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technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Oligarchs to the Left, Oligarchs to the Right

keywords:

trump

performance

politics

Donald J. Trump was a president “the likes of which we have never seen before.” His communication style, adversarial posturing, flirtation with violence, loose relationship with the truth, fascination with military might, admiration of authoritarian rulers, and ability to dominate the 24-hour news cycle secured the rapt attention of national and international audiences. The domination of the news cycle was masterful, as the president•celebrity mogul and salesman extraordinaire•wielded his talents of showmanship to titillate, impress, intimidate, demean, discredit, distract, and incite. The entanglement of performance and power rarely has been clearer. International trade deals, nuclear disarmament negotiations, special counsel investigations, impeachment proceedings, and an attack on the Capitol Building all unfolded before an audience of millions transfixed by rough displays of intimidation, cruelty, and the incitement of violence. Charges of insurrection, illegality, ethics violations, transgressions of authority, corruption, and civil and human rights violations haunted Trump’s administration, and each strike for power was wrapped with dramatic flourish. While the Trump presidency has ended, Trumpism endures, a political era in which taunting, brandishing weapons, and intimations of violence in public spaces and on social media have been normalized. This panel considers the responsibilities of anthropologists in this tense reverberation of a political moment. What insights can and should anthropologists contribute to national conversations about such a formation of political culture? Do ready-made analytical frameworks such as authoritarianism, fascism, democracy, nationalism, populism, demagoguery, “presidential behavior,” and the theater state illuminate current developments, or do such terms obscure and confound our understanding? How do we envision our audiences and how do those decisions affect the outlets for our work and styles of expression? How can we engage with these political developments and withstand accusations of “bias”? What is the dividing line between research and political action? While recognizing that objectivity is ultimately unachievable, and that fealty to that concept can buttress forms of oppression, how can we talk with audiences about scholarship about politics when they might be expecting “objectivity”? Given that citizens live in separate media bubbles and trust different sources of authority, will the commentary of anthropologists resound or fall flat? What in the AAA Code of Ethics prepares us for this moment, and when writing about a presidency, whom do we identify as the “subjects” of our research? Presenters in this panel will discuss their scholarship on political culture in the era of Trumpism, with special attention to the dramaturgical exercise of power and the exploitation of white (masculine) supremacy for entertainment.

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