On 14 June 2017 the University of Glasgow is convening a symposium, Trump and the Media. The organisers Catherine Happer and Andrew Hoskins write: This symposium brings together speakers from journalism and from academia to explore the social, economic, technological and political implications of President Donald Trump’s media use and relations, his self-proclaimed ‘war’ on mainstream news organizations and the role of digital technologies in his campaign and Presidency. To register to attend, click here.
NewPolCom's Ben O'Loughlin will present an analysis of the handshakes of the current US president. Details below:
Trump's Handshakes: Diplomatic Stand-offs in the Global Media
Ben O'Loughlin, Royal Holloway, University of London
After an Obama administration committed to "unclenching fists" in diplomatic affairs, global media have in 2017 reported President Trump using his hands to greet leaders with renewed American vigour. I argue these diplomatic encounters can be conceptualised as stand-offs: moments of uncertainty when nobody quite knows what will happen, including the people shaking hands. These moments are instructive. Following Wagner-Pacifici (2000: 3, emphasis in original) I treat stand-offs as 'action in the subjunctive mood': witnesses hypothesise about likely outcomes and their speculation is tinged with emotion - doubt, hope, fear. As Trump grabs the hands of Trudeau, Xi, and Theresa May walking down some steps, several dimensions of mediatization kick in. First, news values -- personalisation, calibration to powerful actors, and drama -- lead reporting to amplify these stand-offs into geostrategic moments signalling power relations in an uncertain global order; the subjunctive mood premediates World War III or an harmonious Russia-US alliance. Second, the digitally-enabled return to multisensorial mediums allows communication to return its focus to gesture. For Joyce, all communication was ultimately gesture. Decades of written political communication limited gestural opportunities, while risk-averse leaders carefully managed any television appearance. Trump bypasses that, firmly anchoring us in tactile communication; his bodily gesture is felt, at a distance, without control. Third, television and diplomatic handshakes have an entwined history; each new handshake can be framed through the lens of prior handshake stand-offs. Hence, while Trump's vigorous grabbing shook coverage for some months, news media are now containing his stand-offs and normalising his encounters. Overall, Trump's handshakes exemplify the potential to use stand-offs to gesture globally, digitally, but also how news media soon learn to contain and ritualise -- to the extent Trump's opponents have learned to turn these stand-offs to their advantage.