When I did my research on Chilean media and its relationship to the political culture of the country, I saw how in times of political instability, televised representations of politics (even fictive ones) could be used to intervene and alter politics in the social world in unexpected ways – the mediatization of politics and political culture. Steve Bannon’s recent identification of the media as an “opposition party” affirms the same idea.
To be sure, what we are experiencing as “Trumpism” represents many things to many people. As a media researcher, I am convinced that one of the most interesting aspects of Trumpism is how it began, and how it continues to evolve as a transformation of U.S. political culture that is not only dependent on but owes its existence to media and media practices. The current “presidential” stage of Trumpism points to the political ascendancy of the media as a culmination in the “mediatization of U.S. politics” – that is, a sociocultural shift in political activity that is dependent on media representations of politics, and is influenced on a secondary level by the political activities of people in the real world.
Clearly, as a cultural force, Trumpism is sustained by the interminable movement of Trump-related media content. This media dynamic is all-inclusive, covering content both in favor and against Trumpism; mainstream media and “fake” news; facts and “alternative facts;” substantive analysis and memes; etc. It also covers all formats, mediums, and platforms; social media, cable news, talk radio, internet-based news, etc.
The quality and format of content notwithstanding, it is the increasing quantity and unceasing circulation of Trump-related media that has emerged as one of the most important resources fueling Trump’s ability to influence politics in the real world. Indeed, the man has proven to be an expert at both generating and channeling this otherwise unharnessed media dynamic. The continuous movement of Trump-related media content is helping to stabilize and normalize a political and historical course of action that is corrosive to a procedural democracy. That is in its movement, it destabilizes previous forms of political communication and political culture. Like a picture of water flowing in a river, by the time we view the image, what is represented in the photograph no longer exists – in the hyper-mediated, fractured political culture of the United States, what otherwise would be incredibly damaging media content that explicitly undermines Trump’s legitimacy seems not to stick, and instead keeps flowing downriver, while Trump and Trumpism continue on, seemingly unfazed. Even when opposing Trump, through our media habits we consume Trumpism as it is being instantiated, and as a result, Trumpism seems to grow in power and influence.
To resist this man, his policies, and what he represents, it will not be enough to just think about resistance, nor “like” resistance, nor “follow” the resistance of other like-minded people online. It will take nothing less than the emergence of dual and contending social movements that mount a sustained, dynamic resistance to Trumpism that is rooted in the real world. Anything short of that will tend to reproduce the dynamics of Trumpista media, and can potentially contribute to its real-world consolidation over the next four to eight years.
Democracy Now!, 01/27/2017: “The Media is the Opposition Party”: Trump Adviser Steve Bannon Tells Press to “Keep Its Mouth Shut“