Why do Americans call political campaigns stumping

To an aesthetic of populism. Part I: The Populist Appearance Space

"He was, in the vocabulary of students of rhetoric, the perfect mimetic orator, probing his audiences’ deepest fears and passion and articulating those emotions in a language and style they could understand. On paper his speeches were stunningly disconnected, at times incoherent, and always repetitious. But [his] followers reveled in the performance; they never tired of hearing the same lines again and again "(Carter 1995: 346; emphasis in the original).

The speaker at issue is not Donald Trump, but George Wallace, the longtime governor of Alabama, who ran for the presidency four times in a row from 1964 to 1976. While the television debates between Kennedy and Nixon had led to the widely shared belief that election campaigns in the age of television were a matter of carefully prepared, image-enhancing self-expression, they did Rallies Wallace used the opposite strategy, particularly during the period of his presidential campaigns from 1964 to 1972. Wallace found techniques to increase the intensity of the affective energies that circulated in the places in which he spoke. He knew how to stir up anger and rage among his listeners, but he also knew how to make them laugh. He regularly railed against the federal government and the elites of Washington and the east coast, engaged in open racial incitement (especially until 1972, after which time he began to publicly ask for forgiveness), and railed against the anti-Vietnam War protesters and the counterculture in general. His goal was not the emanation of relaxed self-control, but the collective loss of order and control. Protests by hecklers, followed by scornful counter-replicas from Wallace’s, were a standard element of his mass gatherings - as was the violence that erupted between his supporters and opponents (especially during the 1968 campaign).

In many - although significantly not in all - ways follows what we do at Donald Trumps Rallies have been able to experience Wallace’s script since 2015. This essay is the first half of a two-part essay in which I refer to Trumps Rallies reflect and theorize, referring to examples from 2015 until shortly before the Midterm- referring to the 2018 elections, and in which I also compare and contrast Trump's events with those of Wallace.1 The reason I choose the format of the Rally turning, provides my conviction that right-wing American populism - a tradition largely invented by Wallace, although it also draws on earlier populist practices - is crucially dependent Rally-Performances is based.

The initial observation of the reasoning that I will develop in the course of the two parts of my essay is that the Rally is of particular importance to populist movements. It is true that every democratic public makes use of performative practices to stage the relationship between representatives and represented, to negotiate and to question them.2 But unlike in ordinary democratic representation relationships, populist movements are based on the claim to eliminate the difference between the represented and the representative. The “representative claim” (Saward 2006) of populism is paradoxical in that it presents representation as non-representation, or, in other words, insofar as it insists on embodying the unified and unmediated presence of represented and represented.

The Rally-Performance bears the burden of turning the required sudden presence into a felt reality. While the populist claim of (non) representation is rhetorically asserted and ideologically secured, it is based at the same time on the attempt to put it into practice by gathering bodies in a physical space divided for the duration of a temporary performance. In the course of such a gathering, the performance must produce an appearance that shows something that can be identified with the populist claim to unity. In this sense, populism is based on an “aesthetics of appearance” (Martin Seel) or, in the words of Hannah Arendt, on a “space of appearance”. As will become clear in the course of this first half of my two-part presentation, it is a deliberate provocation, Arendt's concept of the “space of appearance” and Seel's concept of the “aesthetics of appearance” in connection with the populist one Rally bring to. At first glance, those centered on figures like Wallace or Trump are populist Rallies no less than the contrast to these normatively charged theoretical concepts. I claim, however, that these provocative discrepancies are useful, not primarily for the purpose of a philosophical discussion with Arendt or Seel, but because they lead us to a more sophisticated understanding of the populist Rally force yourself.

For this it will prove necessary to identify a populist aesthetic of appearance that belongs to right-wing populism (rather than left-wing populism). I follow John Judis ‘terminology (cf. Judis 2016) by characterizing right-wing populism as" triadic ". While left-wing populism is "dyadic" in the sense that it makes a distinction between the "people" and the "elites" (or the "establishment"), "triadic" populism distinguishes the "people" from both those who are social and political elites are perceived, as well as by those who are seen as standing at the bottom of the social ladder. While the definition of the “people” in dyadic (or left-wing) populism has a potentially inclusive character (even if the elites remain the “other” of the people), the “people” in triadic right-wing populism is structured by a constitutive outside, which is in groups exists who belong to the national community as the excluded or the illegitimate.

In order to define the populist aesthetic more precisely, one has to take into account that populism is nowadays part of the media architecture of the celebrity politics is embedded. In this context, the populist representative (who has to disguise the fact that he wants to be represented and rather perceived as the embodiment of the people) uses what I will call techniques of 'performative polarization' in order to appear in public. At this point, today's populism, as promoted by Donald Trump, differs noticeably from the earlier populist innovations of George Wallace.

So far there are two types of considerations too celebrity politics: on the one hand, there are warnings about the demise of politics in mere entertainment - Neil Postman is with Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) the classic representative of this position - on the other hand, optimistic perspectives on the expanded possibilities of participation and identification with others. This second view sees the growing importance of entertainment logic in politics as a driver of democratization (this view is most fully understood by scholars in the field of political communication under the influence of the British Cultural studies has been developed; see Corner / Pels 2003; Street 2001; Wheeler 2013). Both representations share the assumption that in the celebrity politics the source of political aura and thus of power is to be located in the media charisma of the candidate rather than in the content of particular political positions. The reasoning that I will develop in the second of my two essay parts, however, suggests that these representations need to be corrected in order to do justice to the ways in which media techniques and the aesthetics of the celebrity politics be placed at the service of political polarization. Rethinking the role of the populist representative as a polarizing celebrity figure - whose polarizing potential requires the attention of the largest possible audience - will force us to consider the complex ways in which the populist assembly divides the national community into two opposing ones Camp both reinforced and possibly shaken.

Ultimately, the aim of my research is not just to take into account the aesthetic strategies that are used for the purpose of populist unity claims. Further, the benefit of examining the aesthetics of populism is that it allows us to understand the attraction or appeal of the experience of the populist gathering. I would like to claim that by highlighting the aesthetic experience of populism, political aesthetics can contribute to the understanding of an important and so far neglected dimension of populism.

