Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Reed College of Media

Committee Chair

Steve Urbanski

Committee Member

Diana Martinelli

Committee Member

Elizabeth Oppe

Committee Member

Kristi Wood-Turner


The 2016 U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump generated a newfound surge in political advocacy that greatly benefitted certain nonprofits and grassroots organizations. One of these organizations was the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to protecting and defending civil liberties and rights in the U.S. The ACLU received an unprecedented number of donations following Election Day and has since pursued an aggressive campaign against President Donald Trump.

In order to explore this phenomenon, this thesis analyzed the ACLU’s rhetoric between Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump (both Republicans) and between Presidents Barack Obama (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican) to see if their rhetoric changed according to the president’s political party affiliation. This study utilized qualitative content analysis to not only count the number of times the president was mentioned negatively but to also analyze the meaning behind their rhetoric.

While the ACLU prides itself on being nonpartisan, it was found that the organization has been tougher on Republican administrations in the past two decades both in how often they use negative rhetoric toward a president and their aggressive diction. The election of President Donald Trump, however, has provided a stark example of the organization’s change in rhetoric toward presidents over time. The ACLU has both drastically increased the how often they talk about the president and how often they use negative rhetoric against him.

This thesis then explored the ethics behind their decision to pursue an aggressive, arguably partisan campaign against the President, taking into account how this affects the ACLU’s stakeholders. These groups include their donors/dues-paying members, those they represent in court, the American public and the U.S. government.

This thesis contributes to the growing body of knowledge surrounding the Trump presidency and its effects on the American landscape. In particular, this study adds to our understanding of how a political, nonpartisan nonprofit changed their rhetoric toward a president whose policies go against their mission statement.