ORCID

Abstract

This article examines the nationalist rhetoric of Biden and Trump in the 2020 presidential election, focusing on how the candidates represented, and contested, the meaning of American national identity. To do so, we construct a novel analytical framework to undertake a contextual content analysis of Biden and Trump’s campaign tweets (n = 4,321). We demonstrate that the meaning of national identity was a key source of contestation in the election, and that the parameters of this contestation closely tracked a longstanding cleavage in American political culture between civic and ethnic nationalist traditions. Biden largely drew upon the civic nationalist tradition to defend a conception of American national identity that is grounded in liberal myths and symbols. By contrast, Trump largely drew upon the ethnic nationalist tradition to defend a conception of American national identity that is grounded in white American myths and symbols. Critically, both candidates used these opposing nationalist traditions to frame each other as a grave threat to the nation’s “true” identity and, ultimately, as un-American. This “nationalist polarization” of presidential politics is a troubling development for the future of American democracy.

DOI

10.1080/10584609.2023.2291150

Publication Date

2024-03-03

Publication Title

Political Communication

Volume

41

Issue

2

First Page

173

Last Page

198

ISSN

1058-4609

Embargo Period

2024-03-08

Organisational Unit

School of Society and Culture

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