The claim to representation

In his writings on what he calls the “claim to representation”, the political scientist Michael Saward has taken important steps to think through the performative dimension of political representation. Saward is one of a number of theorists - among others, together with the historian of ideas Frank Ankersmit and John Street, a scientist in the field of political communication - who act against the assumption that the person represented is a recognizable and given entity, its interests or will Politicians would try to do justice. “The represented play a role in choosing representatives”, writes Saward, “and representatives' choose‘ their constituents in the sense of portraying them or framing them in particular, contestable ways ”(Saward 2006: 301 f.). For Saward, political representation is not a matter of mimetic duplication, in which the relationship between the represented and the representative would be one of the formal congruence. By 'formal congruence' I understand here the correspondence between the interests or the will of the people and the actions of the representative who translates this popular will into laws (or at least into political processes of legislation). Assuming formal congruence, the representative doubles the will of his electorate, and by introducing it into a negotiation process or declaring it directly to be law, the representative also brings the will of the people to expression. Against this mimetic and expressive view, Saward insists that representation is a matter of claims, on the part of the representative, in relation to the representative himself, the voters and the world shared by both parties.

Representation thus takes the form of performative actions, which means that it consists in these actions themselves. As Saward puts it: "to an important extent, representation is not something external to its performance, but is something generated by the making, the performing, of claims to be representative" (ibid .: 302). In this way, the performances create the connection between the representative and the represented - a connection that, in the fullest sense, only lasts for the duration of the performative action.

But performative representation is never productive in an uncomplicated way. It does not simply create a divided world of the political which then becomes a given, unquestioned fact. Representation is a matter of claims rather than adaptation to or duplication of given, stable forms of will and action. With that in mind, with Saward we can say that

"No would-be representative can fully achieve 'representation," or be fully representative. Facts may be facts, but claims are contestable and contested; there is no claim to be representative of a certain group that does not leave space for its contestation or rejection by the would-be audience or constituency, or by other political actors "(ibid .: 302).

And yet representation claims are successful, which means that the space of questioning and rejection is also a space of consent. Representation claims are only successful in producing a shared reality through a specific association of representatives and those represented if they are recognized and approved by the recipient of the claim. However, two aspects of including a representation claim should be mentioned here: First, approval and disapproval or approval and disapproval sound like cognitive processes, but they may very well be a matter of affects; second, approval and disapproval, approval and disapproval should not be conceived as binary terms that create arrested states. In principle, claims remain contestable and renewed or ongoing consent is never guaranteed. With regard to the affects spoken, the intensity of consent remains subject to fluctuations and changes of mood; From a cognitive point of view, agreement and disagreement are not purely independent states of mind. Every “yes” to a claim to representation may be followed by a silent “but”, which can be uttered as “no” at the next opportunity. In other words, successful representation is highly unstable and volatile, even in cases where acceptance of the representation claim ultimately proves to be long-lasting through several successful renewals.

With these thoughts in mind, consider the following description of a Rally by George Wallace, by the historian Dan Carter, the author of The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (1995), from which I have already taken my opening quote:

"As almost every observer sensed, a Wallace rally was an act of communion between the speaker and his audience, for he was one of the last grandmasters of the kind of foot-stomping public speaking that characterized American politics, particularly southern politics, in the age before television. A Wallace speech excited the kind of nonanalytical emotional response that media advisers had always sought to evoke "(Carter 1995: 345).

Carter points to a widespread belief that rallies formed around “grandmasters” produce instant experiences of communal participation by all involved. In the context of the political Rally These experiences - which Carter says emerged from unfiltered, emotional responses - tend to be implicitly or explicitly interpreted as the gathering of representatives and represented in a presentational unit. This interpretation often flows into the self-description of participants more populist Rallies a. In an analysis of the choreography of a TrumpRally in Springfield, Missouri, September 21, 2018, citing the New York Times- Reporter Katie Rogers, a Trump supporter, said, “If you feel like the country is divided, come to one of these Rallies. There is a lot of cohesion here ”(Rogers 2018).

Let's look at video footage from populist Rallies Whether by Wallace or Trump, we often cannot help but shudder at the manner in which those gathered at the venue begin to affirm the Representative's claim. Those present in the event hall seem to surrender to their role as representatives with remarkable unrestrainedness. By cheering the representative, they seem to transform into an undifferentiated crowd. Not only do they seem to have given up any ability to form a judgment about the claim to representation; it seems that they have ceased to exist as independent subjects at all. Instead, they participate in expressions that give the senses - their own and those of their observers - an overwhelming impression of equality. They sing in rhythmic unison and perform synchronous gestures.

These moments of the populist rally have flowed into their theorization and, in their expansion, have contributed to the theory of populism as such. This applies to the analyzes of such influential political theorists as Nadia Urbinati and Jan-Werner Müller. Müller identifies populism as a “particular moralistic imagination of politics"(Müller 2016: 19):

"In addition to being antielitist, populists are always antipluralist: populists claim that they, and only they, represent the people.Other political competitors are just part of the immoral, corrupt elite, or so populists say, while not having power themselves; when in government, they will not recognize anything like a legitimate opposition. The populist core claim also implies that whoever does not really support populist parties might not be part of the proper people to begin with "(ibid .: 20).

Without using the term in a technical sense, Müller represents the anti-pluralistic claim (“Claim”) as the defining feature of populism. Similar to Saward, he understands the people as constructed by the claim of a fiction. Unlike the position I am trying to develop here, however, Müller seems to assume that in populism the anti-pluralist claim can be sure of its acceptance. The question of how the populist claim is received is not included in its description. It is not a necessary part of his theory, because the existence of the claim and the obvious political success of populist candidates make the acceptance of the claim obvious and therefore irrelevant for the analysis. For Müller it is as if the claim alone constitutes an anti-pluralist political community.

