A Psycho-Narratological Approach to Political Discourse Analysis: A Case Study of Donald Trump's 'Make America Great Again' Campaign

從心理敘事學角度分析政治話語 - 以特朗普的「讓美國再次偉大」總統競選為例

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date13 Jan 2023


Narrative is an indispensable part of our lives. Scholars across academic fields have explicated that narrative plays a large role in individuals’ understanding of the world (e.g. Berger, 1996; Toolan, 2001), our development of social identities (e.g. Somers, 1994; Andrews, 2014) and the construction of political realities and ideologies (e.g. Shenhav, 2009; Polletta, 2017). Despite the paramount importance of narrative to individuals, society and politics, in political discourse analysis (PDA), there lacks an approach which can be used to deconstruct the use of narrative and its elements, in political discourse (PD). Most analysts of PD have adopted Critical Discourse analysis (CDA) approaches to uncover the relationship of discourse, ideology and power. To fill this theoretical gap, this thesis proposes taking a psycho-narratological approach to analysing PD with Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) Campaign as a case study.

This thesis presents an integrated analytical framework which draws on positioning theory from social psychology (Bamberg, 1997) and theoretical concepts from narratology, namely events, characters, evaluation and narrator (Labov & Waletzky, 1967; Bal, 2017); as well as analytical tools commonly used for PDA, namely ideological square (van Dijk, 1993), legitimisation strategies (Reyes, 2011) and transitivity processes (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004). In the thesis, I apply the framework to deconstruct the speeches, which is one of the genre-types in PD, of Donald Trump in his 2016 US presidential campaign. The aim of this thesis is to demonstrate how Trump represents different social and political actors as characters in narratives by positioning them, and how he positions himself to his audience in the MAGA campaign so as to legitimise his campaign and advance his political goals, i.e. getting elected as president.

The findings show that Trump represents social and political actors as common character types of victims, villains and heroes. America and its people are represented as victims experiencing complications, while foreign countries, America’s politicians and the Obama-Clinton Administration are represented as villains causing the complications. This is realised by positioning these social and political actors in opposition to each other in the MAGA campaign narrative. Trump is represented as the hero by positioning himself not only as against and more powerful than the villains but also the only person who can resolve the complications the victims are experiencing. Narrative positioning of victims, villains and the hero is achieved by the use of five main types of verb processes (material, mental, relational, verbal and behavioural) and ideological square (positive self-presentation and negative other-presentation). The results also show that Trump establishes the relationship between himself, as the narrator, and the public, as the audience, in an attempt to persuade them to vote for him through five main discursive strategies of (de)legitimisation. These include appealing to the emotions of the audience, criticising the rationality of the current administration, incorporating voices of others, envisioning the future and constructing himself as an altruist. Through positioning different characters, himself as the narrator and the audience in the campaign narrative, Trump discursively constructs himself as a heroic president who is powerful enough to restore the country and save the people. Finally, this study highlights the value of taking a psycho-narratological perspective to political discourse analysis and contributes by offering a novel framework to PDA and social and political science.