When I did my research on Chilean media and political culture I saw how in times of political instability, televised representations of politics (even fictive ones) could be used to rearrange politics in the social world. Steve Bannon’s recent identification of the media as an “opposition party” is a scaled up articulation of the same idea.
What we are all experiencing as “Trumpism” represents many things to many people, though as a media researcher I am convinced that one of the most interesting aspects of Trumpism is how it began, and continues to evolve, as a transformation of U.S. political culture that is not only dependent on, but owes its existence to the media. The current “presidential” stage of Trumpism points to the political ascendancy of the media as a culmination in the “mediatization of 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; main stream 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 become 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.
Furthermore, 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. Like taking a picture of water flowing in a river, by the time you look at 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 if we oppose Trump, through our media habits we consume Trumpism as it is being enacted, and as a result Trumpism seems to be getting stronger. 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“