Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign and Adorno’s Psychological Technique: Content Analyses of Authoritarian Populism

Keywords: Donald Trump, Theodore W. Adorno, authoritarian populism, critical theory, 2016 US Presidential Election, content analysis


There has been a burgeoning interest in the sociology of the Frankfurt School as well as the oeuvre of Theodor W. Adorno since the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump. The objectives of this study are to both illustrate the enduring importance of Adorno and to provide an important theoretical outline in making sense of Trump’s 2016 United States presidential campaign. Using Adorno’s understudied textual analysis of the radio addresses of Martin Luther Thomas and data from Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign, we find that Trump’s own discourse can be condensed into three of Adorno’s rhetorical devices: (1) the lone wolf device or anti-statism/pseudo-conservatism, reflecting his criticism of “special interests” and his appraisal of business and (self-)finance; (2) the movement device, which amounted to glorification of action; and (3) the exactitude of error device which amounted to xenophobic, ethnonationalist hyperbole.

Author Biographies

Myra B Haverda, University of Oregon

Myra Haverda received an M.S. in Sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Oregon. Their research focuses on critical theory, masculinity studies, and social movements. Their master’s thesis, “Hybridizing Masculinity: Gender Identity Negotiation Among Men's Rights Activists,” is a qualitative analysis that draws from fifteen interviews with men’s rights activists, finding that men’s rights activists engage in three forms of masculinity hybridization: fortifying boundaries, strategic borrowing, and discursive distancing.

Jeffrey A Halley, The University of Texas at San Antonio

Jeffrey A. Halley is Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he directs the Laboratory for the Sociology of the Arts, Culture, and Communications (SACC). His research and teaching focuses on theory, art, culture, and media. Recent articles concern the problem of the rationalization of culture in the Dada art movement, Mexican American Conjunto music, and standardization and pleasure in the wine world. In 2010 and 2011 he was Guest Editor of two volumes of Sociologie De l’Art, Théorie/Epistémologie/Littérature, and “Rationalisation et Résistance/Postmodernisme”. In 2017 he edited, with Daglind Sonolet, Bourdieu in Question: New Directions in French Sociology of Art (Leiden/Boston: Brill Publishers). He has been a Fulbright Fellow, and guest professor at the universities of Ljubljana, Metz, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France. He was elected President, Research Committee on the Sociology of the Arts, the International Sociological Association, and is on the editorial board of Sociologie de l’art and Comparative Sociology.