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1This new issue of Argumentation and Discourse Analysis is unusual: all the articles were written by the members of the ADARR group (Analysis of Discourse, Argumentation, Rhetoric) of the Universities of Tel-Aviv and Bar-Ilan (except for the article by Ruth Wodak, whom we warmly thank for her contribution). This production is directly related to the pandemic of Covid-19. During the first containment, we collectively decided to conduct an analysis of the first addresses to the nation by the leaders of different democratic countries in order to see how, at a particularly sensitive moment, they were trying to build in their discourse the legitimacy and authority necessary to enact the measures aimed at curbing the pandemic. The ADARR group, like Israel, is a melting pot and each one, either in relation to his or her country of origin or his or her country of study, analyzed in the language of the speakers the discourses of Covid-19. These addresses to the nation, made in unusual circumstances, allowed us to explore a question that both embraces and goes beyond the singular moment of the pandemic, and which is at the heart of our field of study, but also of our civic concerns: how did our leaders acquire the legitimacy and authority allowing them to obtain recognition and obedience in a moment of crisis.

1. An exceptional moment

2The eruption of Covid-19 pandemic on the world stage was a rare moment in the history of our societies. Indeed, the world was confronted with the same problem, at the same time, as the epidemic spread and the leaders of each country had to react to a health crisis that was being verified day after day. It is not common to be able to study the speeches of the heads of state and government on the same subject and in a very short period of time. This moment thus appears to be a unique example for research in the humanities and, more specifically, for Discourse analysis and argumentation studies. Indeed, we are witnessing a kind of unprecedented experience during which political leaders had to announce measures that call into question the most fundamental public liberties, even if only those of moving around, going to class, and meeting. The Coronavirus is not only a biological issue, it is a social issue in the sense that contamination occurs through social interactions and it is these interactions that will be limited to the maximum in order to stop the first wave of the Covid-19. The epidemic itself has consequences that contradict democratic values. This is why we have studied the first declarations of the heads of state and government of democratic countries who announced the first measures to fight against Covid-19; we found it interesting to collect and study a coherent corpus of declarations confronted with the same socio-political issues.

3The analysis of these leaders' speeches is all the more enlightening because the fight against the epidemic was carried out in an uncoordinated manner. While we are in the midst of globalization, while our countries have never been so interdependent, while the European Union has become an institution with real legislative and executive powers, while there are international organizations such as the WHO, it is interesting to note that the fight against Covid-19, which is a global epidemic, has been managed at the level of nations. A real paradox emerges here and the sciences of international relations cannot fail to study it. Faced with the crisis, the first reflex was to return to national borders, while the virus circulated according to areas of human activity that do not correspond to official borders. This paradox gives all the more weight to the speeches of the leaders because it is indeed at the national level that each country reacts and mobilizes. These declarations also depend on the political situation of each country, on the political culture of the leaders who make the speeches and, also, on their communication choices.

4These speeches therefore have a particular aspect. Indeed, in general, a political speech serves to convince of a vision of the world, of the validity of economic and social measures or simply of the good reasoning of the speaker. It endeavors to make public opinion evolve on a given subject through an appropriate argumentation. In the case which interests us here, the goal is not to make evolve collective representations or political values, evolutions which in general occur slowly. It is not to impose, in the name of the health emergency, an opinion on Covid, but rather to get people to accept and adopt behaviors that restrict individual freedoms, voluntarily and immediately, in countries where these freedoms are at the heart of the political contract that binds citizens to the State. In view of the stakes, it is obvious that the successive speeches of the leaders were well prepared, and that chance or spontaneity could have little place in them. We have therefore studied highly constructed speeches and this situation makes the analyses even more relevant because they are based on texts that are at the heart of the role of the politician: the duty of the leader to protect a nation, to safeguard the lives of his fellow citizens as best he can. These speeches, whatever their form, are intended to be believed and, above all, to be listened to at a sensitive moment; they therefore have a particular significance.

5In this context, discourse analysis and rhetorical argumentation offer a theoretical framework and tools that allow us to explore the texts in depth in order to understand what was at stake on the social and political level, but also on the ethical and human level, at the time of the unexpected irruption of the pandemic.

