Monolingual messages playing to the bilingual gallery - The Trump 2020 case

I have written about the Democrats and their 2020 campaign websites in English and in Spanish, but it seems that I had very much overlooked the sole Republican candidate for the Presidency, who despite having removed all traces of Spanish from the White House website within days of taking office in 2017, boasts a website in Spanish for his 2020 campaign.

Its pages offer a superficial, bird’s eye view of the more complete, comprehensive and detailed original website in English. Unsurprisingly, where the English site has a list of events one can attend in order to support the candidate, the Spanish website displays none, for it would be a major event to see the current President address an electorate that is 66% against his 2020 bid.

The language of the Spanish website, additionally, does not help the cause. It is unexpected, first of all, that this President would have a version of his campaign in Spanish, since he regularly mocks or condemns the language, as this video compilation by the Washington Post shows.

And whereas the Trump 2020 English site features an area called Promises kept, the Spanish counterpart is called Áreas de interés (‘areas of interest’ in direct translation).

This unrelated depiction of the same scenario (aka What has the President accomplished?) speaks volumes about the intended audiences of each site, and the language used to address them.

Let’s begin with an analysis of the English section.

Promises kept is indeed de interés (pun intended) as a phrase, for it acts as a container of political messages that speak directly to the electorate it addresses. The word “promises” highlights the continuation of a previous conversation and the flow of communication since the campaign in 2015. The verb to keep is a deliberate choice that conveys what Cognitive Linguistics calls FORCE DYNAMICS, whereby there is an action-reaction-consequence to situations, and some words convey that. Force dynamics here for “KEPT” speaks of planned political action taken, legislation drafted and passed, campaign-to-administration assurances tackled. PROMISES KEPT contains a trove of implicatures from the President to his base that talk of loyalty (to the electorate), accountability (of the administration vs. the campaign trail), and of perceived success that has been accomplished through tangible action.

It is, no doubt, a powerful political message that finds a direct channel of continuity via the new 2020 campaign slogan: KEEPING AMERICA GREAT, which, through this specific political lens, assumes that the country has ALREADY been made great by the actions explained in the Promises kept section of the site. Again, force dynamics is at play for the slogan as well, effectively portraying the President as the driving element of force behind all the changes made during the four years of his administration. Metaphors of action, dynamism, agency or power abound in the English site and derive from the mottos.

By analyzing the slogan and the title of the section that contains the lines of action of the administration, we can clearly see that there is a carefully crafted message of a personal connection of strength between the candidate and his voters, visible through the choice of only a few words.

BUT The Spanish site tells a different tale

The Spanish version of the Trump 2020 campaign site completely lacks any of that personal, tailored connection with potential voters we see in the English pages, and the language chosen to depict the same message is merely informative and quite impersonal. I will not address the many, many orthographic errors and lack of coherence in the register used to address voters, swapping between -informal- and usted -formal-, for the Democratic sites also contain these inaccuracies (albeit in less appalling quantities).

The words Áreas de interés create no connection with the reader beyond an unadorned, completely devoid of that “I see you, I hear you” message that permeates Trump’s political discourse to his base. Areas of interest could be meant for any given reader of any background, and nothing in those three words creates the barest kinship that the use of another’s language intends to call into being. There is no emotional rallying of voters with talks of promises or commitments, no passionate conveyance of force dynamics and agents of much-needed change for certain communities. Instead, it chooses to generally recount the successes of the President and present his campaign in a more business-like manner, and less join-me-now call to arms (at least not on this site the broadcasts the political agenda).

The Democrats’ sites in Spanish are a weak rendition of English-to-Spanish, as I have argued before, but almost all of them do contain all the information that the English counterpart also has. These sites explain in full detail what the policies and issues to tackle are for each candidate, and it is done with an equal amount of detail in both languages.

The Trump 2020 in Spanish includes the same areas as English version, but in a different order and they only include a brief descriptive paragraph that does not go into any depth or detail about what they mean for the electorate it aims at connecting with. These descriptions recount achievements in a general way and say nothing of promises (kept or not) or about the making of the greatness of America, and it does not call the readers to action by engaging with them to stay connected. The English site encourages readers to sign up for emails so that they can “keep up to date on President Trump’s accomplishments.” The Áreas de interés site does nothing of the sort, rendering the list of areas of interest as merely informative.

The descriptive language of each area of interest is so general that some points might even be misinterpreted. For the short description of the Veterans section, the English site cites “firing the 500 worst managers in the agency”, and then goes on to the more detailed explanation to further mention and clarify the “Veterans Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act”, and how it made sense to allow for the VA to fire “failing employees.” The Spanish site, however, only mentions reforms to the VA and goes on to add “el despido de 500 empleados de la agencia” [the firing of 500 agency employees] and education or healthcare provisions. The difference between firing the worst managers, which uses a superlative and also specifies the type of employees being fired, and just “employees” incurs a huge difference in narrative, since cutting jobs without further explanation is by far the worst communication strategy in electoral messages.

As a curiosity, it is worth mentioning that the Spanish site includes two areas of interest that the English site does not mention, these being La Fe and América Latina (Faith and Latin America, respectively).

Since 82% of US Latinxs are Christians (Catholic, Protestant, or Evangelical, among other smaller affiliations), it makes sense for the Trump Spanish site to include a mention of faith and religion. What is interesting here is that the conceptual metaphor of RELIGION IS WAR is directly reflected in the verbs proteger and defender [protect and defend, respectively], which are applied to the President and his exercise of faith in his “ruling/command of the country”*, thus casting an active light on him as a warrior for religion that is consistent with the courting of certain demographics of voters. But do actions speak louder than words? In this campaign, that does not seem to matter.

When one’s very own electoral base is the agenda’s only concern, it does not come as a surprise that the Spanish website is a linguistically weak attempt at addressing a percentage of votes that might not be that significant to keep America great.

So because the language of the English site seeks an emotional connection and a rallying of the fan base, the language it is built on reflects and amplifies those feelings with targeted constructions and energizing meanings. But when the target audience is not perceived as a true target, the accompanying language does not need to make an effort to convey feeling beyond the informative list of accomplishments of the administration, with the intended message that there is more where that came from.

No part of the Spanish website addresses issues of interest or concern for the Latinx communities from an inclusive point of view to make them feel addressed. President Trump speaks of Americans, but not once in the whole text is there a mention of the cultural, linguistic, ethnic or social diversity of the country.

One thing is clear: in order to bring forth success in politics (and in life), effective communication is key, and how we choose to word our message carries enormous weight on how it is perceived by the target audience.

The message that the Trump 2020 Spanish website conveys isn’t one that worries much about that perception. Words matter, and the high stakes of effective communication in Spanish (just as with English) require the right narrative, not just an in-a-nutshell, barely there direct translation. Unless you’re just playing to the gallery.

* [mandato del país], where the word “mandato” can mean “term” or “legislature” in Spanish, but not when paired with the phrase “of the country”, when the sense of governing or ruling that comes across in this example is acquired.