Donald J. Trump for President, “Two Americas: Immigration”


“In Hillary Clinton’s America, the system stays rigged against Americans,” the narrator says. “Syrian refugees flood in. Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay, collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line. Our border open. It’s more of the same, but worse. Donald Trump’s America is secure. Terrorists and dangerous criminals kept out. The border secured. Our families safe. Change that makes America safe again. Donald Trump for president.”

Ad Analysis
Kyle Stephan & Prashanth Bhat, University of Maryland

Ad Context and Introduction

In July 2016, fewer than half of voters in the general election, both Republican and Democrat, reported that they were satisfied with their choice for president.[1] Donald Trump looks to capture this voter dissatisfaction by identifying key campaign differences. Immigration, as one of Donald Trump’s campaign themes, has attracted positive and negative attention among members of the Republican Party. Some 59 percent of Republican voters who support Trump view his stance on immigration favorably.[2] In this context, Donald Trump has sought to expand his support with his first general election campaign ad, “Two America’s: Immigration.” In this analysis, we argue that the “Immigration” advertisement serves to identify the ideal “guardian” of America—the guardian who will keep the country most secure. The ad depicts Donald Trump as the ideal guardian because he promises a stronger, watchful, and more secure America. His campaign portrays Hillary Clinton, in contrast, as a negligent politician who threatens the safety of others by allowing dangerous people to enter the country.


Media analysis of the “Immigration” ad focused primarily on the amount of money Trump spent on his ads in the general election, instead of assessing the themes and issues mentioned in the ad itself. For instance, CNN quips, “the ad . . . puts an end to an unprecedented advantage for Hillary Clinton in television spending.”[3] Meanwhile, Jerry Seib, Washington Bureau Chief of Wall Street Journal, opined that the ad aims to shift the focus away from Trump onto the perceived shortcomings of Hillary Clinton. Seib says, “There is a school of thought in the GOP…that they have a better chance if they shift the focus onto Hillary Clinton who has her own popularity and likeability problems.”[4] Nevertheless, Trump’s focus on securing the nation’s borders is certainly not new in contemporary U. S. presidential elections. The Los Angeles Times was quick to remind its readers that the term “Two Americas” was used by 2008 Democratic candidate John Edwards to illuminate the divisions between different classes of wealth in the United States.[5] Donald Trump juxtaposes his vision as a stronger, viable guardian standing against foreign migration with Clinton’s negligent, careless immigration plan through two 15-second segments within the advertisement.

We argue the ad pits a utopian vision of Trump’s immigration plan in which voters reap the benefits of his guardianship over the nation’s borders against a Clinton presidency that is portrayed in more catastrophic and dystopian terms. This choice of “collapse of law and order” is a standard advertisement theme used by presidential candidates. For instance, Hart (2000) analyzed 553 presidential campaign ads over the period of 1960-1996 and found that approximately 6 percent of ads fell under the category of law and order. He further states that “law and order provided a sterner option, with candidates issuing dire warnings to stiffen the nation’s resolve.”[6] We view Trump’s advertising appeal as a visionary rhetoric of renewal, rooted in law and order. Ronald Reagan previously utilized visionary rhetoric appeals during the 1980 presidential campaign. In analyzing his foreign policy speeches, Sarah A. Mehltretter Drury observes that Ronald Reagan portrayed a visionary rhetoric of renewal, employed emotional appeals and narration alongside his national security plans, and advocated a “peace, through strength” approach. We argue Trump’s advertisement drew on Reagan’s foreign policy themes and exemplifies Mehltretter’s concept of visionary rhetoric — a form of argument relying on emotion, narration, and appeals to change.[7]

For instance, in Hillary Clinton’s America, the ad constructs Syrian refugees as law-breakers, illegal immigrants as criminals and a weight on the taxpayer, and suggests Clinton would let migrants flood into the country. The general conclusion of the ad urges viewers to buy into Donald Trump’s guardianship presidency where fears over safety and security matters overpower the benevolent acts of humanitarian aid.

The ad visually constructs Clinton as the negligent guardian of America through “flood” metaphors that dominate the ad. The camera focuses attention on immigration associated with the U.S. Southern border and features an open crowd of Syrian refugees that “floods in” under a Clinton administration. Visuals shots of migrants portray Clinton as more sympathetic to criminals than to working-class families in the United States. A visual shot depicts people who walk through a turnstile door, thereby demonstrating a continuous “Open Border” policy for a Clinton administration. The ad stresses Clinton’s policy as chaotic, unstoppable, and welcoming to illegal migration of refugees.

Meanwhile, images associated with Trump feature a show of strength. Trump’s vision is coupled with pictures of helicopters, border patrol agents, soldiers, and ships as a show of strength. Trump’s images project a Reaganesque leadership style which protects Americans who wish to remain safe and “who wait in line” for a fair chance to enter the country. Families feel free to express their safety in visual shots of the American flag, and in their expressions of community as people gather in one another’s front yards. Trump’s America of guardianship is one of surveillance and safety. Voters who agree to his protection do not have to worry about external threats.

