TRUMP: In the audience tonight we have four mothers of—I mean these are unbelievable <moves both hands up and down twice> people that I’ve gotten to know over a period of years whose children have been killed, brutally killed by people that came into the country illegally. [Trump continues speaking] One of my first acts <moves right hand up and down twice> will be to get all of the drug lords <moves right hand in a circle>, all of the bad ones—we have some bad <moves right hand to the left>, bad <moves right hand further to the left> people in this country that have to go out. <sniffs> We’re going to get them out <moves right hand to the left>, we’re going to secure the border <moves right hand down>, and once the border is secured <moves right hand up and down repeatedly>, at a later date <moves right hand up and down>, we’ll make a determination <moves right hand up and down> as to the rest <moves right hand to the right>. But we have some bad hombres here <moves hand up and down twice>, and we’re going to get ‘em out <moves right hand up and down and then to the right>.
Trump likely used the phrase “bad hombres” to mock the Democrats’ respect for linguistic and ethnic diversity. In the Democratic National Convention, vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine used Spanish phrases in his acceptance speech to illustrate his party’s respect for Americans who speak the Spanish language (Flegenheimer, 2016). On the other hand, Trump has repeatedly denounced Spanish-speaking immigrants during his campaign: during the presidential debate, he referred to them as “drug lords” and people who “brutally” kill children, and in one of the primary debates, he claimed that only “English, not Spanish,” should be spoken in America (Flegenheimer, 2016). Despite these anti-immigrant statements, Trump had been trying to win over Latinx voters (Tribune News Services, 2016). Some politicians, like Kaine, use Spanish to pander to these voters (Flegenheimer, 2016); however, Trump did not seem to try to pronounce the word “hombres” correctly and he used it in an anti-immigrant speech.
Throughout the debate, Trump attacked and mocked his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton; for example, he interjected during one of her speeches and called her “such a nasty woman” (Wallace, Trump, and Clinton, 2016). The fact that Trump insulted Clinton in this way suggests that his “bad hombres” comment was meant at least in part to mock Clinton’s positions and values. In particular, he probably used the phrase “bad hombres” to mock the Democrats’ respect for immigrants and by extension diversity as a whole.
More generally, Trump tried to manipulate the interactional regime of the debate to his own advantage by using the aggressive style exemplified in this speech. Throughout his campaign, Trump has tried to instill visceral reactions using graphic descriptions, and he has demonstrated a lack of respect for Clinton by insulting her and by interrupting her speeches, as when he called her “a nasty woman” (Wallace, Trump, and Clinton, 2016). He also has used hyperbole frequently to exaggerate how dire the current situation is. These features constitute Trump’s aggressive style, which he used throughout the debate. For example, in the transcript, he graphically described the murders as “brutal” to exaggerate how horrifying they were, and he focused on victims who were children to evoke a strong emotional reaction. At the beginning of the debate, the moderator told the audience not to cheer or jeer and explained that the candidates each had two minutes to respond to each question before an “open discussion” ensued in which the candidates were expected to respect each other’s points. In this way, he tried to establish an interactional regime (how the participants were expected to behave [Blommaert, Collins, and Slembrouck, 2005]) that was respectful and professional.
By using his aggressive style in the debate, however, Trump changed the regime to become more antagonistic. Trump’s campaign has been structured around this type of rhetoric, so by incorporating it into the debate, Trump modified the interactional regime to suit his own strengths.
In summary, Trump used the phrase “bad hombres” to mock the value Democrats place on diversity; by using this sort of language, he manipulated the interactional regime of the debate to his own advantage. Trump has used this sort of rhetoric throughout his campaign, so analysis of his speaking style, as has been done here, might help to understand his campaign’s success.
- Blommaert, J., Collins, J., & Slembrouck, S. (2005). Polycentricity and interactional regimes in ‘global neighborhoods.’ Ethnography, 6(2), 205-235. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24047957
- Flegenheimer, M. (2016, July 28). Habla Español? Tim Kaine is latest candidate to use Spanish. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/us/politics/tim-kaine-bilingual-spanish.html
- Tribune News Services. (2016, October 20). Trump’s ‘bad hombres’ debate comment draws jeers, Spanish lessons. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-trump-bad-hombres-20161020-story.html
- Wallace, C. (Moderator), Trump, D. (Candidate), & Clinton, H. (Candidate). (2016). Third presidential debate [Interview visual file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ye0Xblp_Nb0
This author is a student in the introductory sociolinguistics course at Swarthmore College.