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Analysis and Improvements: Trump, Pelosi, Schumer and the Oval Office Address about the Border Wall

 

Analysis > Analysis and Improvements: Trump, Pelosi, Schumer and the Oval Office Address about the Border Wall

Trump | Pelosi | Schumer | Discussion | See also

 

On 8th January, in the context of a US government partial shutdown and President Donald Trump refusing to sign off a budget until he gets $5B for a wall/fence on the southern US border with Mexico, President Trump escalated the row with the new Democrat-majority House by using a formal Oval Office Address to the Nation. Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, and Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senate Leader gave a subsequent reply. Here is the full text of each speech and a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of what was said.

In summary, President Trump's speech was largely in his classic style, including the use of 'facts' that often turn out to be untrue, frequent emotional intensifiers that act to reduce rational reflection, and preparation for subsequent action by declaring what 'needs to be done'. For each paragraph, suggestions are offered for a more effective speech that may convince more people and make Trump seem more presidential.

The Democrat speeches were surprisingly weak, full of floppy words and qualifiers that reduce the impact of what they could say. For each of their paragraphs, a 'better' alternative is suggested.

Trump

Speech Comments
My fellow Americans, Standard Presidential opener. Creates connection, but also uses the possessive 'my', putting the speaker in charge.
Tonight, I am speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. Summarising the issue and context. Good principle. Introduces 'crisis'. Implication that humanitarian and security are both equally important, though with 'humanitarian' first, this suggests that caring for others is a priority. Yet the text below speaks mostly to the security issue.
Every day, customs and border patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We are out of space to hold them, and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country. Expanding the problem. 'thousands' means 'so many it is a big issue'. 'trying' means failing. 'out of space' signifies additional issue of holding. 'promptly' modifies meaning to actually say they can be returned, but not in the short term. Yet an overall reading where 'promptly' gets lost in the words suggests a significant, urgent issue.

Generally, modifiers such as 'promptly' allows a qualified truth to be said, yet a different meaning to be implied. Trump often uses such words in this way.

The issue of holding migrants is not strongly related to the wall and so is a distraction.

Better:

Every day, customs and border patrol agents catch thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We must stop them coming in. And if they do, we must return them promptly. We have no space left to hold them and, frankly, it is not nice for them.

America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation. But all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled, illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African Americans and Hispanic Americans. Nod to America being built on immigration. Yet 'but' negates or downplays a previous sentence. 'all Americans' means 'you'. Migration is of course controlled (America is one of the hardest countries to enter, even for legitimate travellers).

'drives down jobs and wages' suggests any number of immigrants will directly and significantly affect the livelihood of many existing people. This is a disproportionate claim. Explicitly naming 'African Americans and Hispanic Americans' seems intended make people in these communities fear for their jobs.

Better:

Our great country is founded on legal immigration. People have come here for centuries to contribute to our society and build their fortunes. Illegal immigrants put an intolerable strain on our nation. They take low-paid jobs from those of us who are starting their journey towards the American Dream, casting good citizens by the wayside.

Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90% of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam war. This suggests (but does not explicitly say) that 300 people a week are killed by drugs brought via the southern border. Yet the route by which drugs enter is not named (most come through legal routes). It has been noted elsewhere that most comes via other routes such as via air. Mentioning 'Vietnam' adds a military tone.

Overall an appeal to fear, which continues through many of the points below.

Better:

Drugs are killing us and most are brought by criminals through our southern border. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam war.

In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings. Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now. Generally, quoting numbers makes arguments seem more potent. Yet the detail of the numbers given is not given, nor are crimes by immigrants compared with those by nationals. No link to those illegally crossing the border is made. Trump's exaggerations and untruths are so well known now, such claims have less effect.

Emotional intensifiers are used liberally, such as 'violent' killings and 'brutally' killed. As listeners are aroused emotionally they will think less rationally and be less likely to challenge logic.

'if we don't act right now' brings urgency, perhaps seeking to justify imminent action.

Better:

Illegal migrants have committed many crimes, including assaults, sex crimes and homicide. We must act now to keep our streets and homes safe.

This is a humanitarian crisis – a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul. 'crisis' repeated three times for emphasis. 'crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul' is oddly out of place amongst the aggressive rhetoric, perhaps appealing to religious listeners.

Better:

This is a truly humanitarian crisis. People are being hurt by illegal migrants and the many migrants who we must turn away must know their attempts are futile and only hurt themselves and their children.

Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States – a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs. One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system. Again, the route by which migrants of any age arrive is not mentioned. Talk of children, 'vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs' and 'women are sexually assaulted' again acts to intensify emotional reaction.

'broken system' again suggests imminent action, yet the problems highlighted are mostly about what happens before people reach America.