In comparison, Nadia Urbinati takes account of the audience's acceptance of the populist claim, but she traces this acceptance back to the moment of experience of community participation that I outlined above. In a passage in which she comes from Carl Schmitt's The intellectual-historical situation of today's parliamentarism (1923) quoted, she writes:

"A populist leader is not properly elected: it is acclaimed. Consequently, Schmitt forcefully wrote that the 'will of the people' is the same whether it is expressed in the ballot or by acclamation: '[e] verything depends on how the will of the people is formed.' But then he promptly added that 'The will of the people can be expressed just as well and perhaps better through acclamation, through something taken for granted, an obvious and unchallenged presence, than through the statistical apparatus' of vote counting. [...] In a populist assembly there is no need to count votes and acknowledge minorities, because the leader will be a leader of the whole, not simply of the majority. Acclamation is not a form peculiar to representative democracy; moreover, it is antithetical to democracy ”(Urbinati 1998: 119).

According to Urbinati, "acclamation" is the only activity and political function of the crowd in the populist rally. Although it reverses Schmitt's political assessment, it relies on his conception of what the acclamation consists of: in the acclamation, something is "presupposed" in its "obvious and unquestioned presence". For Schmitt it is about the will of the people in its embodiment and its expression through the leader figure. Translated into Michael Saward's vocabulary, the acclamation is a complete and unshakable approval of the representation claim on the part of the represented (whereby the connection between what Saward calls "claim" and what Schmitt calls "acclamation" is only evident in English: the “claim” becomes “acclaimed”, whereby the uncertain character of the claim is canceled). Basically, Urbinati indicates that the populist assembly not only approves and accepts the leader's claim to express the “will of the people”, but recognizes it as a present that cannot be challenged. If a claim provokes acclamation, it is doubled.

If we look at the descriptions of the Rally, which point to a feeling of unity and community, connect with the theorizations of Schmitt or Urbinati, who see the acclamation of something obvious and incontestable in the gathering, then we begin to see how a smooth transition takes place between two different processes. The fact that people have the Rally experienced and described as the creation of moments of community, does not mean, I would like to claim that the representative, in Saward's formulation, would have managed a complete "representation". The imaginary experience of unity and community may seem like the longed-for effect of the populist Rally but such experiences are the instantaneous effects of dynamic relationships based on the persistent non-identity of those participating in the performance.3 If theorists jump to the conclusion that the populist Rally show how the representative and the represented truly merge in a present unity, then the performative logic of representation gives way to an expressive logic of representation. Suddenly, representation is then seen as a matter of expressing the will of the people - just as Schmitt formulates it and Urbinati recapitulates it.

The Rally stage

If we are to avoid sliding into this fallacy, the task must be to arrive at an understanding of the aesthetic experience of the unity, which is the populist Rally evokes. What types of staging and choreography do populists use to produce these experiences? When we get a better sense of the performative aesthetics of the populist assembly, we can begin to understand the dynamic of representation at work therein.

Let me introduce a few of the defining elements of Donald Trumps' staging Rallies sketching since 2015. During the 2016 presidential campaign, literary authors and journalists such as Dave Eggers (for the Guardian), George Saunders (for the new Yorker), Matt Taibbi (for the Rolling Stone), Martin Amis (for esquire) and Mark Danner (for the New York Review of Books) Long reports on TrumpRallies, and they all emphasized that the event did not start when Donald Trump took the stage, but much earlier, while the audience was still waiting in front of or in the venue before Trump even reached the city in question by plane. Standing in line, talking to others RallyParticipants strolling along the stalls with merchandise items whose slogans vary in their degree of fighting spirit, the sound of loud pop music that does not necessarily have a connection to Trump's political camp (as Eggers reports, Trump's team chose Elton Johns Tiny dancer), the clashes with demonstrators, mostly verbal, but sometimes also violent: all of these are, as the reporters indicate, typical components of the preliminary program, which must be seen as an integral part of the event and which are essential for the Stirring expectations regarding the Trump Show are.

But waiting in front of or in the venue isn't just about building up expectant tension. It is also about the need to bring the physical space of the events to life. Especially in the 2016 campaign, Trumps found Rallies often in the most inconspicuous and poor places, such as an aircraft hangar. The reasons for this decision may have included the practical advantages of Trump flying in his Boeing 757, getting off the plane in front of his fans (and thus the private jet as a symbol of success, wealth, power and American engineering4 use) and was able to fly on to the next event immediately afterwards.

Rallies To stage in such non-places, however, goes beyond the practical use. From a performative perspective, the selection of such locations is of paramount importance. This becomes immediately plausible if we compare the aircraft hangar (or the more traditional, multifunctional event space that Trump frequently used in 2017 and 2018) with the rally locations that were built for the Nazi party rallies in Nuremberg. At first it may seem that the rallies in Nuremberg and the TrumpRallies (or other populist rallies) have the same purpose. Consider Hans-Ulrich Thamer's explanation of the basic principle of the National Socialist mass rallies:

"The principle objective behind these massive spectacles was to offer visual evidence of the German community united behind its leader. The ritualized rally of all National Socialist organizations was carefully stage-managed to present an impressive image of mass support for the new regime. The rally site formed the stage for the production of a Führer-cult. Hitler was not only leading actor and point of reference for both the architecture and the processions; he was also director and high-priest of the event, symbolically bringing the people together in an emotionally elating, communal experience ”(Thamer 1996: 172 f.).

As with the populist Rally in our day, the purpose of the event was to demonstrate unity in the shared affirmation of a leader figure. But the architecture of the Führer cult was designed for a type of performance that was fundamentally different from a Trump-Rally differs. National Socialist decision-makers made a conscious choice to build the rally site as a venue for a specific purpose. It was designed for a carefully planned political ceremony (four, then seven, and finally eight days) that followed a rigorous political liturgy that left no room for any chance. In fact, the detailed, liturgical process of the NSDAP rallies served a double purpose: it conveyed an atmosphere of the politically sacred, supported by the monumental architecture - the National Socialist Church of political theology - and it also freed the rally from its dependence on Hitler's personal charisma . As Thamer explains:

"Albert Speer, co-creator and executor of this concept, informed us that it was Hitler's aim to restrict the significance of the single personality of the head of State or Party leader within the ritual, and to put in its place a course of events which in itself was capable of impressing the masses. This idea arose from his observation that, in all probability, his successor would not be person with the same mass appeal. Therefore, the ritual had to predominate and a system be installed where even a 'small political goblin' would be able to bring a certain fascination to bear on the masses "(ibid .: 178).

