Responsibility and Evidence in Trumpian Discourse

This article appeared in Anthropology News.

Responsibility. Helen K. / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It started as an innocuous press conference in the White House Rose Garden. The President and Senate Majority Leader would meet with reporters to emphasize, with typical Trumpian overstatement, that they were “closer than ever before.” Then Trump got that question about the death of four soldiers killed in Niger. The exchange that followed not only exemplifies Trump’s constant need to puff himself up by denigrating others, but it also illustrates the way he exploits what linguists call evidentiality—the semantic marking of an information source—to wrap innuendos in the sheath of truth claims while avoiding responsibility for the veracity of those claims. These types of manipulative linguistic moves provide Trump with that all-important political cover known as plausible deniability, allowing him to peddle everything from fringe conspiracy theories to outright lies.

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