Date of Submission

Spring 2018

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Foreign Languages, Cultures, and Literature; Political Studies

Project Advisor 1

William Dixon

Project Advisor 2

Marina Van Zuylen

Abstract/Artist's Statement

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. A former reality TV star with no prior political experience, his ascendance to most powerful position in American government shocked the country. News outlets and political analysts portrayed him as an unprecedented outlier, describing his demagogic appeals and grand gestures as anomalies detached from the typical features of presidential leadership. Yet, Donald Trump is not a glitch in the American political system, but rather a unique manifestation of the qualities inherent to the spectacular status of the modern presidency. His rise to the Oval Office requires an examination of the relationship between the presidency and the public, from the Founders’ original conception of executive power to Woodrow Wilson’s 20th century vision of the rhetorical presidency. Wilson’s desire for a form of executive leadership closely tied with public opinion created the serious problem of presidential spectacle— a symbolic event performed by the president which leaves no space for another narrative to exist. In Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle, he advances a broader theory of spectacle, bringing to light celebrity culture and the consequences of a society based in consumption as opposed to reflection. Donald Trump’s spectacle provides a crucial lens into the problems of the modern American presidency, raising unsettling questions regarding the influence of single, symbolic figure over the entire democratic process.

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Open Access

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