Dialectical tensions in the narrative discourse of Donald J. Trump and Pope Francis

By Joseph M Deye & Gail T Fairhurst

From Leadership

“One leader is a charismatic pontiff who took over an ancient institution during a period when it faced unprecedented scandal. The other leader is a real estate mogul turned politician who has brought his signature bombast to both Twitter and the White House. Yet, both have been referred to as outsider populists who have challenged their respective organizations, and who have appealed to followers outside of the fold of the mainstream. Pope Francis and President Donald Trump are seemingly opposites, but what if we studied them together?

Prompted by New York Times essayist, Austen Ivereigh’s, question: “is Pope Francis the anti-Trump,” we took seriously the notion that investigating the narrative discourses of these two leaders together might present interesting and unique tensions that are shared between the two. What we found were three tensions that permeated both discourses: truth-post-truth, popular-elite, and unity-disunity. These tensions are particularly salient at this time in public life. We live in a time of fake news and targeted political advertising from companies using the same techniques Cambridge Analytica used. The divide between the haves and have-nots, those with power and those without, has continued to be a theme of political discourse, especially as the 2020 American Presidential cycle gets underway. Calls to unity juxtaposed to actions and rhetoric of disunity pepper the political and personal lives we lead.

We considered more than just the tensions, exploring the management approach that Trump and Francis took towards each tension. In examining the management approaches taken, we reviewed the way in which communication allows these two leaders to make both effective and ineffective management decisions around the tensions. We saw President Trump’s consistent either-or approach as a rather ineffective tension management strategy; one that has often landed him in tumult and scandal in the West Wing. Francis, on the other hand, often strikes a balance between the poles of the tensions, adeptly managing the tensions so progress can be made. We explore further implications of the narrative discourses, tensions, and management techniques, but to read about those, you will have to read the full article.”

Article details

Dialectical tensions in the narrative discourse of Donald J. Trump and Pope Francis
Joseph M Deye, Gail T Fairhurst
First Published October 18, 2018 Research Article 
DOI: 10.1177/1742715018806404