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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In American vernacular of the day, bully (as an adjective) meant “very good; first-rate.” Combined with pulpit, or a speaking platform, Theodore Roosevelt used the term to refer to the power that the presidency gave him to speak and be heard on vital issues facing the nation, from labor rights to political corruption to consumer food and drug safety. But under the presidency of Donald J. Trump, that advocacy-oriented bully pulpit as originally conceived by Roosevelt has morphed into a crude platform to engage in bullying behavior.
Last October in the vice-presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, moderator Elaine Quijano brought up the “issue of law enforcement and race relations.” Pence’s response and the exchange that followed represents one of the most consequential racial divisions in US society: the disparate understandings of what the very concept of racism means. The exchange illustrates how our society’s guiding narratives about race preserve a woefully inadequate and overly narrow understanding of racism—as evidenced by the umbrage taken by Pence to the notion “that there’s implicit bias in everyone in the United States.”
President Introduces New Term into Counterterrorism Lexicon President Trump embarked on his first international trip since moving into the White House after a special counsel was appointed to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia and concerns about obstruction of justice. Each day leading up to his departure brought a fusillade of damning reports about his […]