Better:

Before they even reach the border, women are being assaulted and children are being exploited. The people who they pay to bring them here are ruthless. They must know with certainty there is no illegal way in. The current system we have is inadequate and broken. We must build an impenetrable wall to stem this tide of human misery, dissuading people from ever setting out on such futile treks.

This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border. This is the cycle of human suffering that I am determined to end. 'reality' suggests actual truth. 'human suffering' implies Trump sympathises with the plight of migrants. 'determined to end' is more presaging of action.

No change suggested.

My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers. It’s a tremendous problem. Our proposal was developed by law enforcement professionals and border agents at the Department of Homeland Security. These are the resources they have requested to properly perform their mission and keep America safe. In fact, safer than ever before. 'detailed proposal' is not clear -- the main issue seems to be a wall. More intensifiers with 'criminal gangs' etc. 'developed by law enforcement professionals' lends credibility.

Better:

My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border along its whole length, not just on the roads. This proposal has been developed by law enforcement professionals and border agents at the Department of Homeland Security. This is not an option. It is totally necessary.

The proposal from Homeland Security includes cutting-edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband, and many other things. We have requested more agents, immigration judges, and bed space to process the sharp rise in unlawful migration fuelled by our very strong economy. Our plan also contains an urgent request for humanitarian assistance and medical support. Here is the non-wall request. Numbers and detail are not clear. The humanitarian aspect could also be emphasized.

Better:

We do not want just a wall, as Democrats would have you believe. We also need cutting-edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband and more. We need more agents, judges and doctors. And of course we need humane holding space where families can be kept together and the values of our great country upheld.

Furthermore, we have asked Congress to close border security loopholes so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home. Not clear what these are. 'humanely' is a claim of being ethical.

No change suggested.

Finally, as part of an overall approach to border security, law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense. This is the real point of the speech - the wall. Again the request is 'made' by 'law enforcement professionals'. As the Democrats have requested steel rather than concrete (have they?) it is implied that they agree with the implementation of a barrier and the only real question is the material. 'common sense' claim suggests there is not really a problem with the request (and that Democrats are consequently wholly to blame for the current situation). 

Better:

Our total approach to border security of course also needs what I have called a wall, but in practice can be any effective barrier. In consultation with experts we have determined that it will be made of American steel. This common-sense measure will prevent all illegal entry and dissuade potential illegal migrants from ever leaving home.

The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500bn a year – vastly more than the $5.7bn we have requested from Congress. The wall will also be paid for, indirectly, by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico. This suggests that (a) $500bn in drugs enters via the border, (b) the wall will prevent this much drugs from entering (hence somehow saving £500bn), and (c) the trade deal with Mexico will also lead to an extra $5.7bn being gained from them. All of these are highly questionable.

Better:

The border wall and other measures I have described will pay for itself. The massive reduction in illegal immigration will save us greatly in other security costs. It will save the huge human misery of drugs addiction. It will sharply cut violence. Don't forget that we will also be gaining greatly from our new trade deal with our friends in Mexico.

Senator Chuck Schumer – who you will be hearing from later tonight – has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past, along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected president. This suggests Schumer and Democratic opposition to the wall is purely political. What, exactly, did Schumer and others support? A 'physical barrier' is not the same as a $5.7bn wall.

Better:

The Democrats don't like me. That's ok! I'm a proud Republican who supports our democracy. What is wrong, however, is that they are making this personal. They are opposing our strong plan just because they hate the fact that you elected me as your President.

Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis. And they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation. Have they? They seem to support border security but not huge expenditure on a wall.

'brave' and 'protect' intensify the principle of threat.

Better:

As I have shown you, this is a crisis. A huge, painful crisis that will keep hurting people until we act decisively to end it. Yet Democrats are refusing to help, leaving our brave border people to cope with the overwhelming tides of migration.

The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security. The Democrats have a bill to open government. Trump (and supporters) are refusing to pass this.

No suggested change.

My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation. But the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and re-opens the government. It is unclear what is being done. 'The only solution' means 'the only solution I will accept'. 'defends our borders' implies that the only solution is a wall.

Better:

My administration and I are doing everything we can to help everyone affected. But this needs money. All the Democrats need to do is to pass a spending bill that defends our borders. Then we can get on with the everyday business of government.

This situation could be solved in a 45-minute meeting. I have invited congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow to get this done. Hopefully, we can rise above partisan politics in order to support national security. Suggesting that resolution is easy - the Democrats just need to approve $5.7bn for something they (and others) see as an ineffective and hugely wasteful solution to a known and accepted issue.

Better:

We can solve this quickly and easily. I have invited congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow to get this done. For once, we just need to put national security first and partisan politics second.