The idea was therefore to derive the emotional impact of the rally not from the unique presence of the leader, but from the wholeness that the Gesamtkunstwerk of the rally makes to relate. The leader had a special role to play that was part of and subordinate to an overall impression. As George L. Mosse put it, the goal was: "to bring the audiences into contact with the supposedly immutable forces outside the course of everyday life" (quoted in ibid .: 178).

Where Nazi rallies intended to point to unchangeable forces, a Trump-Rally the changeability emerges. The meaningless character of the aircraft hangar indicates that it will serve a different purpose after the event. Instead of emphasizing eternity, it creates a profound sense of the 'now'. In the contemporary jargon of event shopping, the hangar could be seen as a 'pop-up location': its temporary character emphasizes the urgency of not missing out on the now. In other words, the present-day sense created by the TrumpRally is achieved is linked to a special space-temporality of the architecture. While for the 'Millennial Reich' the materiality of the rally site had to appear timeless - as lasting longer than it could in a material (and especially in a political) respect - for Trump's populist campaign, the venue has to give the impression that its existence as a social one A special purpose venue will disappear before its material end.

Needless to say, the emphasis on the present moment is not intended to imply that Trump's power is short-lived. The dialectic of presence-in-the-now and its disappearance rather has the function of facilitating an experience that is characterized by participation in the unfolding of the present and ultimately by a feeling of presence that should be understood as overcoming representation. Trump's performative style is perfectly attuned to this goal.

Trump's performative style

Trump repeatedly boasts that he doesn't use scripts. When he is forced to make presidential-sounding statements in the wake of tragic events, he subtly signals to his audience that he must suspend his habit of speaking without a template for a minute in order to appease the rest of the country. In this way, even when reading from a script, he succeeds in affirming that the real Trump is the 'unscripted' Trump. And that's obviously not just boasting: Trump does indeed seem to move from one topic to the next, with the move being at least as important as the topics themselves. With little exaggeration, Katy Waldman has in the online magazine Slate noticed:

"Like Obama or Clinton, Trump uses discourse markers to project folksiness or spontaneous feeling. ('Honestly, she should be locked up.') In his mouth, though, these tokens hedge and redirect of their own volition, as if no one is driving the conversational car. [...] Regardless of his familiarity with the topic at hand, Trump will luxuriate in all the 'let me tell you hes he can possibly throw into his sentences to draw attention to the fact that he’s talking. Of course he employs a tone of discourse markers: Trump as a political force is all discourse marker, no discourse ”(Waldman 2016).

Indeed, Trump seems to derive a narcissistic pleasure from the mere act of speaking - being spoken through language, so to speak - but because that pleasure comes from the language itself rather than from the speaking subject, his performance invites listeners to share his narcissism.5

However, one of the reasons why letting language itself “steer the conversation” provides a shared pleasure has less to do with a sense of narcissistic self-affirmation that would result from integration into the symbolic order than with the feeling of being Openness, the potential that such a semi-voluntary discourse produces. By letting himself go rhetorically, Trump makes an experience of openness and contingency accessible to the senses, not just of the future, but of the present.

This moment can theoretically be grasped with a modified version of what the philosopher Martin Seel calls the “aesthetics of appearance”. In his discussion of sporting events - which have certain traits with a Trump-Rally share - Seel describes the aesthetics of appearance as leading to a pleasurable experience of the indeterminacy of the present. Under the term Appearance For Seel, the totality of the phenomenal properties ascribed to an object falls, whereas Appear the selective, subjective perception of these properties or, as he puts it, the “fullness of its sensually perceptible aspects [...] their momentary and simultaneous presence” (Seel 2000: 53 f.). According to Seel, when we adopt an aesthetic attitude towards an object, we create the possibility of that Appear to move the phenomena to the fore of consciousness. The result, as Seel claims, has the power to prove liberating:

“As much as the awareness of the fact of a far-reaching cognitive and practical indefiniteness and indefiniteness of the world can be crippling in many contexts - it can be just as liberating. It has a liberating effect when it occurs as a consciousness of unexplored, undefined, open, nonetheless here and now existing possibilities. This awareness arises when something is perceived in its sensual peculiarity for the sake of this peculiarity. He becomes aware that it is not the future but the present that is radically indeterminable. Of course, in a certain sense the future is far less determinable than anything that happens in the present and has happened in the past. But the future is to indefinite in order to be in the fullness of its indefiniteness Experienced to be able to become as it is the privilege of the ephemeral present ”(ibid .: 220 f .; emphasis in the orig.).

In the fact that he understands the aesthetics of appearance as dependent on the perception of the sensual peculiarity of an object for its own sake, Seel reveals his normative orientation towards art as the actual place of aesthetics.He indicates that it means a conscious effort, whether one is in a sports arena or a museum, to adopt the aesthetic attitude and to put aside any attention to the pragmatic aspects of the object in question. In a sports arena, that would mean no longer thinking about who is winning. Only if one concentrates fully on the athlete's movements, even if only for a second, can one experience the present “in the fullness of its indeterminacy”. Under this condition the visitor would have to be a political one Rally be able to step out of the charged social context and immerse yourself in a kind of disinterested pleasure - a highly unlikely situation that, even if it succeeded, would tell us little about how one Rally is working.

