Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign and Adorno’s Psychological Technique: Content Analyses of Authoritarian Populism

Using Adorno’s understudied textual analysis of the radio addresses of Martin Luther Thomas and Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign, this study extracted three rhetorical devices that Adorno uses to characterise Thomas and his authoritarian populism and transposed them to Trump. The first device was the lone wolf device amounting to anti-statism or pseudo-conservatism, most clearly exemplified through Trump’s claim that he “turn[s] down so much […] from special interests and donors”, reflecting his criticism of “special interests” and his appraisal of business, especially his own ability to finance his presidential campaign. The second was the movement device, which amounts to glorification of action, most clearly exemplified through Trump’s repeated claim that politicians are “all talk and no action”. The third was the exactitude of error device, which amounts to xenophobic, ethnonationalist hyperbole, most commonly exemplified through his claim that “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”. . . . 

DeviceDefinitionAdorno’s DefinitionExample through Trump’s Discourse
Lone wolfAnti-statism“The lone wolf device is taken from the arsenal of Hitler, who always used to boast […] about the fact that others controlled the press, the radio – everything; and that he had nothing.”“I turn down so much […] from special interests and donors. […] I am not accepting any money from anybody. Nobody has control of me other than the people of this country.”
MovementGlorification of action“The movement is conceived of as an end in itself, like the Nazis who always made a fetish of the term Bewegung [“move” or “the movement”] without pointing out exactly where the Bewegung was going.”“I don’t believe these politicians. All talk, no action.”

 

“Typical politician. All talk, no action. Sounds good, doesn’t work. Never going to happen.”
Exactitude of errorXenophobic, ethnonationalist hyperbole“To operate with fantastic figures is an established Nazi habit. The apparent scientific exactitude of any set of figures silences resistance against the lies hidden behind the figures. […] The greatness of the figure, incidentally, acts as a psychological stimulant, suggesting a general feeling of grandeur which is easily transferred to the speaker.” “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

 

“Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs.”

Excerpt and table from Haverda, Timothy and Jeffrey A. Halley. 2019. “Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign and Adorno’s Psychological Technique: Content Analyses of Authoritarian Populism.” tripleC: communication, capitalism & critique 17(2): 18-36. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31269/triplec.v17i2.1077

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