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  • Valentina Saavedra

The Construction of Crooked Hillary


Throughout his campaign in 2016, Donald Trump branded each of his opponents with identities that he constructed through both his spoken and written word. Nicknames like “Lyin’ Cruz”, “Little Marco”, and “Low Energy Jeb” added to the persona that Donald Trump wanted these politicians to embody. More than any of the opponents, Hillary Clinton was targeted by Donald Trump, inheriting the name “Crooked Hillary”. This is a critical discourse analysis of the construction of “Crooked Hillary” as an identity for Hillary Clinton both during and after the Presidential race. Donald Trump was able to construct this narrative using his speeches on the campaign trail, his quotes in interviews, and his tweets. These many facets all contributed to the persona that Hillary Clinton now embodies: “Crooked Hillary”.

Language is a system, which implies rules and order, that is arbitrary and only given meaning through those that use language and assign it according to users’ agreement and convention (Edwards, 2013, pg. 53). However, language is not just grammar. Language requires a knowledge of the context and the meaning behind each lexeme. Language is also an “emblem of groupness, a symbol, [and] a psychological rallying point” (Edwards, 2013, pg. 55). Many languages even have “intangible symbolic aspects” that are incorporated into their use in everyday life, usually deeply engrained in the “histories and cultures of those who speak it” (Edwards, 2013, pg. 55). Donald Trump is able to use this “emblem of groupness” and “intangible symbolic aspects” to create “Crooked Hillary” as a symbol that indexes an out-group, those who support Hillary Clinton and her corruption, and an in-group, those who support Donald Trump and therefore condone corruption (Edwards, 2013, pg. 55). This second aspect of language is what is used in identity construction, such as identities constructed by Donald Trump like “Lyin’ Cruz” and “Low Energy Jeb”. According to Benwell, there are two contrasting views on identity and the way it is constructed (Benwell & Stokoe, 2006, pg. 3). Identity is seen as “an essential, cognitive, socialized phenomenological or psychic phenomenon that governs human action” (Benwell & Stokoe, 2006, pg. 3). However, it is also seen as “a public phenomenon, a performance or construction that is interpreted by other people” (Benwell & Stokoe, 2006, pg. 3). As realized in this context, identity seems to be the latter, a public phenomenon that “takes place in discourse and other social and embodied conduct”, this discourse specifically being speeches, newspaper articles, and twitter (Flowerdew & Wang, 2015, pg. 81). When looking at identity as socially constructed, it is seen as “multiple and constantly changing” (Flowerdew & Wang, 2015, pg. 82). Identity is not seen as a fixed entity, but rather “discursively and dynamically constructed through interaction between writers, speakers, and audiences” (Flowerdew & Wang, 2015, pg. 84). This means that one person can embody different personas, and as Flowerdew says, “Identity is determined by a particular configuration of a social context, and the appropriate identity in a given context will rise to the top of a hierarchy of identities,” (Flowerdew & Wang, 2015, pg. 82). With an audience of Donald Trump and his supporters, “Crooked Hillary” may be the only persona that Hillary Clinton embodies. However, within an audience of her own constituents, “Crooked Hillary” is merely a fake identity created by a crazy man that wants to win a race, and see Hillary instead as someone to admire and idolize for her strides as a woman in politics. This is how an identity becomes “whatever it is agreed to be by other people involved in the discourse at a given time and place” (Benwell & Stokoe, 2006, pg. 9). The identity construction of “Crooked Hillary” can be examined through the many textual element involved in designing a text that forms a character.

There are many pretextual elements that are important to consider when looking at the creation of “Crooked Hillary”. One text that will be analyzed is a speech given in front of a campaigning audience full of his supporters and followers. Donald Trump uses his words to convince and invigorate his audience, creating “Crooked Hillary” as a backbone for her invalidity to serve the country, therefore giving him justifiable reasons as to why he would be a good President. Another text being analyzed is from a newspaper online, accessible to almost all audiences. Though the article itself tries to remain unbiased, Donald Trump’s quotes from his interviews are highly skewed towards his favored audience: his supporters. This content, because it is from Donald Trump or based on Donald Trump’s lexemes, can be predicted to be conservative and include right-wing politics.

