Donald Trump seems to be able to play to the Republican Party and to the people he wants votes for.
Donald Trump is tending to play on people’s fears as opposed to playing on trying to get people together.
In the first sentence, I guess the word “play” kind of means, to deal with or manipulate in a way as if you were playing a game. But in the second sentence, to play on people’s fears, sounds to me like to use and take advantage of people’s fears in a unethecal way. But then playing on trying to get people together, sounds to me, is just very confusing. I don’t get it.
Could you explain the word “play” in these to sentences please?
You did a great job identifying the different uses of “play”!
There are a few things happening in these examples.
“Donald Trump seems to be able to play to the Republican Party and to the people he wants votes for.”
In this case, “play” is followed by “to.” You are correct that this example describes an act of manipulation but not always with bad intentions. For example, a musician can play to her audience, too. She wants to give them a performance they will understand and enjoy. She manipulates their feelings.
“Donald Trump is tending toplayon people’s fears as opposed to playing on trying to get people together.”
In this case, we are seeing the phrasal verb “play on (something).” You’re also correct that this usually means to take advantage of someone’s fears. However, in this example, the speaker extends the meaning in order to make his point. The second time, he uses this phrasal verb in a positive way to suggest that Trump could take advantage of people’s hopes and community in a good way. This second use is not common, but it is a good example of how speakers sometimes “play” with language.