Going with Your Gut: A Study of Affect, Satire, and Donald Trump  in the 2016 Presidential Election

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Virginia Tech

This thesis is an exploration of affect theory and emotional rhetoric in the 2016 Presidential Election, and specifically in Donald Trump’s candidacy, first through a series of rhetorical readings of Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and after his election. The first section of this thesis focuses on Donald Trump and the various rhetorical spaces he uses to reach his supporters through affectual means. Next, I will apply affect theory to Trump’s political rhetoric in order to illustrate how affect is intrinsic to his rhetoric and how he communicates to his audience. I find that utilizing texts by cultural rhetoric critics, namely those which discuss affect theory and the culture of emotion such as Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion, and culture and rhetorical spaces in Julie Lindquist’s A Place to Stand: Politics and Persuasion in a Working Class Bar, allows us to better understand the underlying cultural impetuses which created the conditions for Donald Trump’s presidency. In the third section, I examine how these theoretical frameworks provide an understanding of how fake news contributed to the current American climate of a post-truth media culture. And in the final section, I explore how satirical rhetoric is employed both as a defense against and as a rhetorical utility for Donald Trump, namely in his use of carnivalesque techniques and rhetoric to appeal to his voter’s sense of rebellion against and cynicism toward the political establishment. In doing so, I argue that Trump’s use of affect, particularly in his targeted approach to appeal to his base’s existential, socio-economic, and racial fears, was essential to his success in the 2016 Presidential election.

Trump, Donald, 1946-, Presidential elections, affect, satire, carnivalesque, media studies