Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, a meme appeared comparing the self-referential language used by Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama:
In his farewell address, Barack Obama referred to himself 75 times.
In his inaugural address, Donald Trump referred to himself 3 times.
He referred to “We, the American people” 45 times.
Before we get to the numbers, we would like to point out that these two speeches are not really comparable. Trump’s inaugural address clocked in at about 16 minutes, whereas Obama’s farewell address was more than 50 minutes long, making it unsurprising that Obama used more words (and more references to himself) during his speech.
In addition to the different lengths, a farewell address and an inaugural address are fundamentally different speeches. However, it is easy to take a closer look at the claim presented in this meme. Transcripts of both Obama’s farewell address and Trump’s inaugural address are available online. We searched both transcripts for the words “I” and “me,” as well as the contractions “I’ve” and “I’m,” and here is what we found.
Claim: Obama referred to himself 75 times.
Obama used the word “I” 40 times, “me” 13 times, “I’ve” 12 times, and “I’m” twice, adding up to a total of 67 self-references. While this is lower than the number of claimed self-references, the difference is negligible.
Claim: Trump referred to himself 3 times and “we, the American people,” 45 times.
Trump used the word “I” 3 times and never used the terms “me,” “I’ve,” or “I’m.” However, Trump never said “We, the American people,” either. It’s possible that the meme was only referring to the word “we.” If that’s the case, Trump did use the word “we” 46 times.
While this meme is mostly accurate as it is presented (although the numbers are slightly off), the difference in references to oneself is not nearly as stark when comparing Obama and Trump’s inaugural addresses.
Self-references in Obama’s inaugural speeches.
In 2009, Obama used the word “I” 3 times during his speech, and never used “me,” “I’ve” or “I’m.” In 2013, Obama used the word “I” twice, and never used “me,” “I’ve” or “I’m.” His “we” count in both speeches was more than sixty.
A comparison of the inaugural addresses delivered by both Obama and Trump shows the number of self-references was nearly identical.
The claim expressed here, while technically accurate, compares two fundamentally different speeches: an inaugural address is generally a formal speech delivered by incoming presidents expressing common hopes, expectations, and dreams for the country, while a farewell address is a more personal and informal talk given by outgoing presidents about their view of the world scene, their time in office, and their departure from the national stage. The latter thus naturally tends to be more personal and self-referential in nature.