Although supporters of the Kantian aesthetic would vehemently disagree, there are ultimately few reasons why one should only speak of a truly aesthetic attitude if it is cleansed of any pragmatic admixture. To feel the openness of the present, visitors to a TrumpRally Don't change their attitudes enough to listen to Trump as if he were one language poet. You can't even do it. The aesthetic pleasure to be gained from his performance is essentially related to his style, but style is effective only as a particular way in which something is done. If Trump's speech were perceived as mere talk - as a sound, devoid of ideological meaning and independent of the pragmatic speech situation - he would be unable to evoke a strong sense of the passing present. It is only because he addresses his audience in this particular role and in this particular style - with a use of language that deviates from the rules of political speech without ceasing to be precisely that - can the contingency of the present moment emerge.6

The core this The aesthetics of appearance is not the abundance of an object that can only be perceived in a contemplative attitude and that requires the bracketing of all pragmatic considerations. In other words, the feeling of liberation does not come from the fact that we see that our reference object has an unlimited number of aspects when we turn to it with the senses, outside the confines of the concepts. Rather, it stems from the fact that once the language itself is the "steering of the conversation" in the political Rally takes over, every moment, every word, every sound is a surprise, d. H. a deviation from the expected. It is not a primarily forward-looking surprise - we do not expect the next word with anticipation - but one that affects the present moment and charges it with a sense of the present. By deviating from what is expected, the present moment exposes its contingency and thereby draws attention to its sheer presentness.

To say that language itself is driving the conversation is undoubtedly an exaggeration and in a sense misses the point. Strictly speaking, it is not true that Trump has given up all control. What matters is that he is an improviser, that words and gestures are determined on the spot (whether by him or by a system of language is ultimately irrelevant). For the members of the audience, this creates the impression that they all participate equally in the process of the unfolding present. This helps to determine more precisely in which way the experience of his performance can be called 'liberating': If even Trump cannot predict how things will develop, then being divided in the indefinite present has an equalizing effect. In this sense, a non-scripted, improvisational performance makes accessible an experience that can aptly be described as democratizing. More importantly, it is an experience that creates a sense of oneness: everyone present is part of the same unfolding presence. That is always the case when people inhabit the same space, but only through aesthetic strategies - in this case, through Trump's improvisational style - can this divided, unfolding present be said to be appearing becomes noticeable.

Improvisational interaction

But the communion effect of a TrumpRally does not just result from the display of the unscripted, procedural character of Trump's discourse. As in any improvisation-based art form, improvisational political performance is particularly suitable for interaction. It can be said that Trump's style for interacting with participants is his Rallies is made (see also Moffitt 2016). By exhausting the possibilities of unscripted (which does not mean: not rehearsed) verbal and physical gestures, he creates occasions for contributions from the audience and can also react spontaneously to these contributions.

Before we look at specific examples to see how this process works, it should be noted that even the media-visual and architectural structure of its Rallies is designed to draw attention to this dynamic of to-and-fro. While some Republican presidential candidates like Ted Cruz still used the traditional stage setup (at least occasionally) at the 2016 Primaries, in which the politician faces the audience on a podium, the Trump-Rallies With regard to its architecture, it gives the impression of being in the midst of his followers. For this purpose, so-called VIP seats, which rise steeply from the level of the stage, are placed behind the podium. The number of these VIP seats is limited, but on the images taken by the cameras positioned in the back, they give the impression of an endless number of followers. They extend beyond the frame of the camera image, even if not by much.

As the New York Times reports, the visitors who can be seen in this area are often "super fans", the Trump of Rally to Rally consequences. Alternatively, they are selected by local organizers, are admitted because they arrived early, or in some cases are selected at random (Mervosh 2018). But as Jennifer Cunningham from SKDKnickerbocker, a policy advisory agency that has worked for presidential campaigns, explains: "The rule is that you vet everything and everyone so there are no surprises" (ibid.). Indeed, it is noteworthy that the VIP audience tends to be from Rally to Rally to be composed of similar subgroups. In the Midterm-Rallies from 2018 included families with young children, groups of women in pink shirts with posters that read “Women for Trump”, and a few “people of color”. Showing such a spectrum of cheerful faces is likely to counter the impression that Trump is attracting a fan base that is hostile and bitter, that instead of looking ahead has succumbed to past-gnawing resentment. But when questions of identity play a role in the composition of the VIP group, this refers to an area of ​​existence that the expression 'VIP' itself - in the resigned meaning of RallyContext - should rather take a back seat. The use of the term by the organizers of Rallies suggests how two social realities - that of everyday life and that of Rally - be swapped with each other. Because what marks these people as "very important" has nothing to do with their social status (this is where the Rally from the VIP stages at sporting events), but everything with its function in the context of the Rally self.

Rally- Capturing participants with the camera is a technique that was not invented by the Trump campaign, but is becoming more relevant as a visual convention for his performances. It allows television and Internet viewers to see both subgroups of the interaction at once. Indeed, the interaction itself becomes a crucial part of the content of the broadcast of the Rally. The effects of this staging go even further: VIP visitors interact with both Trump and the other audience members, and they do so knowing that they are being filmed and thus appearing in front of the camera. This awareness is heightened by Trump's frequent comments on how the television crews are reporting - or, he says, not reporting adequately - on the audience. Trump's obsession with the size of his audience during the inauguration takes on new meaning in this light: making reporting about his audience the subject of public debate is in line with the interactive aesthetic, where the audience themselves are at the center of attention. Since the individual crowds of Trump's audience are called upon to see themselves as belonging to a larger 'movement', the audience at the inauguration can be used as a topic of conversation by speaking about a certain Rally connect the audience present.

The overall attention both Trump and his supporters pay to reporting on themselves complicates the nature of the Rally as such. To attain on one level Rallies their character as performative events through the gathering of physical bodies in physical space. “[T] he physical co-presence of actors and spectators [is] the condition of the possibility for a community to emerge from both groups”, argues the theater scholar Erika Fischer-Lichte (Fischer-Lichte 2004: 101). Only the interaction of “embodied minds” - i.e. H. of beings who are conscious of themselves as physical beings - allows a performance to produce something that the participants consider "a social reality [...] that [...] only exists for a short time" (ibid .: 90), is perceived.

