The Dialectics of Authenticity

Sometimes being a historian for a long time prevents one from recognizing change: “Nothing to see here. It’s all been done before.” Greenberg is casually dismissive of possibilities that he has not even paused to consider. And he’s rather shockingly oblivious to aspects of the media ecology and political economy, given his own background. Not sure why the MSM keeps covering every Trump tweet? Because the structure of the news market compels them to do so. That’s no mystery. Neither is the fact that there are four major networks, not three.

But the biggest problem with his haste to dismiss Trump as in any way novel is that it leads him to recycle precisely the assumptions that Trump has challenged. To take just one, consider Greenberg’s throwaway observation that “authenticity requires consistency.” It’s not hard to see how this view came about, but Trump has proven it wrong. It turns out that there is more than one way to establish and measure authenticity (which is of course always an artifice). Indeed, this may be one the central rhetorical innovations we are witnessing today. But Greenberg can’t see it, because he’s already jaded by the apparent continuity of historical precedent. One of the lessons of Trump’s style is that “flip-flopping” can function as a marker of authenticity, precisely because it rejects the constraint—the normative expectation ascribed to an interpretive community—of consistency. If previous strategies organized themselves around stylistic constraints, Trump’s aims at hermeneutic ones. This is a genuine innovation. Pity experts like Greenberg not only fail to see it, but discourage the rest of us from bothering to look.

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