People-building Strategies in Trump’s and Biden’s Political Discourse

A Critical Discourse Analysis between Populism and Anti-Populism


  • Maria Ivana Lorenzetti University of Verona
  • Elena Mattei University of Verona



social identities, populism, anti-populism, critical discourse analysis, metaphor


Social-identity creation is crucial for politicians to rhetorically build their political community, legitimise specific actions and mobilise supporters by appealing to specific values or discursive argumentations. Combining a critical discourse analysis perspective derived from van Dijk’s socio-cognitive approach with Conceptual Metaphor Theory, this paper investigates people-building discourse strategies in Donald J. Trump’s speech prior to the Capitol Hill riots and President Joseph R. Biden’s Inaugural Address. The research aims to compare strategies adopted in populist and anti-populist discourse. Results show that, while the distinction between populism and anti-populism is still underdeveloped, similar discourse strategies and metaphorical mappings chiefly revolving around the ideas of nation and democracy may be deployed with opposite ends. Furthermore, the study highlights how the populist/anti-populist frontier is not clear-cut and may shape different civic identities and ideals of democracy according to the ideology underpinning each politician’s discourse.


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

Austin, John R. How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Berkowitz, Bonnie and Madison Walls. “Laws and Customs Guide Presidential Transitions—but Some Go off the Rails Anyway.” The Washington Post. January 15, 2022. All websites last visited 27/11/2022

Bobbio, Norberto. Left and Right. The Significance of a Political Distinction. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Language as Symbolic Power. London: Polity, 1991.

Canovan, Margaret. “People, Politicians and Populism.” Government and Opposition 19.3 (1984): 312-327.

---. The People. London: Polity, 2005.

---. “Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy.” Political Studies 47.1 (1999): 2-16.

Castells, Manuel. The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

Charteris-Black, Jonathan. Analysing Political Speeches. Rhetoric, Discourse and Metaphor. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

---. Politicians and Rhetoric. The Persuasive Power of Metaphor. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Chilton, Paul. Analysing Political Discourse. Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 2004.

Clark, Herbert H. Using Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

De Cillia, Rudolf, Martin Reisigl and Ruth Wodak. “The Discursive Construction of National Identities.” Discourse & Society 10.2 (1999): 149-173.

Duszak, Anna. “Us and Others: An Introduction.” Us and Others: Social Identities across Languages, Discourses and Cultures. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. 1-28.

Freeden, Michael. Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Gephart, Robert P., Cagri Topal and Zhen Zhang. “Future‐oriented Sensemaking: Temporalities and Institutional Legitimation.” Process, Sensemaking, and Organizing. Edited by Tor Hernes and Sally Maitlis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 275-312.

Ginsberg, Benjamin, et al. We the People: An Introduction to American Politics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.

Hall, Stuart. “Introduction: Who Needs Identity?” Questions of Cultural Identity. Edited by Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay. London: SAGE, 1996. 1-17.

Haslam, S. Alexander, Stephen D. Reicher and Michael J. Platow. The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power. London: Routledge, 2020.

Haslam, S. Alexander, et al. “Examining the Role of Donald Trump and His Supporters in the 2021 Assault on the U.S. Capitol: A Dual-Agency Model of Identity Leadership and Engaged Followership.” The Leadership Quarterly 33.4 (2022): 1-15.

Hawkins, Kirk A. and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. “The Ideational Approach to Populism.” Latin American Research Review 52.4 (2017): 513-528.

Hawkins, Kirk A., et al. The Ideational Approach to Populism. Concept, Theory, and Analysis. London: Routledge, 2019.

Heuman, Amy N. and Alberto González. “Trump’s Essentialist Border Rhetoric: Racial Identities and Dangerous Liminalities.” Journal of Intercultural Communication Research 47.4 (2018): 326-342.

Kazin, Michael. “Trump and American Populism: Old Whine, New Bottles.” Foreign Affairs 95.6 (2016): 17-24.

Laclau, Ernesto. “Populism: What’s in a Name?” Populism and The Mirror of Democracy. Edited by Francisco Panizza. London: Verso, 2005. 32-49.

Lakoff, George. Moral Politics. How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

---. The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

---. “The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor.” Metaphor and Thought. Edited by Anthony Ortony. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 202-251.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Lakoff, George and Elisabeth Wehling. The Little Blue Book. The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Levin, Beth. English Verb Classes and Alternations. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edge Sword. New York, Norton, 1996.

Lorenzetti, Maria Ivana. “A Cross-linguistic Study of New Populist Language.” Doing Politics. Discursivity, Performativity and Mediation in Political Discourse. Edited by Michael Kranert and Geraldine Horan. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2018. 153-177.

---. “Anti-Immigration Rhetoric in Italy and in the USA: A Comparative Perspective.” Anglo-American Relations in the Age of Globalization: Risks and Opportunities. Edited by Massimiliano Demata and Marco Mariano. Torino: Collane@unito, 2020. 97-121.

