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TQE Newsletter - Issue #3

TQE Newsletter - Issue #3
Aesthetics and Politics of Trump
Donald Trump’s 4th of July trip to Mount Rushmore defines his aesthetic desires. His repulsiveness, vulgarity, and populist impulses come together in his wish to see his face carved bluntly next to the founding fathers. Reportedly, he bought a four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore with his face carved on it.
The past century’s social theory literature is rich in concepts that allow us to understand the aesthetics of repulsiveness, vulgarity, and populism. In public spaces, sense perception is where politics is aestheticized. Trump’s play with signifiers, both at the level of language and visuals, is essential to understand how he connects to his audience. It is how he talks, and how he performs. Like the Fascism of the last century, Trump’s performance is less about discourse than making an aesthetic connection. 
What makes aestheticized politics hard to pin down is that it defies the logic of discourse. Since the Kantian concept of the sublime, theorists such as Jacques Rancière and Gilles Deleuze have tried to show how aesthetics and politics are connected through sense-perception. For Rancière, it is through its grounding in the political community (Sensus Communis), and for Deleuze how technology and senses come together to form a perception of the world. 
Aesthetics of Meta-Politics 
Meta-politics is politics done detached from its political community; it is party politics. Suffice it to observe the Republic Convention 2020. It projects a sense of unified and satisfied citizens under not a party but a president. Meta-politics here is the cult of personality. There is a sense that everything they say about Trump is wrong; reality is the play of images on the TV screen. This reality TV meta-politics should be juxtaposed to Trump’s everyday interviews and situational language (please see below the situational analysis).
Yet, there is what we call mythologies: These are sets of aesthetic references that are dystopic, and however, they try to achieve a communitarian identity. They are both visual and textual.
 
On the visual side, Trump’s self-fashion, home décor, and his wife’s modeling career have intrigued cultural theorists. From his gold covered bathrooms to self-conscious presentation of wealth have reinforced the perception that the wealthy Americans are morally superior. The creation of a particular aura by self-presentation needs mythic forms to support it. 
On the speech/textual side, he threads on fears. For instance, his blunt anti-Muslim language reinforces his base. Trump often juxtaposes Europeans as civilized and Muslims as the worst offender. He also bluntly used offensive language towards women and the LGBTQ community. All in aesthetic forms without any factual backup. 
The formation of this mythology, though it energized his base, created its opposite. One could argue that it helped the “Black Lives Matter” movement and many other protest movements. 
 
 
Situational Analysis and Linguistic Style
Socio-linguistics pay attention to the context of each situation. Paying attention to Trump’s performance in various conditions yields to building “Trump’s linguistic style” of communication. What might he achieve with it? 
Jennifer Sclafani, a linguist at Georgetown University, says President Trump is a “unique” politician because he doesn’t speak like one. He uses simpler syntax; jumps from topic to topic; uses “believe me” as a preface or at the end of speech. You can use language to make a brand, an authentic persona that people pay attention too.
John McWhorter, a linguist from Columbia University, describes him as unadorned. His language is primitive. He never leaves the realm of casual. He often says that “nobody knew something was complicated,” that is a way of saying that he didn’t know. He also fakes it. The informal approach belongs to an era of informality, to fake a self. 
The situational analysis allows us to map out his “informal” language and not only the way he connects to his base but shows us the forms an aesthetic of populism, so crucial for his dystopic politics. 
 
Aesthetics of disruption and politics 
Disruptive politics is politics aestheticized. One of the hallmarks of Trump’s speech is to switch from one assertion to the opposite. These stylistic moves often aim at political disruption. It is less about the meaning of discourse as it is a performance to disrupt. Rancière, here, can help to unpack. There is a regime of inclusion and exclusion in the visibility/invisibility of the political process. Trump’s aestheticization of politics can be understood in this context. With tricks learned from the media, he tries to manipulate this regime of sensibility and disrupt the process. Trump’s travel ban targeted from Muslim majority countries is just one example of disruption as politics. Other prominent examples of international politics include getting out of the Paris Climate Change Accord and leaving the infamous JCPOA or Iran Deal done by the Obama administration. These disruptive politics did not have clear cut rational and content. Instead, they aim to control the democratic process by using a perceived dissatisfaction toward Muslims or agreements under the pretext of “bad deal.” In Rancière’s term, a move to detach a process from its community sensibility is called meta-politics. 
 
Trump’s recent toying with having his face carved on Mount Rushmore is a comic yet great example of cases he flirts with. He picks Mount Rushmore as a play on aestheticized politics to say that our forefathers exclude South Dakotan, native tribes. Again, he detaches a situation from its political context raises to a meta-political level where he can eliminate community politics and have his base rally behind him.

Trump Talk: All Our Best Mashups In One Video
NYT: White House reached out to South Dakota governor about adding Trump to Mount Rushmore - CNNPolitics
A Unified Theory of the Trumps’ Creepy Aesthetic | The New Republic
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Mazyar Lotfalian and Michael Scroggins

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