2. An already substantial research, with different approaches

6Of course, the ADARR group is not the only one to address this issue, and scholarly works on the subject are constantly emerging in the form of books, collective publications or articles. To remain in our field of research, we can see that many specialists of language studies have already contributed their analyses and reflections. It is not possible to offer a panorama of these approaches in a context where publications continue to pour in, and at a time when the necessary distance from the event and its study is far from being sufficient. We will therefore limit ourselves to a few notes on the works that are closest to DA and argumentation, referring readers to the first reviews on the subject that appear in this special issue.

7But first, a few words on the notion of crisis, which is constantly brandished, are necessary at the beginning of this brief presentation. Of course, many works refer in various ways to crisis communication, by examining the discursive management of Covid-19. For example, an article examines the management of crisis communication by New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern, showing the ways in which she succeeded in inspiring confidence and encouraging solidarity (D. McGuire et al. 2020). However, the works that deal with crisis communication do not fall under a unified analytical approach; they use various instruments to explore the way in which the discourses have attempted to measure up to the event, but also have defined and framed it in terms of “crisis”. It will therefore suffice here to recall, by way of clarification, some basic principles of communication and crisis management, restricting them to their discursive dimension.

8Boin et al. (2017 [2005]: 20) state that a crisis, whether economic, ecological, health or political, arises when the members of a given society feel that the values that are at the foundation of their system are threatened. One can think of security, civil liberties, health, justice and others. A profound disruption of ordinary ways of life occurs. The threat generates a sense of urgency (often socially constructed rather than inherent to the situation), and a sense of great uncertainty: people wonder how serious the threat is and where it is headed. These crises require rapid decisions, even if all the necessary information is not yet available; they also require addressing a heterogeneous public whose capacities and needs differ. It is then the responsibility of those in power to limit the disorder and disorientation produced by the crisis and to re-establish, or even reinforce, confidence in their own capacities as leaders and in the institutions within which they act. In a democracy, the actions of politicians are of course subject to the norms and values of the regime, so that the criteria of effectiveness cannot be imposed exclusively. Among their tasks, Boin mentions meaning making: providing a definition of the situation and constructing a narrative that can persuade and inspire citizens. From the global perspective of crisis communication, researchers can use a wide range of theoretical frameworks and analytical tools to problematize some aspects of the situation and to identify changing issues.

9Let us therefore see how language studies shed light on what has been called a crisis communication following the virus outburst. A linguistic analysis entitled Les mots de la Covid-19 by Blandine Pennec (2021) examines in a French and British corpus of addresses to the nation salient structures and markers to determine their role in the construction of Emmanuel Macron’s and Boris Johnson’s ethos, and in their search for argumentative effectiveness. The author then looks at the enunciative positions of journalists in their treatment of the pandemic, as well as at the titles of journalistic articles. This somewhat formal work focuses on language rather than on discourse in situation, but it has the advantage of dealing with the verbal construction of the texts and of providing a contrastive analysis of French and British discourses on Covid-19.

10A volume in English entitled Pandemic and Crisis Discourse (2022), edited by A. Musolff et al. brings together a very rich set of studies that draw primarily on one branch of CDA, Wodak and Reisigl’s Discourse-Historical Approach, but also on other theoretical frameworks such as cognitive metaphor theory. The book aims to see how the pandemic has been discursively defined and categorized, how it has been presented to the public, how conflicts concerning the pandemic have been managed in the public debate in a large number of countries: China, Russia, Belarus, France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Romania, Greece, ... Some articles also offer a comparison of crisis communication in a few countries (e.g. Great Britain and Spain or Romania, Slovenia and Italy,). In this sense, this collective work focuses on communication strategies related to the health crisis that are analyzed in various media—not only political statements, the discourse of scientific experts or the media, but also posters, children's books, doctor-patient interaction, ...

