Donald J Trump – the Perfect Hyperreal President
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Graphics by Armaan Latif
It is near impossible to analyse a US President who has twisted the truth or outright lied so many times during his presidency—a whopping 22,000 times and counting—but I will try.
Despite Trump’s persistent prevarication, a shockingly large segment of the American public have remained unwavering in their support for him and put their faith in him for a second term. Trump’s rise to power is best examined through the concept of “hyperreality”, originally developed by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Hyperreality is ‘a real without origin or reality’, in which we are unable to differentiate between that which is truly real and authentic (reality) and that which is fake and inauthentic (hyperreality). Politicians preserve the hyperreal through their attempt to create and control their image so that the public only views them in a positive light even if it is contradicted by reality. Sound familiar?
Trump’s hyperreality has involved maintaining the perception that he is a successful self-made businessman. Despite claims of “starting small” with a mere one million dollars, Trump’s business ventures were cushioned by an inheritance of more than 400 million dollars; in terms of success well, several businesses of his have been bankrupt six times. Despite being born into affluence, across three surveys between 2016 and 2018 of the American people roughly half of the respondents didn’t know that Trump was born into a family with great wealth demonstrating that much of the public can’t distinguish between Trump’s embellished claims and the reality behind them.
Trump was also able to successfully create a hyperreal image of himself as an outsider in the 2016 campaign: he was just a man determined to change the political gridlock and stand up to the corruption and lobbying of elitist Washington politicians. Reality, of course, has something different to say about that – Trump selected former Goldman Sachs executive Steve Mnuchin as his Treasury of the Secretary despite consistently attacking the company during the campaign as the personification of a global elite. Instead of taking on corruption as promised, he has used his power to direct millions of dollars to his various businesses and has engaged in nepotism, appointing both his son in law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka as advisors which has brought with it potential conflict of interest.
Aided by the fact that he wasn’t a politician until he ran for office, Trump’s positions on policy have been constantly shifting. His policies can be described as quintessentially hyperreal: it is virtually impossible to know what he truly supports or will actually implement and thus it becomes more difficult for his political rivals such as Joe Biden to attack him in a consistent manner. To give a few examples, in September 2015, Trump stated that Syrian refugees should be let in and then in November that they shouldn’t; he stated that he wanted the US to leave the Syrian conflict just before launching a missile strike against Assad, and the Trump Administration has levied sanctions against Russia only to subsequently undercut them. Other politicians whose views have been consistent for years and even decades can be more easily pinned down and attacked.
Given that the microcosm of Twitter allows Trump to fashion his own hyperreality for his supporters, inciting a sense of tribalism, the media has had trouble effectively challenging his claims; following – for example following an offensive tweet aimed at four congresswomen, support for Trump actually increased amongst Republican voters. It’s probably no surprise then that Trump stated in a recent 60 Minutes interview that he ‘wouldn’t be here without social media’.
Now, Trump is publicly claiming a major fraud has occurred during the Election. The president’s has been parroting the idea of potential fraud since back in May to sow doubt in American democracy, but the claim is absurd: incidence of voter fraud in the US is at most 0.0025%; an American is more likely to be struck by lightning than impersonate another voter. His legal attempts to stop vote counting look hopeless with one judge throwing out a case describing the evidence given as “hearsay” and even Trump’s advisors have accepted the race is over, barring any drastic change. Trump seems to be losing control over his own narrative. Fox News was the first major outlet to call Arizona for Biden despite the president’s protestations and they have also been pushing back against Trump’s baseless fraud claims. This is a major blow for Trump, as the President has frequently used Fox to streamline his message for his supporters and on many occasions has called in to the network, who is now losing faith in him.
Even after Trump has effectively let over 253,000 Americans die of COVID, his somnambulant followers continue to believe the tales he spins about having done everything right in his approach to the pandemic. We can only hope Trump's loss will eventually wake his supporters up to reality.