Some contextual clues to these texts is the fact that they all center on the same theme: convincing other to either vote for Donald Trump or not to vote for Hillary Clinton. He creates a necessity to vote for him by painting his competitor as a corrupt candidate that you should not vote for. The use of language in the quote “But we can’t solve any of the problems by relying on the politicians who created them” alludes to Hillary Clinton being a politician that created the problems citizens are dealing with, therefore making her unfit for office (Griffith & Trump, 2016). In addition to this, lexemes such as “pathetic email server”, “phony landing”, and “sold out our workers” continue to add necessity towards a vote for Trump. The audience uses these texts to add to their own sentiments about their political views, like reaffirming the idea they have that Hilary Clinton is corrupt and that this identity she now embodies makes Donald Trump, by comparison, a better candidate for the presidency. Even the phrase used by Donald Trump when he says, “People are angry,” secures this idea that there is validity to the audience’s anger because they are not the only ones that are angry (Rucker & Trump, 2017). Others use them to engage with and disagree with the statements made by the texts, which includes commenting on the article posted on the internet by Politico as well as retweets and comments made on Twitter as a response to his lexemes. Additional elements to keep in mind are the power relations at play within the text. Michel Foucault, in his book The History of Sexuality, reminds us that “Power is not an institution, and not a structure…it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (Foucault, 1976, pg. 93). In this particular “complex strategical situation”, there are highly gendered power relations at play (Foucault, 1976, pg. 93). Historically, there has never been a woman serving as President of the United States, which means that men have a strategic advantage in both this situation and this society. Because of this, Hillary Clinton is already at a disadvantage, and Donald Trump characterizes Hillary as having bad judgement and being unhinged to continue the idea that has been perpetuated that women are not fit to be politicians because they take the form of “Crooked Hillary” when they are in power. In this instance, Clinton has little power, but because power is “exercised from innumerable points” rather than a “certain strength we are endowed”, Clinton has power in relation to much of her female audience because she is seen as an advocate for women and women’s rights and Donald Trump has 19 sexual assault allegations (Foucault, 1976, pg. 94). This situation clearly shows how power does not simply come from one direction and how power is truly everywhere (Foucault, 1976, pg. 93).