11A very interesting special issue of the Italian journal Repères-Dorif (24, 2021), entitled Constellations discursives en temps de pandémie and coordinated by F. Favart and A. Silletti, draws on the French DA movement to study the discourses of Covid-19 in the speeches of political actors and in the media. Among other things, the authors examine the close interrelation between scientific, media and political discourse (what they call “discursive constellations”), and reveal the way in which science is staged for the benefit of politicians and journalists in order to legitimize their own speech. It is noteworthy that the question of trust, which is at the heart of the discursive practices of this period of crisis, is tackled by Sophie Moirand. In addition, there are studies on the discourses of the pandemic elaborated by ideological and political currents: the radical right in France and Italy, or the RN (far-Right) and the France insoumise (far-Left) in France. All these articles present concrete analyses of situated discourses (press articles, tweets, blogs, ...), and if they favor the case of France, they also look at other countries like Italy or Brazil.

12Let us also mention the first collective book on Covid-19 that adopts an argumentative perspective, which is of course particularly important from our point of view. Some articles had already taken this route, such as Louise Cummings’ paper in Informal Logic (2020), which analyses the lack of rationality in the judgements and decisions made about Covid-19 (the fallacious arguments) in the argumentation of political actors and public health agencies alike. However, the collective coordinated by S. Oswald, M. Lewinski, S, Greco and S. Villata (2021) puts the spotlight entirely on argumentation and examines what has become of argumentative practices in the context of the pandemic. The authors use theories of argumentation which, according to them, are the only ones able to explore the phenomenon—to put it metaphorically—of a “pandemic of argumentation” which has changed the forms, the norms and the functions of argumentation in the public sphere. In this perspective, they work on three correlated levels: descriptive (to account for what is happening on the ground), normative (to see the changes in the rational foundations used by speakers to justify their arguments), and prescriptive (in the sense that they seek on this basis to improve individual and collective argumentative capacities or argumentative protocols both in institutions and in the public sphere).

13They thus review (Part I) debates about the pandemic such as those, for example, concerning the Covid death count, the construction of the expert ethos in times of uncertainty, or the management of scientific dissensus; (Part II) the justification and promotion of health policies such as the question of rational decision-making or its justification in the face of health and social dilemmas, the role of argumentation in the Covid legislation; (Part III) improving the argumentative skills of communicators and the public - the ability to protect against conspiracy theories, or to detect outdated data used as the basis of spurious arguments; the capacity to ask critical questions or weigh the acceptability of expert opinions. The contributions of renowned analysts of argumentation from different backgrounds, looking at several countries, sometimes adopting a transversal perspective that focuses on a common issue, sometimes shedding light on the practices of specific countries (Scandinavian countries, those of Southern Europe, ...), reveal a generalized deficit of rationality in public argumentation on the pandemic. The objective of the contributors is not, however, to make a global negative judgment but to highlight and show how a set of argumentative resources can be used to improve the communication, understanding and evaluation of public policies.

14In these few works, but also beyond their limits, some researchers have focussed on a specific form of discourse, by attempting to examine its ins and outs, such as populist discourse. Françoise Favart (2021), for example, has devoted an enlightening article to this theme and Kerim Can Kavakli (2020) has analyzed the effects of populist discourse on the evolution of the epidemic. Such a starting point is interesting because it analyzes the discourse through a prism that goes beyond the event itself: discourses on Covid-19 become a useful case study. At the same time, some researchers have maintained their privileged topic and explored it in Covid 19 discourses. This choice has the advantage of deepening a research already underway and possibly bringing confirmation (or modification) of previously developed theories. The study of gender, for example, has been explored in the Covid-19 discourses by Sara Dada et al. (2021), or by Fabienne Beider and Maria Constantinu (Musolff 2022). Other researchers wanted to focus on a specific and singular situation. Such is the case of Tiago Ribeiro Duarte’s article (2020) on Bolsonaro’s attitude towards scientific advice; this exceptional situation allows for an original analysis of the ideological effects of a populist power. This is also the case of the article by Graziella K. Harb and Youssef M. Serhan (2020) who studied xenophobia in the speeches of D. Trump. In the same vein, Florian Bieber (2020) devotes an article to the nationalist withdrawal (highlighted above) in the face of the epidemic.