But they are on a different level Rallies Media events, and their existence as mediated reality, is inscribed in the creation of the short-lived community of embodied performance: all participants in the Rally consciously participate in media production. Moreover, one can assume that the appearance of the event in the media is not merely negotiated during the event itself, but is also visually presented by those involved in the creation of the temporary community of physical bodies. Such is the behavior with the Rally - even if it may be interactive and spontaneous - shaped by the model of the Trump rally, as it is known from television and the Internet. In short, at the Rally mediality and physicality are nested in one another.

The analytical observer based on broadcasts from TrumpRallies must therefore take into account that the interplay of bodily embodiment and mediality must be reconstructed from the medial material. Regardless of this methodological challenge, the available image material conveys a sense of the rhythm with which the interactive dynamics of the performance take place. The interaction is characterized by the fluctuating intensity of affective participation, which can be seen with the greatest clarity on the faces of the visitors in the VIP stands (even if these facial expressions do not always completely correspond to the cheers and boos that come from outside the Camera area of ​​the event hall can be heard).

Trump's speeches do not consistently arouse the same level of audience participation, although almost every one of Trump's utterances, with its numerous repetitions of short sentences and different discourse markers, challenges the audience to react. Usually the energy fades whenever Trump explains policy measures in more detail or when he tells a lengthy story about himself without rhetorically involving the audience. Over longer periods of time, the camera then captures VIP members who seem unsure how to behave, who are showing little attention or who are simply yawning. Trump overcomes these low-energy passages by suddenly directing the conversation to one of his (shared by the audience) bogeymen. In these situations he often gives the cue for one of his well-known three-syllable chants - "Lock her up!", "Drain the Swamp", "Build the Wall", "USA", etc. - or he takes a break and leaves the audience decide for yourself which speaking choir to sing (which sometimes leads to simultaneous, competing choirs).

To give a paradigmatic example, I will become one for a few moments Rally analyze that took place in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 26, 2018, the day Cesar Sayoc, the suspect behind the letter bombs sent to several prominent critics of Trump, was arrested (Trump 2018). After about the first six minutes of the Rally Trump starts talking about the letter bombs and is quick to blame the media. He then speaks about his unjust treatment by journalists, his success in averting a world war with North Korea, his proud avowal as a nationalist, his plan to cut taxes for the middle class and the fate that threatens America should Nancy Pelosi become Speaker of the House of Representatives. From here he moves on to his initiative to force a reduction in the cost of prescription drugs. What comes next is my attempt to transcribe the following two minutes and ten seconds (from 5:50 pm to 8:00 pm) to capture his words, some of his gestures and the reaction of the VIP audience. Following the transcription, I add a selection of screen shots designed to capture the varying degrees of audience participation throughout the clip:

“And yesterday, which got very, very little print — very little ink by these [he points his finger in the background] great gentleman, and ladies [he pauses, a few laughs and boos from the audience], by the [another pause] fake news [Boos and excited screams at the same time] —yesterday, yesterday— [he pauses to mark the insertion of a sentence, which he then interrupts] —it really did, it's a very imp… - we signed a bill: Prescription drug prices are going to come tumbling down [underlines this last sentence with a downward gesture of his right arm and lowers the pitch of his voice to mimic the price movement; the audience cheers enthusiastically, a few individual VIPs hold up their posters]! You know we have other countries, we have other countries that, for the same pill, from the same company, made in the saaaame plant [pause] —wherever the hell it's made [some audience members burst out laughing] —you go and you see that saaaame pill, same box, same everything, selling for ten percent, twenty percent, thirty percent of what Americans are forced to pay. That's all ending, folks, that's all ending, ok?

[weak cheers]. Hopefully you don’t need prescription drugs, but if you do, you’re gonna get them a hell of a lot cheaper, because it's going this way [pointing downwards with his right hand; the jubilation is noticeably quieter than on the previous repetition of this point]. But the middlemen — and the drug companies — but the middle men are not thrilled with me right now. [weak cheers] They’re not thrilled with me. These are very rich people, they are not thrilled! They are not thrilled with Donald Trump right now. [he tilts his head as if calling for a reaction from the audience; the jubilation remains weak]. And the Democrats [pause] want to invite [another pause] caravan after caravan of illegal aliens [loud boos] into our country [boos get louder] and they wanna sign them up for free healthcare, free welfare, free education, for the right to vote, they want to sign them, for the right to vote, what's that all about [he looks around disapprovingly. Then he moves away from the microphone and looks at the VIPs. Some yell 'Donald Trump!', Some yell 'Build that Wall!' Their faces brighten as the chorus chanted. He raises his hand and turns back to the microphone]! The right to vote — you ever hear that one! "

This excerpt shows that the temporary community that emerges from the back and forth between Trump and the audience is by no means a stable entity (see Fig. 1 and 2).With every sentence Trump risks a break with what Fischer-Lichte calls “the autopoietic feedback-Loop [denotes that] not only through observable, d. H. visible and audible actions and behaviors are set in motion and maintained by actors and spectators, but also by the energy that circulates between them ”(Fischer-Lichte 2004: 99). In terms of content, this is one of the more challenging sections of the Rally for Trump, as he tries to address, or rather celebrate, his drug price strategy. Although lowering the price of prescription drugs has great populist potential, as it addresses the problems of the little man from an economic point of view, the relatively high level of abstraction makes the topic a challenge for emotional mobilization. There is a prolonged lull in this section that begins when Trump repeats his - initially successful - formulation about falling prices. While he prepares the point with great effect in the first round (Fig. 3 and 4), the audience hardly reacts in the second repetition (Fig. 5). Trump is trying to win back the audience with another typical populist maneuver: He positions himself on the side of the opposition to the boards of directors of pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists, who embody the elites here. But although he plays all the performative tricks from his repertoire - he repeats his punch line three times - no life returns to the audience (Fig. 6 and 7).
His solution is to suddenly turn to another bogeyman: the Democrats, who are in league with illegal immigrants - "one caravan after the other" -. It was only when Trump replaced his original bad boy - the executive elite of the pharmaceutical industry - with a new villain made up of a mixture of political opponents and illegal immigrants marked as alien that he managed to spark a strong reaction. And in fact it is a strong reaction: after he has infuriated her, he leaves the stage to his followers (Figs. 8 and 9).
United in their rejection of the twofold opponent (which agrees with Judis ‘term of" triadic populism "), Trump triggers what Fischer-Lichte describes as a" change of role ":

“The role change can [...] be understood as a process of disenfranchisement and empowerment that affects both the theater artist and the audience. The artists disempower themselves as the sole creators of the performance; they declare themselves ready to share authorship and power of definition - albeit to a different extent - with the audience ”(ibid .: 80).