Some have suggested a barrier is immoral. Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences, and gates around their homes? They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside, but because they love the people on the inside. The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized. Talking of morality claims moral high ground and hence superiority. 'wealthy politicians' suggests that his opponents are out of touch with ordinary people. 'love the people on the inside' implies not loving people on the outside - which again is ordinary people.

Better:

Some have suggested a barrier is immoral. Why? Do you not have walls to your house and fences outside? Should we not protect our civilized way of life from those who would just walk in and destroy it? The only immorality is to prevent a barrier when it is so obviously a moral need.

America’s heart broke the day after Christmas when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien, who just came across the border. The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country. A single emotive case is used as justification for $5.7bn, which will prevent such things happening again.

Better to leave this out.  It weakens the case.

Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders. In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history. In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading, and dismembering his neighbor. Whether these aliens came across the southern border is unclear, including whether they came across a line that would have a new wall on it.

Repeated emotional appeals blunts their effect.

Better to leave this out.

In Maryland, MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl. Likewise.

Better to leave this out.

Over the last several years, I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible. I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices, and the sadness gripping their souls. It is not clear that he has (as suggested) held hands with dozens of weeping mothers and hugged fathers.

Mention of 'soul' again, building to an emotive climax.

Better:

I have met with many families and people who have been hurt by people who have slipped through the holes in our border defenses. Drugs have ruined their lives. Violence has broken and destroyed them. I will never forget their pain and am determined that such tragedy must stop.

How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job? Congress has been Republican. Only now are Democrats a majority in the House.

No suggested change.

To those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask: imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken? 'If it were your child' intensifies further the emotion.

This puts border security ahead of all other issues.

Better:

To those who are stopping us build the border security we need, I ask this: Would you help if your family was so cruelly hurt?

To every member of Congress: pass a bill that ends this crisis. Further assumption of crisis and blame is in Congress.

Shortening sentences and paragraphs.

No change suggested.

To every citizen: call Congress and tell them to finally, after all of these decades, secure our border. Placing citizens on his side, against Congress.

No change suggested.

This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfill our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve. Framing himself as absolutely and justly right and Congress as equally wrong and bad.

No change suggested.

When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country. And that is what I will always do, so help me God. Again putting border security above all else, implying also that his wall is the only solution.

Invoking religion again. 'so help me God' may be seen as insincere.

No change suggested (though the final phrase may be omitted).

 Thank you and goodnight. Standard close.

Pelosi

Speech Comments
Good evening. I appreciate the opportunity to speak directly to the American people tonight about how we can end this shutdown and meet the needs of the American people. 'appreciate the opportunity' is long-winded, given the time constraints. 'the American people' would better be 'you, the American people'. 'you' grabs the listener. 'the American people' is too indirect.

'meet the needs' is vague. Be more specific.

Better:

'Good evening. I am speaking to you, the American people, because you are being deceived.'

This is briefer and evokes outrage at being deceived.

Sadly, much of what we have heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice. 'Sadly' is weak. Needs stronger language. Leave out this word. Not needed. 'misinformation and malice' alliterates, yet who will it connect with? 'malice' is not a word that is commonly used.

Better:

President Trump has lied to you. He has tried to frighten you with untruth. He is sustaining a needless shutdown that is hurting hundreds of thousands of loyal American workers.

The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts. Good 'facts over fear' principle. 'want to start' is weak.

Better:

The president has chosen fear. We demand facts.

The fact is: on the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to reopen government and fund smart, effective border security solutions. 'The fact is' is longer than needed. Just say 'Fact' - it has more impact. 'smart, effective border solutions' sounds corporate, dull and disconnected.

Better:

Fact: on the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to reopen government and fund border security that really works.

But the president is rejecting these bipartisan bills which would reopen government – over his obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall – a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for. 'rejecting' could be stronger. 'bipartisan' is important but it is clearer to name the parties. 'obsession' suggests irrationality.

Better:

The president wants a wall because of his campaign promise, when he simply did not understand anything about border security. Now, when Republicans and Democrats have agreed to fund government, he is manically obsessed about a wall that won't work, no matter what the price to our people.

The fact is: President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and wellbeing of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation – many of them veterans. Strong, but could be stronger.

Better:

Fact: The President is blackmailing the American nation, holding 800,000 innocent workers - many of the veterans, to ransom. He has more hostages than all the bank robbers in history.

He promised to keep government shutdown for “months or years” – no matter whom it hurts. That’s just plain wrong. Strong statement. 'plain wrong' is clear and widely effective.

No alternative suggested.