---. “Dramatising Crisis. Rhetorical Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic by Right-Wing Populist Leaders in the USA and UK.” Lingue e Linguaggi 47 (2022): 13-45.

Moffitt, Benjamin. The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016.

---. “The Populism/Anti-Populism Divide in Western Europe.” Democratic Theory 5.2 (2018): 1-16.

Mudde, Cas. The Far Right. London: Polity, 2019.

---. “The Populist Zeitgeist.” Government and Opposition 39.3 (2004): 541-563.

Mudde, Cas and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. Populism. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Musolff, Andreas. Metaphor and Political Discourse. Analogical Reasoning in Debates about Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

---. Political Metaphor Analysis. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Ostiguy, Pierre. “Populism: A Socio-Cultural Approach.” The Oxford Handbook of Populism. Edited by Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, et al. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 73-97.

---. “The High-Low Political Divide. Rethinking Populism and Anti-Populism.” Political Concepts. Committee on Concepts and Methods Working Paper Series 35 (2009): 1-65.

Ostiguy, Pierre and Kenneth M. Roberts. “Putting Trump in Comparative Perspective: Populism and the Politicisation of the Sociocultural Low.” The Brown Journal of World Affairs XXIII.1 (2016): 25-50.

Panizza, Francisco. “Introduction: Populism and the Mirror of Democracy.” Populism and The Mirror of Democracy. London: Verso, 2005. 1-31.

Pirro, Andrea L. P. and Paul Taggart. “Populists in Power and Conspiracy Theories.” Party Politics 0.0 (2022): 1-11.

Reyes, Antonio. “Strategies of Legitimisation in Political Discourse: From Words to Actions.” Discourse & Society 22.6 (2011): 781-807.

Ricento, Thomas. “The Discursive Construction of Americanism.” Discourse & Society 14.5 (2003): 611-637.

Ross, Andrew S. and Damian J. Rivers. “Donald Trump, Legitimisation and A New Political Rhetoric.” World Englishes 39.4 (2020): 623-637.

Smith, Roger M. “Citizenship and the Politics of People-Building.” Citizenship Studies 5.1 (2001): 73-96.

Sollberger, Daniel. “On Identity: From a Philosophical Point of View.” Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 7.29 (2013): 1-10.

Statista. “Length of Inaugural Addresses of all American Presidents from 1789 to 2021.” February 2021.

Stavrakakis, Yannis. “The Return of ‘the People’: Populism and Anti-Populism in the Shadow of the European Crisis.” Constellations 21.4 (2014): 505-516.

Stavrakakis, Yannis, et al. “Populism, Anti-populism and Crisis.” Contemporary Political Theory 17 (2018): 4-27.

Suchman, Marc C. “Managing Legitimacy: Strategic and Institutional Approaches.” Academy of Management Review 20.3 (1995): 571-610.

Taggart, Paul. Populism. Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000.

---. “Populism and the Pathology of Representative Politics.” Democracies and the Populist Challenge. Edited by Yves Mény and Yves Surel. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. 62-80.

Theiss-Morse, Elizabeth. Who Counts as an American? The Boundaries of National Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

van Dijk, Teun. “Critical Discourse Analysis.” The Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Edited by Deborah Tannen, Heidi E. Hamilton and Deborah Schiffrin. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015a. 349-371.

---. “Critical Discourse Studies: A Socio-Cognitive Approach.” Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. Edited by Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer. London: SAGE, 2015b. 63-85.

---. “Discourse and Manipulation.” Discourse & Society 17.2 (2006a): 359-383.

---. “Discourse and Migration.” Qualitative Research in European Migration Studies. Edited by Ricard Zapata-Barrero and Evren Yalaz. Cham: Springer Open, 2018. 227-245.

---. “Discourse and Racism.” A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies. Edited by David Theo Goldberg and John Solomos. London: Blackwell, 2002. 145-159.

---. “Ideology and Discourse.” The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies. Edited by Michael Freeden, Lyman Tower Sargent and Marc Stears. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 175-196.

---. “Ideology and Discourse Analysis.” Journal of Political Ideologies 11.2 (2006b): 115-140.

---. “New(s) Racism: A Discourse Analytical Approach.” Ethnic Minorities and the Media. Edited by Simon Cottle. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 2000. 33-49.

---. “Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis.” Discourse & Society 4.2 (1993): 249-283.

---. “What is Political Discourse Analysis?” Belgian Journal of Linguistics 11.1 (1997): 11-52.

van Leeuwen, Theo. Discourse and Practice. New Tools for Critical Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Wodak, Ruth. The Politics of Fear. What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean. London: SAGE, 2015.

Wodak, Ruth, et al. The Discursive Construction of National Identity. Edimburgh: Edimburgh University Press, 1999.

Primary Sources

Joseph R. Biden’s Inaugural Address, Washington DC, January 20, 2021

Donald J. Trump’s Rally Speech, Washington DC, January 6, 2021






Articles (general section) - English language and linguistics