Remarkably, the empowerment of the audience results in a change in feelings that is more and more detached from the initial emotion. While Fig. 8 shows an overlap of joy and anger, a few moments later, the audience, completely surrendered to the rhythmic chanting, has reached something like a state of intoxication (Fig. 9). It is the position of “authorship and power of definition” that transforms the initially negative feelings into enthusiasm.

The judgment community and the populist appearance space

Trump-Rallies continually produce occasions for judgment that take place in the medium of the audience's willingness to react: the judgment is not expressed through the alternatives of cheering or booing, but through the sheer intensity of the reaction. In this sense, booing and cheering are interchangeable forms of willingness to react, which must be viewed in contrast to silence, boredom and yawning. At the beginning of this essay I used Michael Saward's term “representation claim”. In this context, the judgment takes the form of “consent”. In Saward's theory, approval does not refer to a political project by the representative or to soliciting a prospective representative for the vote. Rather, consent refers to the “political reality” (Ankersmit 1996: 47), which is created by the act of political representation, i. H. is brought about by the framing and formation of representatives, represented and the world they divide. Although Saward does not use the term, approval of political reality takes at least part of the form of aesthetic Judgment. The question that this raises - and to which I will devote myself to this last section - is how to conceptualize the relationship between aesthetic judgment and consent (or affirmation).

In the interaction with the visitors of his Rallies Trump himself is astonishingly open about the aesthetic nature of their judgment (even if he would not formulate the matter that way). Consider the following excerpt from a Rally in Golden, Colorado, which was held shortly before the presidential election on October 29, 2016 (Trump 2016). The passage begins after 43 minutes and 32 seconds of the recording:

"I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and hear, and I mean big-league hear [pause and cheers] the words of us — not me, it's ussss — when we win on November 8th [pause and cheers] we are going." [gives his voice a growl] to Washington, DC [Pause, cheering and continued growling voice] WE WILL [long pause during which he raises his hand to direct the audience, who take the cue and intone it together:] DRAIN — THE— SWAMP [cheering]! I tell people I hated that expression. Started a week ago. I didn't like it. I said, Ugh, that's corny [he spreads his arms, pauses, the audience laughs]. I said. And then I went, I said it, half-heartedly said it, the place went crazy. You know, Frank Sinatra didn't love "My Way." And then he sang it, and he saw what was happening. And then it became the biggest [sic], and he ended up loving it like crazy, but: That was a very interesting thing — Drain the swamp [Jubel] —very accurate. "

Let's take Trump at his word here. At first he rejects one of his signature slogans on aesthetic grounds - it is 'trite' - and then he compares his position as a political candidate with that of a popular musician. At issue is the performer's aesthetic judgment compared to that of his audience. If the fans agree in their judgment, then the performer must clearly state that he was wrong. Without a doubt, according to Trump's logic - yes, just like that of Kant and Arendt - one can argue about aesthetic judgments. As Trump makes clear to his audience, the judgment of any individual is fallible, which also means that it is not purely subjective. Trump is of course not a true Kantian, but an esthete who has been produced by the culture industry: for him, authority rests on the criterion of quantity. The crowd should know best because they are the majority. She cannot collectively wrongly judge.

What should one think of this conscious aestheticization of politics by a right-wing populist? The aesthetics of appearance mixes, as I said above, aesthetics and sociality. It can now be seen that this intermingling creates a double reference for the judgments of the audience. First assess Rally-Participants who take part in the improvised interaction, Trump's contributions with a view to the social and political world. They decide whether they agree with his statements, but more importantly, they decide to what extent his statements (with which a fundamental agreement is taken for granted) are affectively in line with the world that they share with him and intend to create the other visitors through the performance. Second, they also judge the aesthetic qualities of his - and their own - performative statements in and through themselves. Collective chants are no longer popular alone or primarily because of their content, but because of their recognizable power as chants. Chants become too With-Chants and they are received as such in a self-reflective manner. In Trump's world, the comparison of “Drain the Swamp” with “My Way” does not entail the slightest risk of sudden recognition due to the reduction of politics to aesthetics. The emotional judgment of cheering concerns the aesthetic quality of the cheering itself, consciously and explicitly.

One must therefore ask the peculiar question of whether a TrumpRally could not be the redemption of Hannah Arendt's highly idealistic concept of the "space of appearance". My answer will be in the negative, but the fact that this question can be asked with at least a certain degree of plausibility already does a lot to problematize the idea that the populist Rally appropriately to be characterized as the acclamation of a given popular will that it would be the successful (albeit regrettably totalitarian) expression and realization of unity.

Arendt has the idea of ​​the appearance space furthest in her essays of the late 1950s such as “What is Freedom?” And “The Crisis in Culture” (Ahrendt 1968a and 1968b) and in Vita activa or From active life (2002) elaborated. The concept of the space of appearance can be taken as Arendt's understanding of the ideal democratic public sphere, modeled on the Greek polis. The apparition space does not automatically exist due to the co-presence of human beings in the same place. In order for the apparition space to come into existence, people who are freed from the concern for the material reproduction of their lives (because they have delegated this task to slaves, wives or other relatives) must come together in order to realize their freedom of speech and action. For Arendt, freedom of speech and action does not mean the achievement of specific practical goals, but rather an intersubjective constellation of mutual sensual perception (and ultimately recognition). When free people perceive the appearance of other free people and when they appear mutually to one another, then they bring about the appearance of a divided world which they can then relate to as an object of their common interest.

