In This Review

Trump and Us: What He Says and Why People Listen
Trump and Us: What He Says and Why People Listen
By Roderick P. Hart
Cambridge University Press, 2020, 280 pp

This unusual study, by a scholar of political rhetoric, focuses on how U.S. President Donald Trump uses language to tap into public emotions. Hart mines a massive database of political speech that reaches back to 1948, running various computer programs to assess word choice, rhetorical patterns, and the contexts in which politicians use certain language. The data are interesting: for instance, Trump used terms related to anger and hurt in 2016 nearly five times as often as the political norm. Hart’s own perceptions are striking. He sees Trump less as a baby or a toddler, as he is often portrayed by critics, than as an adolescent: moody, impulsive, terribly needy for love, resentful of authority, full of fears he cannot admit, and emotionally raw. In Hart’s analysis, Trump has tapped into four primary public emotions: feelings of being ignored, of being trapped, of being besieged (by elites and outsiders), and of weariness (with the political establishment). Switching between Trump’s words and their reception by his supporters yields insights that other observers of the president haven’t discerned.