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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: September 2020

8 - Plausible Deniability

from Part II - Performance and Falsehood


Plausible deniability is a common feature of political discourse that allows speakers to avoid taking responsibility for a controversial utterance by invoking possible counter-interpretations. To engage in plausible deniability, Trump invokes seemingly reasonable evidence to contest or refute that he meant what he said, foregrounding only select elements of the meaning-making process while downplaying others. Trump’s use of plausible deniability allows him to rally his base while feigning innocence when confronted about controversial remarks. Although common to politics, Trumpian discourse pushes this language game to the limits of credulity through frequent acts of strategic denying that arouse both supporters and critics. This chapter analyzes the way Trump and his allies engage in plausible deniability through the examination of several high-profile cases, introducing the linguistic concept of “implicature” to shed light on the discursive moves and interpretive processes that underlie attempts to invoke plausible deniability. Key to deconstructing each of these examples is an anthropological understanding of the interactional context in which political remarks are spoken and understood.

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