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Saturday, March 3, 2018

What's postmodern about President Trump?

Not a few articles have emerged claiming that Trump is the first postmodern president or the postmodern president par excellence. This January, Edsall sums up what Heer and Ernst have suggested in other recent publications. Folks are dusting off their copies of Derrida or Foucault to put this presidency in context. But Baudrillard is more helpful because Foucault envisioned a deeply intrusive type of productive power that combined expertise with the political. Derrida traced the often contradictory practices that enabled ostensibly unbiased political ideals. But Baudrillard's focus on the media and networks reflects what commentators are sensing. The massive echo chamber of the media is like a super-saturated crystalline solution awaiting the tiniest morsel of solidity (e.g. notice how news organizations have gutted their investigative reporting bureaus) . Trump tosses in that morsel and more into that soup and the reverberations then expand far and wide. Baudrillard predicted that we would all be 'linked in' or plugged in to the web. Its pure connectivity is what allows Trump's even most narrowly focused messages to expand across communication networks like a tsunami. Critical thinking is impossible under conditions of pure connectivity (thank you, Mr. Zuckerberg for denying users the dislike button!). But it is unclear to what degree the former reality show host understands how postmodern media functions or to what extent the mass media relates to him. For example, it is possible that Donald Trump's mercurial style is a factor that allows him to float free from any particular ideological stamp. That allows his 'name brand' to reach every outlet. One implication of this analysis is that only a candidate with similar, postmodern capacity can win the presidency.