|Donald Trump at FBI Ceremony|
Who is the speaker's audience? That sounds like a simple, obvious question with a simple, obvious answer. Sometimes it's not. President Donald Trump spoke yesterday at the FBI National Academic Graduation Ceremony. Shortly before his speech, Mr. Trump reamed out the FBI: "It's a shame what's happened with the FBI, but we're going to rebuild the FBI." He may have been reacting to reports that some FBI agents involved in the Russia investigation opposed his politics. The FBI has long been considered to be among America's most conservative institutions, yet, during the Russia investigation controversy, some pundits claim that it has been taken over by liberals. This seems unlikely, but, well, people are entitled to their opinions. Mr. Trump said, "people are very, very angry" about perceived liberal bias in the FBI. Why, however, did the audience in an FBI facility not seem to be offended by Mr. Trump's anti-FBI stance? Why did Mr. Trump express opposite opinions on the same day?
Indeed, when he spoke a little later at the FBI ceremony, Trump effused praise: "For over 80 years, this rigorous and world-renowned program has trained America’s most dedicated local law enforcement officers from all across the country. So respected." He continued: "You left home for 11 weeks to enroll in this program because you love your jobs, you love your communities, and you love your country." Quite different from "people are very, very angry!"
Actually, much of Mr. Trump's speech reviewed standard conservative positions such as that police departments were underfunded and "totally underappreciated." He lamented violent assaults against peace officers. He complained about urban violence, the MS-13 gang, and unfettered immigration.
What news reports often missed were two points:
1. Mr. Trump's real audience was his conservative voting base, not the group in the room. When a politician speaks, we should always assume that the speech represents political outreach. Mr. Trump knew that the speech would be widely reported, and, with his keen media sense, may even have known that the controversy would make it more widely reported.
2. Many in the room were not FBI people at all, but law enforcement personnel from across the country. It is possible that many FBI personnel would be offended by Mr. Trump's earlier anti-FBI remarks, but there were reports that most of the audience members were not FBI at all. While he was addressing law enforcement in general during much of the speech, and by supporting law enforcement's hot-button issues, Mr. Trump knew that he ran less risk than one might think of a hostile audience reaction. Very clever? Or fortuitous?
Chaïm Perlman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca put forward the idea that the real audience exists in the speaker's mind. Mr. Trump's FBI speech worked from that exact principle.