To read this content please select one of the options below:

Accounting for Trump: The Neutralization of Claims of Racism in the Early Stages of the 2016 Presidential Campaign

The Interaction Order

ISBN: 978-1-78769-546-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-545-0

Publication date: 5 February 2019


Through an ethnographic content analysis of 936 letters to the editor, op-eds, and editorials and 1,195 online comments, this chapter examines how participants in the public sphere neutralized accusations of racism leveled against Donald Trump in the early phase of his presidential campaign. The study shows that both supporters and opponents effectively (if not purposefully) neutralized racism through a number of techniques. Trump’s opponents neutralized racism by calling attention to a number of other perceived flaws in his candidacy. Trump’s supporters obscured the charges of racism by endorsing him and calling attention to positive qualities. Others neutralized racism by changing the subject or making neutral observations. Supporters neutralized charges of racism in three additional ways. Most commonly, they framed Trump’s comments as accurate. Some defensively drew a distinction between legal and illegal immigration. A relative few claimed that others were also racist or xenophobic. That there were a number of ways of defining Trump’s stance toward Mexican immigrants demonstrates the role of human agency in producing social structures. Structural factors in the discursive field such as the stock of existing conservative frames, Trump’s absurdity shield, and political partisanship also facilitated the neutralization of accusations of racism.




An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the meeting of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction in Montreal, QC in 2017. I would like to thank Miranda Hazelwood for her work as a research assistant.


Silva, E.O. (2019), "Accounting for Trump: The Neutralization of Claims of Racism in the Early Stages of the 2016 Presidential Campaign", The Interaction Order (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 50), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 197-216.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited