Populism, Trump-Style: Charisma and Counter-Charisma in Modern Political Performance

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Paul JOOSSE, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
This paper conducts a negative reading of Weber’s ideal-type of charismatic authority, seeking to anticipate and discern hidden social interactants that are implicated in his descriptions of charismatic social processes. In so doing, the paper advances the ‘charismatic counter-role’ as an umbrella term that captures the performative bearing of a variety actors on processes of charismatic interaction. Specifically, in addition to devoted followers (already much discussed in the literature), this typology contains unworthy challengers (those who fall short when judged by the new terms of legitimacy that the charismatic leader creatively establishes); colossal players (those who serve as interlocutors that are appropriately ‘to scale’ for highlighting the extraordinary missions to which the charismatic leader aspires); and incredulous onlookers (those whose nay-saying, skepticism, and outrage is a precondition for the leader’s performance of seemingly miraculous feats). Together, these charismatic counter-roles interact in ways that comprise a charismatic social system that gives a better account than has heretofore been available for the unstoppable momentum of populist movements let by charismatic candidates. Using the ‘Trump phenomenon’ as its empirical source, and employing analytical tools from symbolic interactionist and performative approaches to social theory, this paper has implications for future studies of how populism can destabilize traditional and/or rational-legal social orders.