Donald Trump: A Critical Theory-Perspective on Authoritarian Capitalism

  • Christian Fuchs University of Westminster, Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies & Communication and Media Research Institute
Keywords: Donald Trump, critical theory, capitalism, political economy, Franz L. Neumann, Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, authoritarian statism, state theory, ideology critique, USA, United States politics, 2016 US presidential election


This paper analyses economic power, state power and ideological power in the age of Donald Trump with the help of critical theory. It applies the critical theory approaches of thinkers such as Franz Neumann, Theodor W. Adorno and Erich Fromm. It analyses changes of US capitalism that have together with political anxiety and demagoguery brought about the rise of Donald Trump. This article draws attention to the importance of state theory for understanding Trump and the changes of politics that his rule may bring about. It is in this context important to see the complexity of the state, including the dynamic relationship between the state and the economy, the state and citizens, intra-state relations, inter-state relations, semiotic representations of and by the state, and ideology. Trumpism and its potential impacts are theorised along these dimensions. The ideology of Trump (Trumpology) has played an important role not just in his business and brand strategies, but also in his political rise. The (pseudo-)critical mainstream media have helped making Trump and Trumpology by providing platforms for populist spectacles that sell as news and attract audiences. By Trump making news in the media, the media make Trump. An empirical analysis of Trump’s rhetoric and the elimination discourses in his NBC show The Apprentice underpins the analysis of Trumpology. The combination of Trump’s actual power and Trump as spectacle, showman and brand makes his government’s concrete policies fairly unpredictable. An important question that arises is what social scientists’ role should be in the conjuncture that the world is experiencing.

See also the related blog post "How The Frankfurt School Helps Us To Understand Donald Trump’s Twitter Populism"
The German translation of this shorter piece was published in Der Falter 5/2017: 21-23.

Author Biography

Christian Fuchs, University of Westminster, Westminster Institute for Advanced Studies & Communication and Media Research Institute
Christian Fuchs is professor at the University of Westminster. He is editor of tripleC: Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society. He holds a venia docendi in the field of ICTs and society.
His research interests are: critical theory, social theory, Internet and society, social media and society, media and society, ICTs and society, information society theory/research, political economy. He is author of many publications in these fields.
Critical Theory Interventions on Authoritarianism and Right-Wing Extremist Ideology in Contemporary Capitalism