When Trump became president, much of the country was repelled by what they saw as the vulgar spectacle of his ascent, a perversion of the highest office in the land. In his bold, innovative book, Political Perversion: Rhetorical Aberration in the Time of Trumpeteering (University of Chicago Press, 2020), rhetorician Joshua Gunn argues that this “mean-spirited turn” in American politics (of which Trump is the paragon) is best understood as a structural perversion in our common culture, on a continuum with infantile and “gotcha” forms of entertainment meant to engender provocation and sadistic enjoyment.
On this episode of the New Books Network, Dr. Lee Pierce (s/t) interviews Dr. Joshua Gunn (h) about lots of things other than Trump, from horror shows to sexting to Pee-Wee Herman, structural perversion, and, yes, some Trump.
We are recording this episode as the second impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump begins and the Trump fatigue is real. But this is not exactly a book about Trump. As Gunn puts it, “labeling Trump and his ilk as ‘fascist’ displaces our collective responsibility for their ascent to national power.” In Political Perversion, Gunn argues that “Trump’s rhetoric and person are better understood as replicating a style and genre of political discourse” that has a long history, but Gunn has eloquently re-imagined as what he calls “structural perversion.”
Gunn argues that perverse rhetorics dominate not only the political sphere but also our daily interactions with others, in person and online. From sexting to campaign rhetoric, Gunn advances a new way to interpret our contemporary political context that explains why so many of us have difficulty deciphering the appeal of aberrant public figures. In this book, Trump is only the tip of a sinister, rapidly growing iceberg, one to which we ourselves unwittingly contribute on a daily basis.
We hope you enjoyed listening as much as we enjoyed chatting about this fascinating book. Connect with your host, Lee Pierce, on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for interview previews, the best book selfies, and new episode alerts.