If perceiving the appearance of others and being perceived by others in the same way are a special form of interaction that creates a shared, common world, then this world contains a built-in multitude of perspectives: everyone looks at the from a slightly different perspective World. The result is by no means any form of mere subjectivism or solipsism. Rather, a multitude of perspectives emerge, which enables the creation of a divided world. A divided world is a world that is accessible to each of its members as an appearance and that appears to each member from a different perspective.

But if the perception of appearances is to create a divided world, then it is not enough to remain on the purely receptive level of the perception of appearances, since mere perception cannot be communicated. Therefore, in “The Crisis of Culture”, Arendt begins to consider the relevance of judgment - more precisely, the pre-conceptual, aesthetic judgment that is necessary for processing sensual phenomena - as a core activity in the creation of a divided, public world:

"That the capacity to judge is a specifically political ability in exactly the sense denoted by Kant, namely, the ability to see things not only from one’s own point of view but in the perspective of all those who happen to be present; even that judgment may be one of the fundamental abilities of man as a political being insofar as it enables him to orient himself in the public realm, in the common world these are insights that are virtually as old as articulated political experience "(Arendt 1968a: 221).

For a divided world to exist as a plural world, it is not enough that every participant is aware of their own perspective as a particular one. These particular perspectives must be viewed as generalizable - i. H. they must be assumed to be basically shared by every other member - and at the same time fallible (otherwise other perspectives would be excluded). They must correspond to the position that Kant in paragraph 40 of his Critique of Judgement referred to as an "extended way of thinking" and which is achieved when, very similar to Arendt paraphrasing it in the passage quoted above,

“He [the individual; JV] can ignore the subjective private conditions of the judgment, between which as many others as are bracketed, and reflect on his own judgment from a general point of view (which he can only determine by putting himself in the point of view of others) ”(Kant 1990: 146).

Precisely because the aesthetic judgment is non-conceptual, it must - if it is not to result in solipsism - be formed with a view to the way in which it is to be assumed that others may make their judgment. In order to be communicable, the non-conceptual aesthetic judgment requires an internal decision-making process that anticipates the position of others, and it is precisely because of this requirement that aesthetic judgment is crucial in order to produce a divided world from the perception of appearances. In short, this is why Arendt Kant's third criticism referred to as his political philosophy.

Arendt was an explicit pessimist about the question of whether this ideal public sphere could be realized in the modern age. In “The Crisis in Culture” she blamed the consumer mentality of mass society for the impossibility of creating a political space of freedom in which people can treat the public world as a matter of phenomena to be judged with an expanded mindset. And in line with this pessimism, there remains a TrumpRally obviously falls short of Arendt's high standards. Indeed, she could serve as the epitome of their worst fears. Visitor to a TrumpRally elements of the public appearing are unlikely to judge them based on how other visitors may judge them. In any case, such a judgment does not concern the question of consent - this is assumed - but only the intensity of consent. And this intensity of the reaction will hardly be determined by the anticipated judgment of others. It is true that constitutes the Rally a kind of appearance space. In this, however, the plurality of perspectives hardly seems to play a role, especially if the prerequisite is that everyone will join the choir with one accord.

I believe that both of these statements are correct to some extent, but strangely enough it remains possible that the Rally interpreted in a way that - contrary to their intentions - fulfills some of the more demanding, formal criteria of Arendt (if one ignores her blanket historical thesis, according to which society has subverted politics in such a way that political freedom is fundamentally no longer achievable be). Take the two points that I just mentioned: Isn't the fact that aesthetic judgments in a TrumpRally affecting affective intensities (rather than judging an aesthetic category like beauty), an indication that the expanded way of thinking, in which the judgments of others are anticipated, plays a particularly important role? Because isn't the cheering of a singing crowd the release of the happy premonition that a hit like “Drain the Swamp” will be voiced with complete conviction by (almost) everyone present?

And is that Rally Isn't it also in reality a space of plurality, simply because the improvised interaction is based on the risk of failure? Isn't Trump's failure to try to evoke the desired response already an experience of plurality? Indeed, is it not plausible to claim that the TrumpRally Moments of unity are created against the backdrop of the improbability of the crowd coming together in a synchronous experience of the show? In other words, isn't the time and space limited performance of agreement, consent, or affirmation driven by the overwhelming likelihood of disagreement?

I am ending with these questions, not because I want to suggest that they are populist Rally corresponds to the Arendtian phenomenal space, but because Arendt's theory - essentially thanks to its idealistic character - aspects of the Rally brings to light those of the ordinary classifications of right-wing populist Rally as anti-democratic, pushing for unity (and therefore potentially totalitarian) and acclamation-based rather hidden. Trump-Rallies implement a stress test for the democratic public.They do this because they reveal the ambiguity with which they are Rally vacillates between democratic and anti-democratic tendencies. This is the ambiguity of the aestheticization of politics. It is a key feature of contemporary populism.


  1. 1.

    Part II will be in the 2019 edition of the magazine REAL. Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature appear.

  2. 2.

    For a coherent, normative justification of the need for - ultimately aesthetic - representation for a democratic audience see Juliane Rebentisch, who writes: “If it is true that the self of collective self-government cannot be assumed to be a unified will and that it must first be brought forth by political representation, then this means that the demos of democracy can never exist beyond the separation thereby established between representatives and the represented, producers and receivers, the rulers and the ruled, performers and the audience. [...] The democratic answer to the problem of sovereign power does not consist in concealing the latter, but in exhibiting it and thus exposing it to an examination of its legitimacy. For it is precisely through this democratically understood 'aestheticization of the political that democracy preserves its openness to the future' (Rebentisch 2016).

  3. 3.

    This even applies to the constructivist point of view, from which representatives and represented are not already given entities, but rather emerge as a result of the claim to representation. In other words, non-identity does not mean the difference between two already given identities. Rather, these interacting identities are produced in the process of their interaction, through the performative act of claiming. As is so often the case, the performative logic is difficult to reconcile with the temporal order of cause and effect.