Monday, November 14, 2016

Premediation as Normalization: The New York Times and "President-Elect Donald Trump"

In less than a week since the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times website counts over 300 uses of the phrase "President-Elect Donald [J.] Trump."  The effect of this constant repetition of the phrase is to normalize his election, prompting a kind of affectivity of numbness and a sense of inevitability and legitimacy to him and his presidency.

There is a kind of sycophantic quality to this close attentiveness to Trump's every move, even in those cases where the Times is critical of his actions. It is the quotidian mediality of these usages, their weaving into the fabric of our media everyday, that has brought the US to this place we are now in, that have made Trump seem like a credible presidential candidate (and soon president) despite the editorial content of the Times and other media outlets.

Another way to put it, borrowing a distinction from J. L. Austin, is that these apparently constative speech acts, which seem only to describe or assert matters of fact, have a powerful performative function as well, in reiterating and legitimating the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, implicitly premediating both the vote of the Electoral College and his inauguration.

In saying this I am not making a claim that The New York Times is doing anything different from what they did when, for example, Barack Obama was elected in 2008. In fact, I am making the opposite point: that they are doing for Trump precisely what they would do for any president-elect.

By premediating a Trump presidency as if there was nothing extraordinary about it, The New York Times is in effect producing a counter-affect to the "not my president" protests that have been going on with increasing intensity since Wednesday and that will continue to intensify up to and perhaps beyond the moment when The New York Times silently and almost without notice shifts its everyday utterances from "President-elect Donald [J.] Trump" to "President Trump."

Here is a small curated sampling of those performative utterances by The New York Times.


Wednesday, November 9

“President-elect Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will need to work together despite vast differences on climate change, trade and migrants.”

“U.S. President-elect Donald Trump should stay committed to the international nuclear deal with Iran, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency on Wednesday.”

“President-elect Donald Trump's victory Tuesday has prompted embattled pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli (SHKREL'-ee) to publicly debut some songs off the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album he bought for $2 million last year.”

Thursday, November 10

“President-elect Donald Trump is strongly considering naming his campaign chief Steve Bannon to serve as White House chief of staff, CNN reported on Thursday, citing a source with knowledge of the situation.”

“Advisers to president-elect Donald Trump have considered the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase for Treasury secretary, reports Kate Kelly of CNBC.”

“Aides to President-elect Donald Trump are considering Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas as a candidate for Treasury secretary, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.”

Friday, November 11

“U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is considering outgoing Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire for the post of defense secretary, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing two sources familiar with the discussions.

“President-elect Donald J. Trump said Friday that he was likely to abandon the American effort to support ‘moderate’ opposition groups in Syria who are battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad, saying ‘we have no idea who these people are.’”

“President-elect Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal he is considering retaining parts of President Barack Obama's healthcare law including provisions letting parents keep adult children up to age 26 on insurance policies and barring insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.”

Saturday, November 12

“Even as President-elect Donald J. Trump vows to unify a divided nation, he faces a momentous decision over whether to make good on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to have a special prosecutor ‘lock up’ Hillary Clinton.”

“President-elect Donald Trump's policies are likely to make it harder for developing nations to obtain the growing finance they need to combat climate change, threatening one pillar of a 2015 international agreement to slow global warming.”

“President-elect Donald Trump has said he may keep some parts of his predecessor's signature health care overhaul. “

Sunday, November 13

“President-elect Donald Trump is seeking quick ways to withdraw the United States from a global accord to combat climate change, a source on his transition team said, defying broad international backing for the plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

“President-elect Donald J. Trump appeared to soften some of his hardest-line campaign positions on immigration on Sunday, but he also restated his pledge to roll back abortion rights and used Twitter to lash out at his critics, leaving open the possibility that he would continue using social media in the Oval Office and radically change the way presidents speak to Americans.”

“U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has requested that a trial over a lawsuit by former students of his now-defunct Trump University be put on hold until after the presidential inauguration, according to a motion filed by his lawyer late Saturday.”

Monday. November 14

“President-elect Donald J. Trump has suggested he will end support, which some groups hope would encourage Saudi Arabia and Turkey to provide more sophisticated weapons.”

“President-elect Donald Trump is considering oil billionaire Harold Hamm and North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer to lead the Department of Energy.”