Most Presidents use anaphora, a rhetorical device in which the repetition of words, phrases, or pronouns or nominal / verbal categories lends emphasis. Anaphora is the temporal / tonal equivalent of italics. Repetitions allow the auditor to reorient meaning and feeling around certain words that logical syntax inevitably levels. Lincoln used anaphora in his second Inaugural address: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right,…”. As in this example, the words that receive emphasis aren’t necessarily those that are repeated. “Malice,” “charity” and “firmness” are the concepts imparted by Lincoln’s use of this rhetorical device. In terms of classical rhetoric, anaphoric repetitions belong to the beginning of sentences; epiphoria is repetition at the end of clauses or sentences, and symploce is produced by repetitions that end one sentence and begin another.

In the 16 February press conference, Trump’s initial speech employs some important organizational anaphora. (All quotations from the New York Times fake news transcript). The speech-writers organized the initial statement around a series of opening repetitions using the third-person collective pronoun: “We’ve issued”; “We’ve stood up for”; “We’ve ordered”; “We’ve undertaken”; “We’ve ordered”; “We’re issuing”; “We’ve begun”; “So we’ve begun.” This was followed by another structuring anaphora, this one nominal and categorical: “Fiat Chrysler,” “General Motors,” “Intel,” Walmart.” In this case, repeated names of corporations implies thoroughness. Two car / weapons companies, an internet firm and the hugest retail outlet.

But this “official,” structural use of anaphora is hugely lost among the more frequent and strongly enunciated uses of this device that Trump deploys “naturally,” or improvisationally. Various rhetorical repetitions are key to his personal style, just as they were notably absent from Barack Obama’s press-conference style. (Obama used formal anaphora, but his carefully worded, drawn-out responses to questions often seemed at pains to avoid rhetorical flourish.) The above examples seem cynically formulaic when compared to Trump’s more frequent use of epiphora and symploce.

Trump repeats words to add affect; his repetitions usually take the form of afterthoughts, a habitual underlining that emphasizes various sentiments directed at various entities. Below are some of his most obviously improvised repetitions in the opening remarks and a few of his answers to questions. As a kind of short-hand, my analysis uses Silvan Tomkins’ basic categories for distinguishing between fundamental types of responsiveness. Tomkins theorized that primary affective states form a matrix of felt responses to (social and / or physical) environmental changes. These innate ‘triggers’ are used to co-construct / participate in emotional “scripts” and “scenes,” which are embedded within large-scale and immediate ideological networks, which are themselves generated by countless other scripts. Although the responses begin within the human animal, a kind of feeling machine, their meaning is entirely social. We learn how to feel what we feel about what we feel. Furthermore, Tomkins emphasizes the “freedom” of these feelings to combine with each other and with memories of previous events to produce emotions that help to organize subsequent feelings. Here, according to the transcript generated by the “liberal media,” are some of the affects generated by Trump’s anaphora:

It’s [unification] very important to me. I’ve been talking about that for a long time. It’s very, very important to me.

It’s [plan to reward women for being entrepreneurs] very important to me, very important to my daughter Ivanka.

We’re going to make trade deals but we’re going to have one on one deals, bilateral. We’re going to have one on one deals.

Obviously, Trump’s repetitions emphasize interest, excitement. He acknowledges an on-going concern. Such excitement is often desirable; it’s pleasant to observe someone’s ongoing engagement. Trump’s repetitions use this excitement to engage the press:

As a result, the media is going through what they have to go through too often times distort – not all the time – and some of the media is fantastic, I have to say – they’re honest and fantastic.

His hostility becomes affectively aligned with the participant’s engagement with an opposing team. They’re challenging each other because they’re playing a game. In animals, such as dogs, this signals trust expended by the powerful and potentially dangerous to a weaker opponent.

Although Trump uses many negative affects to support his painful and unpopular policies, he’s not without his enjoyment. These repetitions underscore hope and trust–the sharing of positive possibilities:

And I hope going forward we [the administration and the press] can be a little bit — a little bit different, and maybe get along a little bit better, if that’s possible.

In each of these actions, I’m keeping my promises to the American people. These are campaign promises.

In this passage, his repeats key words that support the argument that he’s making good on campaign promises:

to require American steel for American pipelines. In other words, they build a pipeline in this country, and we use the powers of government to make that pipeline happen, we want them to use American steel.

Those are a few of most positive affects I’ve found in Trump’s repetitions; others are not so nice.

