Robert D. Mather, Ph.D.

The Conservative Social Psychology Blog
Analysis of President Trump's 2020 State of the Union Address

Here I analyze President Trump’s State of the Union Address from February of 2020. I analyze political speeches through the lens of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. With Haidt’s Moral Foundations there are norms of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, which are the two foundations through which liberal Democrats tend to analyze information.  Conservative Republicans tend to analyze information through those two along with ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. I created a scorecard and I analyzed the 2020 State of the Union speech using these moral foundations. Similarly, in 2018 I analyzed President Trump’s State of the Union address for Psychology Today (State of the Union 2018).


For harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, each had 15 instances of things the president said that fit into those categories. For ingroup/loyalty and authority/respect there were 4 instances in each of those categories and there were 9 instances for purity/sanctity. That shows the President and the President’s speechwriters were looking to give information that hit on the common ground between Democrats and Republicans.


Some examples of the harm/care foundation were when he discussed health care, prescription cost decreases, the opioid epidemic, and neonatal research. Examples of fairness/reciprocity were things like criminal justice reform and replacing NAFTA with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Three times President Trump discussed that as being fairness and reciprocity. He even used those terms, which clearly identified them in the fairness and reciprocity foundation for which he was looking to appeal. He also discussed our allies paying their fair share with NATO. Examples of ingroup/loyalty were his awarding the Medal of Honor to Rush Limbaugh, which played to his base of conservatives. His list of great Americans would also have done the same.


In the authority/respect foundation, he discussed military strength and immigration policies that he framed as needing to enforce and following laws. In the purity/sanctity category he emphasized the burden of illegal immigration on taxpayers as well as the issue of prayer and public schools.


One of the things I found fascinating in this speech compared to previous speeches is that there is more construal on the part of the audience. Construal means perception—it’s the way that we perceive something. Let’s take his discussion of the Alamo. The Alamo for conservative Republicans plays on the ingroup/loyalty foundation. For Democrats who may look at racial injustices and other views of history that they tend to take may look at that under the fairness/reciprocity foundation and see that as a negative. Clearly Republicans and Democrats are speaking different languages when it comes to moral foundations and its different than what we’ve seen in the past when you would find common ground in those two foundations. Its emblematic of the kind of group polarization we are seeing at this time in history between Republicans and Democrats.   

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