Faculty Sponsor

Kevin Ostoyich


Arts and Sciences



Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-4-2017


How do politicians, particularly presidential candidates, talk about race without talking about race? Since the 1960s, race baiting in American politics has gone increasingly underground into the realm of "coded language" and dog-whistle rhetoric; that was until 2016 when the election of Donald Trump brought much of this conversation from the covert and into the over. The old codes were not gone, but they seemingly meant less. Through an examination of campaign ads and convention speeches from the elections of 1968, 1988, and 2008, this paper explores the history of coded language to provide a partial explanation of what made President Trump's rhetoric so powerful. This paper incorporates two intermediate theses to illustrate its ultimate thesis. First, that as times change race baiting language must also change in order to incite the greatest following from backlash voters. Second, that this language must occur alongside social turmoil and anxiety amongst the backlash electorate. These two theses come together to generate an ultimate thesis that Trump took years of coded practices, broke many of them, and played to backlash voters fears of outsiders, particularly Muslims and Latinos.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Adam Bruno is a senior history and secondary education double major, and political science minor. During the 2016 election, he became increasingly intrigued about the way that race was discussed, particularly by Republican candidate Donald Trump. An independent study senior seminar with Professor Ostoyich allowed him to explore the history and evolution of coded language in American presidential elections.