He improvises anaphora to acknowledge shame or humiliation. In Tomkin’s view, shame is the feeling that accompanies the frustration of joy and a desire to master the situation. He conceives of it as a hiding and recalibration resulting from the interruption of positive affects. Trump’s boasts are Playboy responses to what he perceives as shameful situations:

We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.

Israel, Mexico, Japan, China and Canada, really, really productive conversations. I would say far more productive than you would understand.

I turn on the T.V., open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite.

I just got here. And I got here with no cabinet.

Frequently, his repetitions signal distress or anguish: a feeling of being overwhelmed. His signature line evokes this feeling:

We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It’s a disaster. I know you can say, oh, Obamacare.

The same feeling is imparted in his defense of his Supreme Court nominee:

He [Coats] can’t get approved. How do you not approve him? He’s been a colleague – highly respected. Brilliant guy, great guy, everybody knows it. We’re waiting for approval.

For thirty years, neocons have attempted to beat neoliberals at the deregulation game. Consequently, “government regulations” have become the most ideologically charged cry of distress. They are imagined to suffocate, constrict, depress, weigh down and otherwise make the world an ongoing challenge:

We’ve issued a game-changing new rule that says for each one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. Makes sense. Nobody’s ever seen regulations like we have. You go to other countries and you look at indexes they have and you say “let me see your regulations” and they’re fraction, just a tiny fraction of what we have. And I want regulations because I want safety, I want environmental — all environmental situations to be taken properly care of. It’s very important to me. But you don’t need four or five or six regulations to take care of the same thing.

The world is felt to be “too much” with us, and we hope to alert others to our pain. A closely related sensation is that of fear or terror. Provoked internally, through the repetition / recognition of prior scenes of surprise or distress, or by external stimuli, the sense of an emergent / overwhelming source of distress gives us an adrenaline boost that can lend voice to distress and strength to anger. Trump evokes fear through the repetition of loss and by pointing to danger:

Depleted, it’s [military equipment] depleted – it won’t be depleted for long.

the defeat of ISIS, a group that celebrates the murder and torture of innocent people in large sections of the world. It used to be a small group, now it’s in large sections of the world. They’ve spread like cancer. ISIS has spread like cancer – another mess I inherited.

When the cry for help goes unanswered and flight seems impossible, anguish amps up into anger or rage. We seek our own way out of pain, usually with much screaming, stomping, shooting. We make demands; we take our stand. Trump doesn’t express anger very directly, leaving that to his supporters. In the following examples, Trump sublimates his anger into the promise of future might:

But our country will never have had a military like the military we’re about to build and rebuild.

And the wall is going to be a great wall and it’s going to be a wall negotiated by me. The price is going to come down just like it has on everything else I’ve negotiated for the government. And we are going to have a wall that works, not gonna have a wall like they have now which is either nonexistent or a joke.

The promise of more offensive and defensive weapons evokes the resistance to threats we can’t run away from, and which presumably the existing political order doesn’t care to respond to (this is the fantasy).

Rather than express anger outright, Trump uses repetition to express what Tomkins called disgust and dissmell. Both reactions–the wish to expel, the wish to remove–foster a sense of his sovereignty.  These repetitions signify contempt. Trump pushes away and looks down upon anaphora’s object, as though to prevent it from generating the more immediate sensation of disgust:

contracts that were terrible, including airplane contracts that were out of control and late and terrible;

One promise after another after years of politicians lying to you to get elected. They lied to the American people in order to get elected.

In this passage he evokes dissmell by suggesting that immigrants should be treated like animals (parasites) caught in a trap:

we have ordered an end to the policy of catch and release on the border. No more release. No matter who you are, release.

Like this “external” object, the “internal” object of national fear–suffocating regulations–is also treated with disdain:

They go in for a permit, it’s many, many years. And then at the end of the process — they spend 10s of millions of dollars on nonsense and at the end of the process, they get rejected. Now, they may be rejected with me but it’s going to be a quick rejection. Not going to take years.

The ultimate, oft-repeated phrase from the early part of the conference combines shame, fear, anger and disgust into a perception of the Obama administration as shitty:

To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The middle east is a disaster. North Korea – we’ll take care of it folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.

The situational irony here, given the mess Obama actually inherited, and given what he did with it despite outrageous opposition (Republican b/anality) is almost overwhelming.


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I am a writer and editor, artist and activist. I live in Rogers Park, Chicago.

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