The advertisement also contrasts Trump’s preferred utopia with displays of potential mistakes during a Clinton presidency. At first, the viewer sees a close-up shot of Hillary Clinton looking downwards as if to suggest impending defeat and danger. This is followed by scenes of arrests and marches in sepia tones suggesting a wave of illegal immigrants entering the United States. In early shots, the camera vacillates between medium and wide shots of refugees and illegal immigrants. The viewer gets a glimpse of thousands of refugees through a horizontal pan shot. The first part of the ad ends with a black and white image of Hillary Clinton shot from a low angle. The first half of the ad constructs a doomed, and chaotic America, with Clinton unable to reverse the danger. The second half of the ad contrasts Clinton’s America with Trump’s bid to assure the safety of Americans. Trump’s half of the ad opens with a rear angle shot of an officer who monitors the border from the helicopter. The ad follows with a top angle shot of the helicopter chasing two cars at the bottom of the screen. The ad ends with a crane shot where the camera moves slowly off the ground showing what appears as a U.S. naval ship. While the first half demonstrated pan shots, low angle shots and sepia tone to show doom and danger, the second half filled the screen with medium, low, rear angle and crane shots to convey hope, safety, security and a promising future for Trump’s presidency. These comparisons support Darrell West’s notion of how advertisements help campaigns control the agenda and drive media coverage. Trump’s comparisons with Clinton, for instance, represent a more “varied” campaign agenda, in which each candidate attacks the policies and personal weaknesses of the other.[8]

Captions provide strong visual and verbal confirmation of Donald Trump’s preferred vision as an American guardian over Clinton’s negligent guardianship. In Hillary Clinton’s vision, a caption in small font states, “System Rigged,” which appears in front of a voting center. The ad shows Clinton against a backdrop of the Capitol building, and implies that political interests rig immigration, voting, and American democracy. The ad pairs the caption, “Criminals Stay,” with visual shots of Syrian refugees “flooding” into a town square. The words and images link the possibility of an unstoppable “flood” of refugees in Clinton’s America. The ad confirms the audience’s fears in a following visual shot, as a police officer seemingly arrests another man headed to jail. The immigrant “skips the line” ahead of the patient citizen depicted in the first few scenes. The camera pans to the following caption, “Criminals Stay,” and portrays Clinton as sympathetic to lawlessness. During a Clinton presidency, she is unaware of how to stem the flow of crime. The ad next summarizes Clinton’s policies with the caption, “Border Open,” which connotes a sense of unfairness for those waiting in line and a sense of fear for those worried about contemporary American security.

The ad reinforces the theme of Clinton’s “Border Open” caption with a train of people displayed in a short video clip. Apparent illegal immigrants sit atop the train, and stream across the border, accentuating the narrator’s line, “More of the same, but worse.” The ad again frames Clinton’s immigration policy as an unmanageable problem that Hillary Clinton cannot or will not stop or control. To the casual observer in the ad, Clinton’s “more of the same,” static policies do nothing to remedy the unstoppable border situation. The ad thus connects Clinton’s negligent policies to an immigrant crisis that promises to worsen if the Democratic nominee is elected.

In contrast, Donald Trump’s captions promote him as the American guardian against foreign interests. The ad changes significantly in tone at the 15-second mark, with the small captions accompanying Clinton’s images replaced by prominently displayed captions accompanying Trump’s images, including his campaign colors and seal. The ad makes the claim that “Donald Trump’s America is Secure” and reinforces the message with a moving visual of a U.S. army helicopter. The helicopter symbolizes Trump’s vision of a  “watchful” eye over America’s border situation. The next frame features the message—“Terrorists Kept Out”—as the “helicopter” visual reappears to reinforce the validity of Trump’s enforcement policies, and to ensure viewers that Trump is “always watching” and protecting the viewers from criminal activity.

Trump also boosts his authority through a visual image of an enforcement agent arresting a man with his hands behind his head. The success of Trump’s enforcement leads to a shot of an armed soldier standing on a hill, looking out into a sunset. The campaign juxtaposes this sense of security with Clinton’s lax policies. The narrator stresses that Trump will offer “change that Makes America Safe Again.” The ad pans to a shot of a presumed father and mother who share a kiss, with the son clinging to each parent’s arms.

Trump’s advertisement overall portrays a visionary rhetoric of renewal for the American people through appeals to law and order and border security, narration of his preferred utopian American, and a new secured American guardianship. Under Trump’s guardianship, families can celebrate their renewed sense of security and return to a sense of normalcy. Trump supports this renewed security with a visual image of a grand ship, ready to depart on a new, sunlit morning in a city port. The ad suggests that a new day of surveillance, protection, and security is offered for an “everyday American” family under Trump’s guardianship. Trump asks his audience to submit to his surveillance if they wish to restore the promises of a secure democracy.


[1] Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. “2016 Campaign: Strong Interest, Widespread Dissatisfaction.” Last modified July 7, 2016.
[2] Jones, Bradley, and Jocelyn Kiley. Pew Research Center. “More ‘warmth’ for Trump among GOP Voters Concerned by Immigrants, Diversity.” Last modified June 2, 2016.
[3] Schleifer, Theodore. CNN. “Trump Draws Contrast on Crime and Security.” Last modified August 19, 2016.
[4] Rivero, Tanya. Herald Sun. “Watch Donald Trump’s First Campaign Ad.” Last modified August 20, 2016.
[5]  Mehta, Seema. Los Angeles Times. “Donald Trump’s New Ad Echoes John Edwards’ Campaigns.” Last modified August 29, 2016. 2016.
[6] Hart, Roderick P. Campaign Talk: Why Elections Are Good for Us. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000, 34.
[7] Drury, Sara A. Mehltretter. “Defining National Security as Peace Through Strength: Ronald Reagan’s Visionary Rhetoric of Renewal in the 1980 Presidential Campaign.” Argumentation & Advocacy 51, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 87–102.
[8] West, Darrell M. “Setting the Agenda,” in Air Wars: Television Advertising in Election Campaigns, 1952-1992. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1993, 105-111.