Intratextual elements in all three of these texts are integral to the critical discourse analysis of their implied meanings. Starting with speech made by Donald Trump in New York City, an important quote was, “But we can’t solve any of the problems by relying on the politicians who created them,” (Griffith & Trump, 2016). This statement takes the form of an accusatory and declarative sentence, starting with the hedging word “but”. What follows is the plural pronoun “we” that creates an in-group and an out-group dynamic, indexing those included in the “we” to be a part of the in-group created. The quantifier “any” premodifies the plural abstract noun “problems” and the present participle “relying” precedes the definite determiner “the” and the abstract noun “politician”, which the plural object pronoun “them” refers to. All of these lexemes point to a call for change in what Donald Trump believes to be a rigged system. It creates the out-group of corrupt politicians, which is a metonym for Hillary Clinton and “Crooked Hillary”, and creates an us-versus-them dynamic. He uses an ideology of elitism and a discourse of corruption to convince his audience that there is a need to get rid of politicians because they are all corrupt, and paints himself as morally superior because he is not a politician. Donald Trump also mentions, “Just look at [Hillary Clinton’s] her pathetic email and server statements or her phony landing in Bosnia where she said she was under attack but the attack turned out to be a young girl handing her flowers, a self-serving lie,” (Griffith & Trump, 2016). This command uses the possessive pronoun “her” and the emotive adjective “pathetic” to premodify the concrete noun “email”. The noun phrase “server statement” is made up of the concrete noun “server” that premodifies the abstract noun “statement” and the lexemes “phony landing” make up a premodified noun phrase with the emotive adverb “phony” and the present participle “landing”. These emotive lexemes that are being used gives validity to Hillary Clinton’s newly constructed identity as “Crooked Hillary”, just as the exclusion of using her actual name and replacing it with pronouns makes Clinton seem less professional and less serious. The use of the proper noun “Bosnia” precedes two uses of “she”, a singular pronoun. “Attack”, an abstract noun, is used twice as well and the noun phrase “young girl”, the concrete noun “girl” being premodified by the adjective “young”, precedes the use of “flowers”, a concrete noun. The phrase “self-serving lie” is the abstract noun “lie” premodified by the adjective in the participle form of a verb “self-serving”. All this is done to discredit Hillary Clinton as a politician and paints her as a liar and as an unhinged woman who cannot tell the difference between a threat and a young girl. Being perceived as a liar points to her identity as “Crooked Hillary”. Over all, she is put in a position that deems her as unfit for politics through an anti-corruption ideology that emphasizes discourses such as deception and foolishness. Another quote from his speech is, “She sold out our workers, and our country, to Beijing,” (Griffith & Trump, 2016). Starting with the singular pronoun “she”, the sentence continues with the phrase “sold out”, which is a polysemy because nothing was actually sold. The use of the plural possessive determiner “our” when referencing the concrete noun “workers” and the abstract noun “country” creates a sense of community that Hillary Clinton has betrayed for her own benefit, shown through the sentence that precedes where Trump states, “She thinks it’s all about her,” (Griffith & Trump, 2016). The sentence ends with the proper noun “Beijing”. All of this point to the ideologies of nationalism and patriotism, and how Hillary Clinton does not align herself with the national identity. With discourses that index betrayal, Clinton now becomes collocated with traitors to the United States, which continues to build on the idea that Clinton actually embodies the persona “Crooked Hillary”. Though only a small snapshot of the types of lexical choices that Donald Trump makes in his speech, he is very clearly constructing Hillary Clinton to be an unethical official that deserves the term “Crooked Hillary”.

Donald Trump’s interviews also contribute to the creation of Hillary Clinton’s persona in many ways. One important quote is “Everybody is asking me why the Justice Department isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary. People are angry,” (Rucker & Trump, 2017). The declarative statement starts with the indefinite pronoun “everybody” and is followed by the definite article “the” and the proper noun “Justice Department” that can also be a metonym for the FBI. The gerunds “asking” and “looking” precede the quantifier “all” and the abstract noun “dishonesty”. The sentence ends with the proper noun “Hillary” that is premodified by the adjective in the participle form of the verb “crooked”. The use of the indefinite pronouns “everybody” and “people” creates unity against a common evil, in this case being the dishonesty that Hillary is being accused of, which adds to her persona as “Crooked Hillary”. The repeated use of her nickname also solidifies her reputation as dishonest and as a criminal, especially when considering Donald Trump’s call for her arrest. In the declarative sentence “People are angry”, Donald Trump is using the adjective “angry” to modify “people” to create this illusion that all citizens hold the same opinions he does about Hillary Clinton and her perceived crookedness. With ideologies nationalism to unify the public against Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump can continue to construct her the way he sees fit. Another quote that fits his narrative is “Yesterday, she even tried to attack me and my many businesses” (Rucker & Trump, 2017). This statement, written in active voice, starts with the third person pronoun “she”, followed by the infinitive verb “to attack”. “Me” is a singular object pronoun which precedes the possessive determiner “my”, the quantifier “many”, and the abstract noun “businesses”. This statement denotes Hillary Clinton to be combative and aggressive, an enemy to business and business owners, and collocated Donald Trump as pro-business. Strong ideologies for capitalism are present in what Donald Trump says, positioning Hillary as anti-capitalism, which contributes to the idea that she is a traitor, since believing in anything other than capitalism is heavily frowned upon in the United States. Trump has easily maneuvered Clinton into one position: her position as “Crooked Hillary”.