The fact is: We all agree that we need to secure our borders, while honoring our values: we can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry; we can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation; we can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border; and we can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings. Long and waffly. Needs more punch.

Better:

Fact: We all want secure borders and our border professional know what works best, including technology and people to detect attempts to smuggle drugs and people. Democrats and Republicans have approved funding for this. Yet President Trump is now holding up this critical work!

The fact is: the women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge – a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened. Speaks to morals, yet can be seen as weakness.

Better:

Fact: President Trump has cruelly separated children from their parents and seeks further to harm innocent people. We must of course control entry to the United States. Americans are known throughout the world as decent people. We must also be considerate in handling entry requests and when we must turn away those not eligible to join our great nation.

And the fact is: President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government. Good triple. Little change needed. A slight reorder may help.

Perhaps:

The fact is that President Trump is pretending there is a crisis in order to fulfil a foolish promise. He clearly cares little for the 800,000 Americans whose lives he is ruining. He must reopen government and let your elected representatives get on with doing the jobs you have asked us to do.

Thank you.

Standard ending.

Schumer

Speech Comments
Thank you, Speaker Pelosi. Standard opener.
My fellow Americans, we address you tonight for one reason only: the president of the United States – having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill – has shut down the government. Presidential opening. 'one reason only' gives clear focus. Splitting the key point with '- having failed ... foot the bill -' reduces clarity.

Better:

My fellow Americans. We address you tonight for one reason only: The president of these United States has shut down the government. He wants an incredibly expensive wall that won't work. He tried to get Mexico to pay for it and failed. He tried to get Republicans to pay for it and failed. He is now hurting you in a desperate attempt to get his money. He will fail in this too.

American democracy doesn’t work that way. We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage. Good point, well said. No change.
Tonight – and throughout this debate and his presidency – President Trump has appealed to fear, not facts. Division, not unity. Another split sentence. Would be better with a triple point.

Better:

Tonight, President Trump is putting money before people. He seeks fear and abuses facts. He wants to divide us, not unite us.

Make no mistake: Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it.

'Make no mistake' is assertive. Mentioning Democrats says 'us' especially in relation to border security. Trump is framing Democrats as not wanting border security so this should be strongly asserted. Overall, this says 'we agree about security but not how we achieve it', yet this is not presented sufficiently strongly.

There is opportunity here to reframe Trump's views (and even intent) as not only wasteful but also harmful.

Better:

Make no mistake: Democrats want strong border security. We all want strong border security. Yet the president wants to waste money on less effective methods. Spending $5.7bn on a wall means less government money for things like fighting crime and drugs. He wants to weaken us, not make us stronger!

So, how do we untangle this mess?

'mess' is clear. 'untangle' slightly confuses it (by implying tangling, which is not clear).

Better:

This is a mess. And we know how to straighten it out.

There is an obvious solution: separate the shutdown from the arguments over border security. There is bipartisan legislation – supported by Democrats and Republicans – to reopen government while allowing debate over border security to continue. Avoid 'solution' (corporate speak). Another split sentence.

Better:

To get our country going again, we must separate funding of government from border security. We have worked with Republicans on legislation for this. All we need is for president Trump to go along with everyone and sign this now.

There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference. Federal workers are about to miss a paycheck. Some families can’t get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won’t get loans they desperately need. 'policy difference' is weak. Better to connect strongly with Trump's actions.

Better:

Millions of Americans are hurting because the president doesn't care enough about them. Federal workers are about to miss a paycheck. Some families can’t get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won’t get loans they desperately need.

Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration. Effective connection with past, but has weak points (like 'most'). It can be stronger by making it more direct, harsher and simpler.

Better:

Past presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purpose. This president is corrupting our great traditions for personal gain. He is creating a crisis by fanning the flames of divisive fear in order to distract you from the truth of his deeply flawed and failing administration.

My fellow Americans, there is no challenge so great that our nation cannot rise to meet it. We can reopen the government AND continue to work through disagreements about policy. We can secure our border without an expensive, ineffective wall. And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security. Reprise of beginning ('my fellow Americans') and positive cultural affirmation signals move to closure. Affirmation of

Not much change:

My fellow Americans, there is no challenge so great that our nation cannot rise to meet it. We can reopen the government AND work on disagreements. We can secure our border without an expensive wall that won't work. And we can welcome LEGAL immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security, as we have always done.

The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a thirty-foot wall. Affirming American values. Reminder of foreign perceptions.

No suggested change.

So our suggestion is a simple one: Mr President, reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now. 'suggestion' is weak. Make it a requirement.

Better:

The answer is simple, Mr President. Respect the millions of people you are hurting. Reopen the government. And let's sit down together and build the even better security that we all want.

Thank you.

Simple ending.

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