. A typical example of this last strategy, acknowledging your opponent, comes from Barack Obama's victory speech in 2012:

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. We may have battled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.

President-elect Trump paid tribute to his opponent too:

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.

Trump also took time to reach out to people who may not have voted for him, or those he alienated with his pointed rhetoric during the campaign.

Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division. We 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.

Making peace with those who voted against you is related to the idea that the president is the president of the entire country, and is charged with making life better for all Americans, whether a person voted for them or not. This idea is given poetic voice in the Obama speech:

...the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise and fall as one nation, and as one people...whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

Trump alluded to this idea as well:

I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. 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.

Victory (and inauguration) speeches are also one of the last times that the President-elect will get to reflect on their broader goals in public. Once inaugurated, the president is bogged down by individual issues — crises, bills that he wants to pass, etc. It is on an occasion like the victory speech, before things have gotten really hectic and detail-oriented, that the president can articulate a grander vision for America. Donald Trump has already outlined the beginnings of such a vision, with his idea that his campaign is a "movement":

As I've said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign but rather 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. It is a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs, who want and expect our government to serve the people, and serve the people it will.

While not particularly specific, this phrasing does recall the "we're all in this together" feeling that Trump used throughout the speech as a way to embrace people. If this movement has up until now only included Trump supporters, he is now implicitly opening up the movement to include anyone who wants to join.

When President Obama painted a bigger picture of American dreams, he focused in on individual beliefs that he hoped were common to all of us:

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America's future. We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant's daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag — to the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner — to the furniture worker's child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president. That's the — that's the future we hope for. That's the vision we share.

The sentiments in these two quotes are very similar, even if they communicate those sentiments in very different ways. Trump's straightforward talk and Obama's poetic depiction of individuals both portray grander visions for their presidencies than the everyday requirements of the job.

Donald Trump's campaign has been surprising and shocking from its very beginning. It was again a surprise when he delivered a victory address that followed all the rules of victory addresses of the past. Trump's speech was clearly intended to demonstrate his softer, more statesman-like side and to assure the American people, and the world, that he is fit for the job. Here are twelve vocabulary words from the President-elect's victory speech.


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Adam Cooper studied linguistics at Brandeis University and The University of Chicago. Since 2010, he has been working with The Endangered Language Alliance in New York City on documentation and preservation projects. Click here to read more articles by Adam Cooper.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday November 9th 2016, 7:15 AM
Comment by: MICHAEL C. (FL)
How did he win he has done so many bad things which people did not notice but also he WANTS TO BUILD A WALL!
Wednesday November 9th 2016, 9:18 AM
Comment by: Marcia S. (MD)
His first word should have been unify! Donald has spewed much unnecessary rhetoric at the American people. Words matter! Once hurtful words are released from ones mouth, they can't be taken back. A leopard cannot change his spots and a zebra cannot erase his stripes. I don't trust Trump.
Wednesday November 9th 2016, 11:21 AM
Comment by: abhilash N. (India)
I think that rhetoric was just a tactical move to tap the WHITE voters nothing more.
Thursday November 10th 2016, 3:27 AM
Comment by: Bourbon & Cigars (Japan)Top 10 Word ListerTop 10 Commenter
Congratulations to Donald Trump on his victory in a hard-fought campaign!

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