Lastly, a tweet made by Donald Trump has contributed to the creation of “Crooked Hillary”.

(Trump, 2016)

This tweet starts with the proper noun “Hillary”, which is premodified by the adjective in the participle form of the verb “crooked”, and “Hillary” is also a possessive noun premodifying the abstract noun “brain power”. The lexemes “highly overrated” are post-modifying “brainpower”, “highly” being an adverb and “overrated” being an emotive adjective. The first declarative sentence is written in active voice and is comprised of one main clause. “Probably” is a modal adverb that is followed by the possessive pronoun “her” and “decision making”, “decision” being a nominalization and “making” being a verb. “Bad” is an emotive adjective modifying “decision making” and “judgement”, “Bernie S.” is a proper noun, and “judgement” is an abstract noun. In this text, Donald Trump adds ethos to his argument on why Clinton is so crooked. He brings in the opinion of another Democrat, Bernie Sanders, to back up his opinions and he produces a world where everyone believes Hillary Clinton to be ill-suited for government, not just Republicans. Trump insults Hillary’s intellect and her arbitration, using the ideology of corruption to add more evidence to the idea that she is unfit for office and that she is fraudulent.

In regard to intertextual relations, all three of these texts relate to each other because they all accomplish one goal: the construction of “Crooked Hillary”. According to Hall, language is a social system that we use to construct meaning using concepts and signs (Hall & Nixon, 1997, pg. 11). The constructivist approach to the meaning of language by saying that “it is social actors who use the conceptual systems of their culture and the linguistic and the representational systems to construct meaning, to make the world meaningful and to communicate about the world meaningfully to others” (Hall & Nixon, 1997, pg.11). Donald Trump uses his language and the culture around him to construct Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” and to create meaning to what could be a simple nickname that has no significance. Of course, meaning is created by using signs, mostly because “language is a system of signs” (Saussure, Culler, Bally, Sechehaye, & Baskin, 1974, pg. 19). Signs are made up of two elements, the form, like the actual word of photo, and the concept with which the form is associated (Saussure, Culler, Bally, Sechehaye, & Baskin, 1974, pg. 19). The form is called the signifier and the concept is called the signified (Saussure, Culler, Bally, Sechehaye, & Baskin, 1974, pg. 19). Donald Trump was able to create the image of Hillary Clinton as the signifier and the concept of her as “Crooked Hillary” to be the signified. Now, every time you see the signifier, Hillary Clinton, it correlates with the signified, “Crooked Hillary” (Saussure, Culler, Bally, Sechehaye, & Baskin, 1974, pg. 19).

Other texts that collaborate with the three that were referenced to are other tweets by Donald Trump in which he also mentions Hillary Clinton, both by name and by her given nickname, “Crooked Hillary”. There are also other tweets by other users in which they reference Hillary as “Crooked Hillary” that add to its construction. In addition to this, Donald Trump has mentioned this persona in other speeches, interviews, and articles, as well as in debates publicized to the entire country. Even other texts that mention politicians like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush as “Lyin’ Cruz” and “Low Energy Jeb” contribute to “Crooked Hillary” as an identity because it gives validity. They are other identities constructed by Donald Trump and received by the public which makes this activity common practice in the eyes of the audience.

