A Theory of Propaganda for the Social Media Age

Intertextuality and the propagation of disinformation Propaganda typically refers to manipulative techniques and misleading messages used to gain public acquiescence for a political cause, especially during times of war. Over the past century, George Orwell, Harold Lasswell, Jacques Ellul, and Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, among others, have written or theorized about propaganda. But […]

Trump First and the Presentation of the Political Self

Politicians typically strive to project a stable political persona free of self-contradictions and inconsistencies. President Trump, on the other hand, is the master of self-contradictions and inconsistencies. But underlying this apparently incoherent political self is a different type of coherence—one that maintains an egotistical self-image rather than stable political positions. Trump’s political fickleness took center stage […]

How Trump’s Lying Affirms a Worldview

Post-truth was Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 word of the year, but the word became even more relevant in 2017 as Americans suffered through the first year of a presidency frighteningly indifferent, if not openly hostile, to facts. When it comes to exaggerations, half-truths, and outright fabrications, the Trump presidency is without precedent.

Rescuing Ourselves from the Argument Culture

Although many hoped Trump’s use of social media to wage ad hominem attacks would cease once he took office, now even former Republican supporters, like Senator Bob Corker, conclude that Trump has “proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.” Instead of the presidency changing the man, the man has changed the presidency.

Responsibility and Evidence in Trumpian Discourse

In an exchange with reporters in the White House Rose Garden over the deaths of soldiers in Niger, Trump not only demonstrates his constant need to puff himself up by denigrating others, but also illustrates the way he exploits what linguists call evidentiality—the semantic marking of an information source—to wrap innuendos in the sheath of truth claims while avoiding responsibility for the veracity of those claims.

The Paranoid Style of Climate Change Denial

Through its actions and appointments, the Trump administration has elevated climate change denial to official government policy. The administration’s position represents a fundamental shift away from science toward the embrace of what Richard Hofstadter termed the “Paranoid Style in American Politics.” The paranoid style breeds a form of post-truth cynicism that destroys confidence in science as a tool for guiding thoughtful responses to issues like climate change.

Wrestling with “The Donald”

Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1984) concept of the carnivalesque provides insight into Trump’s ability to subvert dominant political conventions through humor and chaos, maximizing entertainment value as he flouts presidential norms. But this concept alone cannot do full justice to explaining the ongoing, day-to-day spectacle of Trump’s presidency. To better understand the Trump phenomenon, I suggest we borrow a concept from the world of professional wrestling where hyperreality converges with spectacle to produce the same strange amalgamation of bravado, hyperbole, and exaggeration (and outright lies) that marks Trumpian politics. That concept is kayfabe.