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Politics and populism across modes and media


Edited By Ruth Breeze and Ana María Fernández Vallejo

The relationship between politics and digital media is currently a focus of intense interest: the symbiosis between the two spheres is such that political activity is now almost inseparable from media communication. However, the implications of this development are not fully understood. Digital media are a powerful tool in the hands of mainstream parties, but also make it easier than ever before for the public to express their reactions, or for new actors to enter the political arena. This volume explores the intersection between politics and new media, which involves crucial ideals, values and aspirations, such as informed democracy, citizens’ empowerment and social debate, but also negative aspects like manipulation and polarization.

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Aline Schmidt: The discursive construction of Trump’s charisma on Twitter and Reddit

The discursive construction of Trump’s charisma on

Twitter and Reddit


Aline Schmidt

The 2016 US presidential election has precipitated the ‘Trump Phenomenon’ as a symptom of a complex set of changes in socio-political culture and structure, a shift in the loci of authority and trust, and social media democratization. While studies in sociology and political science have focused on socio-demographic factors and longitudinal macro-level transformations to explain the electoral success of underdog Donald Trump (e.g., Fuchs 2017; Norris/Inglehart 2018), there is still the need to address the micro-political interactions on the discursive plane to investigate how Donald Trump’s power was initially legitimized in the public sphere at the onset of his presidential bid.

The work presented here is embedded within the larger research project of my PhD thesis in which I approach the emergence of Trump’s cult of personality as a charismatic relationship building on Max Weber (1958, 1968). In the present study, I analyze the pre-election phase as a particularly critical period for semiotic charismatization. I specifically focus on discursive practices on social media which are constitutive of the idiosyncratic manifestation of Trump’s charisma in the contemporary United States. Both Trump’s use of Twitter and the creative exploitation of semiotic resources by online hard-core Trump supporters on the subreddit r/The_Donald demonstrate how the specific affordances of social media enable the construction of Trump as a charismatic leader. I explore the discursive dimension of Weberian charismatic authority, which offers an explanation of the success of the Trump campaign as an irrational, affective phenomenon of our...

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