Subtextual relations give us a very particular picture of Hillary Clinton. She is seen as a crazy and stupid woman, a lying and cheating elitist that has no consequences to her actions because of her connections, and overall unfit for office. This is created through the use of words like “highly overrated brain power”, “bad decision-making”, “dishonesty going on with ‘Crooked Hillary’”, “self-serving lie”, and “phony landing in Bosnia”. Trump has created a regime of truth that now surrounds Clinton, a regime of truth being define by Foucault as “a society’s general politics of truth” and “the type of discourses which [society] accepts and makes function as dominant” (Foucault & Gordon, 1980, pg.133). The dominant discourse of society has accepted Clinton to be corrupt and to be overall unfit for office, even if the regime of truth associated with her is not inherently true (Foucault & Gordon, 1980, pg. 133). Strong connections are made between her and elitism, painting her as the bourgeoisie that is not in touch with the common citizen, or the proletariat. There also seem to be underlying themes of communism in regard to the dichotomy between her and the common citizen, though it would never be stated in this way because of the conservatism, which does not align itself with communist ideals, but rather with capitalism. Above all, there seem to be a lot of discourse in regard to blame, with an emphasis on corruption as an ideology. With each usage of “crooked”, there is this reminder of the supposed fact that she is involved with corruption and that she is a corrupt official. Hillary Clinton is placed with blame because of her emails and because of her dossier of 12.4 million dollars, despite the fact that there is no evidence that there was a breach in security and no evidence that she has a dossier of 12.4 million dollars (Rucker & Trump, 2017). Despite this, Hillary Clinton still became stuck with the blame that came along with being branded “Crooked Hillary”.

The postextual relations present in these texts deal with the way they are read and understood. As Hall points out, there are denotative and connotative meanings to each text (Hall & Nixon, 1997, pg. 23). Denotation is the simple, basic descriptive level, like Donald Trump literally calling Hillary Clinton “crooked”, while connotation is being able to read the meaning behind the simple descriptors, like knowing that “crooked” does not mean “bent”, but rather it means “corrupt” (Hall & Nixon, 1997, pg. 23). It is also important to note that “denotation is related to the referential function of language [while] connotation is more likely to be related to the emotive function” (Mooney & Evans, 2015, pg. 12). This is essential when looking at the texts that deal with the construction of “Crooked Hillary” because it shows that though this is just a phrase used to describe a politician, the connotations have emotive functions that change our perception of Clinton even if we are not cognizant of it. Other postextual element to keep in mind in regard to these texts are the power relations in play that have long-lasting effects. According to Mooney and Evans, “while language is important in the exercise of power in particular moments, we also need to understand that language can have an influence across long stretches of time” (Mooney & Evans, 2015, pg. 15). Though an important persona was created throughout the presidential race, “Crooked Hillary” remains an identity attached to Clinton that she cannot escape, especially because of its continued use.

All in all, Donald Trump was able to construct the narrative of corruption in regard to Hillary Clinton by using his speeches on the campaign trail, his quotes in interviews, and his tweets. All of the ideologies, discourses, and techniques he used made Clinton synonymous with “Crooked Hillary”, despite the fact that no charges have been pressed against her and there has been no evidence to support Trump’s claims. Trump painted Clinton as corrupt and he painted the system that wasn’t putting her in prison as corrupt, creating the persona that she now embodies: “Crooked Hillary”.

Works Cited

Benwell B., & Stokoe E. (2006 ). Discourse and Identity. Edinburgh, UK : Edinburgh University Press.

Edwards, J. (2013). Language and identity: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Flowerdew, J., & Wang, S. H. (2015). Identity in academic discourse. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 35, 81-99. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.duke.edu/10.1017/S026719051400021X

Foucault, M. (1976) History of Sexuality Vol I. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, M., & Gordon, C. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon Books.

Griffith, R., & Trump, D. (2016). Full Transcript: Donald Trump NYC Speech on Stakes of the Election. Politico. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/transcript-trump-speech-on-the-stakes-of-the- election-224654

Hall, S., Evans, J., & Nixon, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices. London: SAGE.

Mooney, A., & Evans, B. (2015). Language, Society, and Power An Introduction. Florence: Taylor and Francis.

Rucker, P., & Trump, D. (2017). Trump pressures Justice Department to investigate ‘Crooked Hillary’. Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/11/03/trump-pressures- justice-department-to-investigate-crooked-hillary/?utm_term=.7dff21243ed1


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