The Banality and Spectacle of Trump’s Leadership

Even before the election last November, the media has been enthralled by Trump, reporting daily his latest tweet or stumble, as if this was exciting news. News executives readily admit they made money covering Trump during the election, but I wonder if part of all this current coverage is the collective pinching ourselves to see whether this is a bad dream from which we hope to wake up or grim reality we have to face through desensitization. Or, perhaps, media preoccupation with Trump signifies a collective attempt to make sense of a kind of leadership we have not seen before, at least not in the Oval Office.

To be sure, there are people in various fields of psychology who have made sense of Trump’s leadership by way of psychological criteria taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5). As tempting as this approach is, I find it troublesome because psychological diagnosis should ideally be aimed at deepening one’s understanding of a person in order to provide interventions to help him/her. Moreover, psychology has a long history of using diagnoses to harm rather than enlighten or help. Of course, psychology is not the only frame of reference we can bring to bear in depicting Trump and his leadership. Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Adolf Eichmann and Daniel Boorstin’s classic text, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, are helpful guides in this endeavor.

Let me quickly offer a caveat. Usually, a reference to Nazis is either an ad hominem

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