15Finally, it should be noted that many works focus on the functions of metaphor. Thus, Maria Muelas-Gil (2022) examines the metaphors of the coronavirus which fulfill a pedagogical function in children’s books. S. Neshkovska and Z. Trajkova (2020) examine the use of metaphors by politicians in different countries in all phases of the pandemic, and the impact of these metaphors assessed in light of citizens’ reactions. Metaphors are also studied by Isabel Negro Alousque (2021) in a comparative study between the discourses of French and Spanish leaders that shows that the virus is conceived as an “animate being or a natural disaster.” Drawing on CDA and crisis communication, Eunice Castro Seixas (2021) analyzes the use of war metaphors in political communication about Covid-19 and shows that it can serve a variety of functions, which are far from being always negative as is sometimes assumed. These studies of metaphor in discourses about Covid-19 are too numerous to be enumerated here, and still have a great future ahead of them.

16All these studies propose analytical frameworks and open up fruitful avenues of reflection. But our questioning is different, even if it is close. We intend to explain how political discourses will or can build legitimacy and authority in order to be both recognized and listened to. This problematic has not, to our knowledge, been systematically addressed yet in the framework of the Covid-19 discourses; yet it seems to be primordial because in times of sanitary crisis and of the mortal danger which results from it, the legitimacy of the speaker and his authority constitute a central stake.

3. A multidisciplinary and international approach

17The initial speeches by leaders on Covid-19 are very rich and our contribution is only one facet of the intellectual exploitation that could be made of them; but the notions of legitimacy and authority seemed to us to be at the very heart of all these interventions. Moreover, as we have already pointed out, the political response to Covid-19 took on a national dimension, while paradoxically the epidemic was global. As a result, each speech contains within it the expression of the political culture of the country, the political situation of the moment and of course the ideology of the speaker. Thus, we can see that the speakers are in situations that sometimes widely differ: for example, A. Merkel has a strong institutional recognition and S. Wilmes, in Belgium, has just been appointed Prime Minister to manage the Covid-19 crisis. Therefore, it is obvious that the attempts of heads of state to build and strengthen their legitimacy and authority cannot be similar. For this reason, we have adopted an international perspective, presenting a range of analyses, each focusing on a particular country. We have selected only the addresses of democratic leaders, because in totalitarian regimes the question of legitimacy in relation to respect for freedom or that of authority in relation to authoritarianism is not the same, as we have already pointed out.

18The articles discuss the following countries: Germany, France, Israel, Italy, Belgium, Argentina, the United States and Brazil. This order is not trivial; it makes sense. The first three countries represent situations in which the legitimacy of leaders is either strong, as in Germany, or partially challenged, as in France and Israel. Belgium, Italy and Argentina have in common that their leaders have just come to power and their legitimacy is still to be built. Finally, the United States and Brazil are the countries in which the leaders went against their peers and sought to legitimize and adopt not binding health measures, but rather a personal vision that did not care for these measures. The presence of populism in theses speeches is the most significant. In addition to this, some countries are treated in a contrastive way, in a more general and panoramic perspective, by R. Wodak: Austria, Sweden, New Zealand and Hungary. But before addressing the situation in each country, it is necessary to study the issues at stake in the two concepts that structure our analyses, and the difficulties encountered.

19Legitimacy and authority are two topics that have already been addressed by language studies. The construction of legitimacy has given rise to interesting analyses in P. Charaudeau’s Le discours politique (2005), as well as I. and N. Fairclough’s Political Discourse Analysis (2012). They were preceded by Rojo and van Dijk (1997) and van Leeuwen and Wodak (1999) in their work on the legitimation of immigration control, and by van Leeuwen’s much-publicized 2007 article. The studies on authority are more numerous in Discourse analysis and rhetoric. Suffice it to mention here, among others, two important reference works, Angenot’s (2013) Rhetoric of Trust and Authority and Oger’s (2021) recently published book, Faire référence. La construction de l’autorité en discours. Nevertheless, legitimacy and authority in discourse seem to require further development both in terms of their discursive and argumentative modalities of construction, and in terms of their problematic differentiation.

20Such a re-elaboration is all the more important as these two notions are at the heart of political sciences. This is why research on discourse and argumentation must both provide analytical tools for political science, and feed on studies in these fields, which have devoted an important place to questions of legitimacy and authority. Weber is undoubtedly the first sociologist to have taken an interest in this subject, but more recent works have updated the research. We think of Beetham (2013), Rosanvallon (2008), Kojève (2004), Bourdieu (1982) and Habermas (1973), among others, if we want to go back in time.

