Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis




Amy Fried, Amber Tierney

Committee Members

Amy Blackstone, Kreg Ettenger, Robert Glover, Stefano Tijerina

Graduation Year

May 2022

Publication Date

Summer 8-2021


This thesis uses grounded theory and content analysis to examine the political rhetoric President Donald Trump used in the Coronavirus Task Force press briefings during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. I collected 44 transcripts of these press briefings from when they began on February 26, 2020 until April 27, 2020. This time frame marks the period during which the press briefings happened with consistency and when Trump spoke at all of them. Through my research, I established that United States presidents have employed rhetorical tropes of American exceptionalism, including Trump. Trump invoked American exceptionalism in a three-pronged rhetorical approach. First, he clearly stated that America is the best in four specific ways. Second, after asserting the ways in which America is exceptional, he then declared that this exceptionalism needed defending. To do so, he: 1) rhetorically created a wartime situation, and framed healthcare workers as warriors while insisting the U.S. would be a victorious nation; 2) made China, the virus, and immigrants into un-American enemies; 3) promoted borders as the defensive solution; and 4) attempted to foster national unity. Finally, he framed himself as the key to maintaining American exceptionalism. To demonstrate this, I collected and analyzed the textual content of the 44 total transcripts of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force press briefings. These transcripts were analyzed and coded to represent 18 total rhetorical frames used by then President Trump across 1,263 total incidents of these codes embedded in his speeches.