Out-grouping and ambient affiliation in Donald Trump’s tweets about Iran: Exploring the role of negative evaluation in enacting solidarity

Mohammad Makki and Michele Zappavigna


This paper explores communing affiliation and out-grouping in a corpus of Trump’s tweets about Iran. Communing is a form of ‘ambient affiliation’ (Zappavigna 2011) which offers a way of understanding how Trump attempts to build alignments with his audience without necessarily directly engaging with them, since he tends to ignore replies to his tweets. The paper focuses on three affiliation strategies: convoking (mustering community), promoting (garnering attention), and finessing (dialogistic positioning). It draws on Martin and White’s (2005) Appraisal framework to consider how these affiliation strategies are used to foster communing around ideation-attitude couplings, typically couplings associating Iran with negative judgement or appreciation. Promoting affiliation was found to be the most prominent affiliation strategy used by Trump to garner attention through his rhetorical tendency toward hyperbole.

Publication history
Table of contents

This paper explores how US President Donald Trump uses negative evaluative language about Iran as a strategy for creating alignments with his ambient audience on Twitter. It focuses on the kind of ‘ambient affiliation’ (Zappavigna 2011) he adopts in his personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, to outgroup Iran and its government as a way of communing with his supporters. Iran has a unique geopolitical status in the Middle East region and is surrounded by a number of mainly Arab countries which are US allies (Hokayem 2014). It is one of the only countries in the area to officially oppose US policies regarding the Middle East, resulting in ongoing tension between the two nations. Following the nuclear negotiation in 2015, the two countries came close to a mutual dialogue and a possible truce in meetings between the US Secretary of State and Iran’s Foreign Minister. However, even before his presidency, Trump expressed his disdain for these nuclear talks in tweets characterising it as a “bad deal”. Once elected president, he withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement and has since exerted pressure on Iran, often publicly via Twitter, to comply with US demands (Kroenig 2018). The “impulsivity” (Ott 2017, 61) of Trump’s combative and inflammatory Twitter discourse has been referred to as “gut-feeling” tweeting (Enli 2017, 55) about what are sensitive topics for the US and its allies.

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