21It is important to note, however, that in these works, whether they come from the sciences of language or political sciences, most authors do not highlight the difference in meaning between legitimacy and authority. Weber’s seminal work even seems to have created some confusion in this respect; as for van Leeuwen’s (2007) exploration of the discursive process of legitimation, it includes authority in legitimacy without making any distinction between the two notions. Amossy’s introductory article deals with this question, which informs the whole special issue, and in this sense serves as a sort of theoretical introduction. It explains why this non-differentiation poses a problem, emphasizing that although authority leans on legitimacy, they cannot be conflated (as Charaudeau 2005 had already suggested). Amossy shows that in political action, the two notions obey to different motivations and play different roles, which are no doubt complementary, but with their own logic and purposes. Thus, drawing on various works from the social sciences, Amossy exploits their achievements by integrating them in discourse and argumentation analysis; she studies, in their differences and intersections, the processes of legitimation and construction of authority as they can be understood in political discourse. In so doing, the author intends to justify—even if political sciences offer certain keys to understanding—the relevance of the approach adopted to shed light on the procedures and stakes of the first addresses of the leaders on Covid-19.

22In a mirror effect, Wodak’s article exploits the theory she developed with van Leeuwen, to which she adds an argumentative dimension by uncovering the content topoi that underlie the justifications put forward by the speakers. This analytical grid aims to identify the processes by which discursive legitimation is built, and to point out in the texts the main categories to which the speaker has recourse. This approach has a first merit: that of having cleared the field in terms of discursive legitimation, and of having opened the way to a wider reflection (like those of Charaudeau in 2005 or Amossy today). The near indifference between legitimacy and authority in van Leeuwen and Wodak is undoubtedly explained by the pre-eminence given to legitimation and its procedures in discourse, so that authority is in a way subordinated to it and does not receive any separate treatment. This pioneering approach has nonetheless be prevalent during many years. Thus, at the opening of the special issue, we find two alternative analytical approaches from which subsequent articles draw inspiration to varying degrees: one stemming from the historical-discursive approach of Wodak’s CDA, and the other rooted in the theory of argumentation in discourse based on Amossy’s French Discourse analysis (2021 [2000]). The two approaches are not, of course, without crossings and similarities. We hope that they will be able to re-launch the reflection on the subject.

4. The nation as a framework for political intervention

23As we have already pointed out, each nation has reacted according to its historical-political situation, but beyond the particularities of each (described by the articles that follow), we find common logics. The issues are (at least in part) common, but they are not supported in the same way and the importance of the selected themes differs according to the speakers.

24As far as Germany and Angela Merkel are concerned, the construction of her legitimacy with regard to the health emergency and the need to limit public liberties is based on the reaffirmation of democracy, as the article by Jürgen Siess and Ruth Amossy clearly shows. Merkel, while relying on a demonstrative institutional legitimacy, goes so far as to manifest, in her speech, her will to safeguard democratic principles through the notion of transparency and speaks of an “open democracy” using, as the authors point out, what seems almost a performative discourse. The analysis of the article develops a reflection on the use of metadiscourse as a mode of legitimation based more on the nature of governmental communication than on the nature of the announced measures, whose part of infringement of liberties is not denied. Merkel will also use the scientific argument as an argument of authority to show that the measures she is proposing are justified and efficient; she thus aspires to give herself the necessary authority in the eyes of the Germans. But her argumentation is largely based on human values, which give it an ethical dimension that is all the more significant because it is combined with an eminently pragmatic aspect, and an emotional tone that is rare for the Chancellor. The discourse thus works to preserve the legitimacy of the leader by underlining her conformity to the democratic system, and to reaffirm her authority in the face of the crisis by presenting her person and her decisions in a way that emphasizes their reasonable and ethical character.

