The Discursive Construction of National Security Threats from 2001-2018

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Virginia Tech

This thesis seeks to explain the discursive construction of national security threats facing the United States from 2001-2018. The driving argument is that the nation's perception of threats and conceptualization of itself are vulnerable to Presidential rhetoric. Presidents convey threats through rhetorical frameworks, a simplified means to present a manipulated perception of reality to a wider audience, which intentionally provoke reactions from the nation to garner consensus towards executive decision-making. Presidents apply frames from prior administrations as well as new frames to define adverse states, organizations, groups of people, etc., and to justify disciplinary practices, military action, or policy implementation against threats. Primarily, they portray threats as the binary opposite of the American national identity to reinforce the country's legitimacy in national security decision-making. This discourse influences how the public internalizes major issues facing the nation and triggers emotions that can either unite or divide the national identity. This research maps variation among the rhetorical frameworks and strategies of President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and President Donald J. Trump to evaluate: how national security threats are constructed, how the nation interprets threats, and the resulting social and political effects.

Presidential Rhetoric, National Security Threats