25For France, which Keren Sadoun-Kerber and Stéphane Wahnich deal with, the situation is similar without being analogous. Indeed, the analysis shows that Emmanuel Macron’s first two addresses are aimed at repairing his image, which is necessary because of the weakening of the president’s position prior to the pandemic, a weakening that risks diminishing his ability to be heard and obeyed in times of crisis. However, this image repair goes far beyond the issues of Covid-19: the leader also uses it as a tool to re-legitimize his own person. In contrast to Merkel, Macron does not raise the issue of democracy directly, and is content to justify possible infringements of freedoms with a rhetoric of urgency. He flaunts the institutional legitimacy provided by the stability of the Fifth Republic, and relies on the authority of scientists who are supposed to be the holders of an absolute truth to which politics is subordinated, regardless of possible differences of opinion. The analysis shows how Macron constructs an authority as an Army Chief (in particular through the metaphor of war) but also as a chief, a father, a master and a judge (according to Kojève’s categories); it studies the various argumentative procedures mobilized by the leader and underlines the centrality of the construction of ethos undertaken by the president who wants to restore his image and to provide himself with the legitimacy and authority necessary to put into practice his anti-Covid policy.

26As in France, the Israeli Prime Minister finds himself in a singular situation because the Covid-19 comes in the middle of an electoral process with an uncertain outcome. Ariella Lahav’s article analyzes the ways in which B. Netanyahu, then Prime Minister in transition because of the elections, will use the epidemic to reinforce his elective legitimacy weakened by accusations of fraud, corruption and breach of trust. She proposes a chronological discursive and argumentative analysis in three phases of the speeches, showing how the overbidding on the drama of the pandemic is used to reinforce an ethos of leader working democratically for the public good, guiding the country “with a firm hand at the wheel”, and flattering his audience by drawing on a prevalent Israeli imaginary. In this way, he intends to incite the public to obey unprecedented emergency measures, but also to persuade his political rival, Benny Gantz, to join him in a government of national unity, the only possibility for Netanyahu to remain in power. The analysis thus reveals how the Israeli Prime Minister not only tries to regain the legitimacy and authority that a part of the public denies him, but also politically instrumentalizes the crisis in order to succeed in leading a majority coalition in the name of the battle against the Covid-19.

27The Italian case differs from those already analyzed because the Prime Minister has just come to power at the time of the Covid-19 outbreak. Caterina Scaccia’s article analyzes how Conte integrates the fact that he has little legitimacy to intervene effectively in the public space of his country, and how he tries to strengthen it by giving press conferences (instead of televised speeches), thus initiating a movement of proximity towards public opinion represented by journalists and leaving room for questions. Moreover, the analysis shows how, over time, the discourse of Conte, who presents himself as the spokesperson of the scientific authorities and the warrant of a rational approach nourished by the values of cooperation and solidarity, is constructed in a dialogical relationship. He reacts to a delegitimizing counter-discourse carried by the press and political opponents. The PM works incessantly to erase national political antagonisms and to neutralize what Scaccia calls “the disruptive forces internal to the Italian system”. The article thus highlights the importance of inter-discourse in the construction of the leader's legitimacy and authority, and the way in which this construction takes place within a space in which the PM has to argue in relation to, and against, a critical and often hostile discourse.

28The case of Belgium is quite similar to that of Italy because the Belgian Prime Minister, S. Wilmes, has also just been appointed and her personal legitimacy is weak. Irit Kornblit analyzes the constraints imposed by Belgium’s institutional situation. In this federal state, the political decisions are taken in common and the legitimation procedure adopted by Wilmes involves the media staging of a collective ethos in which the state and federal representatives decide collegially. She reinforces the collective ethos of unity by constructing it on four correlated levels: federal, political/expert relations, PM/population relations, and within a population that she wants to show solidarity. True to Belgian political culture, Wilmes avoids grand narratives and warlike metaphors and maintains a register of pragmatic realism, using rational and consequence-oriented arguments, remaining focused on the daily lives of citizens, and avoiding pathos, which she replaces with a tone that is both empathetic and pedagogical.

29Wilmes sees the dissent over Covid-19 as a mark of the free debate that characterizes democracy. This desire to maintain the democratic framework is also the concern of the new Argentine president. Indeed, Karina Masasa’s article shows that the President’s discourse takes into account the historical fragility of Argentina’s democratic institutions. Measures that call into question public freedoms take on a different dimension than in Europe, where democratic values are more deeply rooted. The challenge in dealing with Covid-19 will be to obtain, if not restore, the confidence of Argentines in their political system: this lack of confidence can undermine the legitimacy of the new president and call into question the authority not only of his address but also of the state. To avoid this phenomenon, Alberto Fernandez, like Merkel, insisted on the transparency of his actions and protected himself by justifying his measures against the epidemic by the scientific authority of the WHO and the model of actions undertaken in other countries. At the same time, the analysis shows the historical references to the Peronist State and its functions. The political history intervenes in the construction of the legitimacy and authority of a discourse that in times of crisis has to face a capital deficit of trust.

30This desire to protect democracy is not Donald Trump’s primary concern in his early speeches because, at the time of his first official address, he is in the middle of a presidential campaign. As with B. Netanyahu, Covid-19 throws the political game off balance. What characterizes Trump’s speech is the primacy of politics and ideology over science, which leads to an amazing denial of the epidemic. This suggests that Trump must rely on his presidential legitimacy (tainted by impeachment attempts) and his authority as a leader not to propose health measures, but instead to go against the grain of other countries. Maria Saltykova’s article shows what falls into the category of national-populism in the presidential addresses that downplay the danger, and how the values and verbal procedures borrowed from populism fit into the overall argumentation of the President-candidate. She reviews the purely declarative (non-demonstrative) register of his speech, the insistence on positive thinking and on the exceptionality of the American people, but also the constant affirmation of the superiority of the president presented as a heroic figure. While surrounding himself with experts during his addresses to show that scientists are integrated into his decision-making process, Trump uses them as a kind of showcase for his person to American citizens. Moreover, one of the particularities of his speech is its hyperbolic tone: he intends to create a rhetoric of reassurance, also appealing through this means to a certain irrationality. Saltykov highlights another particularity: where other leaders try to emphasize consensus and unity, Trump’s populist discourse mobilizes a dichotomizing scenario—on the one hand, the providential man at the head of an invulnerable country, and on the other hand, political opponents who are said to be in the wrong and to divide society. Thus, it appears that the populist discourse differs from the model of speeches given in most democratic countries in the way it builds legitimacy and authority in times of crisis.

31The primacy of politics—one of the markers, it seems, of populism in the rhetoric of Covid-19—is also the posture adopted by Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. It is clearly reflected in the way he prioritizes values and arbitrates between the epidemic and employment. Claire Sukiennik shows clearly in her article that death and unemployment are put on the same level in his speeches, with the consequences on the evolution of the epidemic that we have seen. However, unlike D. Trump, J. Bolsorano does not integrate scientists but, on the contrary, denies their opinion and refuses to act according to their diagnosis. Moreover, he has also created a virulent controversy by questioning the legitimacy of regional governors and by refusing to bring Brazilians together. This political stance provoked an almost immediate backlash from scientists and journalists, and led to violent attacks on the president. This shows that it is not enough to intervene by putting one’s personal ethos forward, it is also necessary that the discourse seems reasonable and just. If not, the consequence can be a questioning of the speaker's authority, and an erosion of his legitimacy as guarantor of the common good.

32The contributions in this volume are all trying to show how the process of legitimation that gives the speaker the right to make a speech intended to be performative is carried out in each case. They show how this process is accompanied by an attempt to give oneself the authority necessary to elicit consenting obedience. In so doing, they shed light on both the general processes that are at the heart of the analysis of political discourse, and the way in which these discursive and argumentative processes are manifested in different national spaces and socio-political contexts. In this perspective, it would certainly be interesting to draw up a comparative table by examining the way in which their constituent elements are modulated, transformed and reconfigured in each case—without reducing the complexity of the discourses in situation and context. The analytical work carried out in the various contributions hopes to serve as a basis for this contrastive analysis, while reviving the study of the construction of legitimacy and political authority.

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Stéphane Wahnich, « Introduction. The construction of legitimacy and authority: democracies facing Covid-19. »Argumentation et Analyse du Discours [En ligne], 28 | 2022, mis en ligne le 25 avril 2022, consulté le 21 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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