1st Edition

Gonzo Governance The Media Logic of Donald Trump

By David L. Altheide Copyright 2023
    250 Pages
    by Routledge

    250 Pages
    by Routledge

    Drawing on social science and communications theory, Gonzo Governance offers a new interpretation of presidential power that shifts focus to the media dynamics that surrounded Donald Trump. The former president’s unhinged behavior and skilled media and digital manipulations changed the nature and process of significant governance at the federal and state levels, including denying election results and restricting voting opportunities. He went "Gonzo" – promoting himself without regard for conventional norms and practices – and blasted ideological fault lines into explosive political fragments, resulting in so much dissensus that numerous legislators would not recognize the newly elected President Biden, nor would they agree to take a potential life-saving vaccine because it had been associated with a politicized virus, COVID-19.

    Nurtured by media logic and a communications ecology that has wedded people to digital technologies and formats that govern the structure, grammar, form, expectations, and meanings of messages that can entertain, enlighten, and disinform, this form of governance alters the fundamental way that information is communicated. David L. Altheide emphasizes how these changes informed Donald Trump’s electoral strategies as well as the insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.



    About the Author

    1 Introduction: Gonzo Governance

    2 Trump and the Mediated Politics of Fear

    3 Pandemic in the Time of Trump: Digital Media Logic and Deadly Politics

    4 The Media Syndrome and Reflexive Mediation

    5 Media Logic Before and After Donald Trump

    6 Media, Ratings, and Trump

    7 Gonzo Governance and the Politics of Fear

    8 Power and Terror

    9 Terrorism in the Gonzo Era

    10 The Future of Gonzo Governance




    David L. Altheide, PhD, is Regents’ Professor Emeritus on the faculty of Justice and Social Inquiry in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University, where he taught for 37 years. His work has focused on the role of mass media and information technology in social control. His most recent books are Terrorism and the Politics of Fear (2nd edition, Rowman and Littlefield, 2017), The Media Syndrome (Routledge, 2016), Media Edge: Media Logic and Social Reality (Lang, 2014), Qualitative Media Analysis (2nd edition, Sage, 2012), and Terror Post 9/11 and the Media (Lang, 2009).

    Dr. Altheide received the Cooley Award three times, which is given to the outstanding book in symbolic interaction, and received the 2005 George Herbert Mead Award for lifetime contributions from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, as well as the society’s Mentor Achievement Award in 2007. In fall 2012 he was a Fulbright Specialist in Germany (Zeppelin University) and a Distinguished Research Professor in Australia (Law Faculty, University of New South Wales). He also received a Fulbright Specialist Award at The Catholic University in Lisbon, Portugal in spring 2017.

    "David L. Altheide is one of the most respected sociologists of mass media. He now examines the Trump phenomenon. How did an unprincipled President exploit the changing media landscape to undermine democratic institutions? This book’s critical questions about US media, governance and politics deserve the widest possible readership."

    Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University

    "What paved the way to Trump’s bulldozing of democratic institutions? Altheide makes a strong point in inviting readers and scholars to look into the distorted media logics that were at work in the popular media, in the news business and in the new digital ecosystem. They were central for audiences to be receptive to Trump’s nationalist slogans, insults, and politics of fear. An honest and frank disapproval of what the author identifies as "Gonzo Governance." A must-read book that will fuel new debate in the political communication fields."

    Gianpietro Mazzoleni, Professor of Sociology of Communication and of Political Communication, University of Milan (Italy)

    "We’ve never needed a book more than David L. Altheide’s Gonzo Governance. The nightmare called the Trump Presidency is not over. Its destructive effects on our democracy are here to stay. In his masterful new book, David L. Altheide unmasks the information technologies and media logics, from twitter to Fox News, that gave us our first Gonzo President. We owe Professor Altheide a huge debt, he gives us a path forward."

    Norman K. Denzin, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Research Professor of Communications, Media and Cinema Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    "Gonzo Governance is as entertaining as it is insightful about how breaking the rules and spreading fear through disruptive communication have transformed our politics and society. Altheide shows how gonzo politics reflects the rise of new media logics that capture hollowed-out political institutions, resulting in the spread of fear, anger and social conflict that threaten American democracy. This is an important and timely book."

    Lance Bennett, Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication and Political Science Emeritus, University of Washington

    "With Gonzo Governance David L. Altheide, Regents' Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, again creatively extends our knowledge of the political and social implications of developments in media ecology. Changes involving transmission, feedback, and visualization have fundamentally altered politics and must be considered apart from message content. A centra theme of the book is that Trump's success was because of "how he was communicated" not "how he communicated" {italics added}. With clear prose and interdisciplinary reach, Altheide explains how, in an unprecedented communications environment, digital technologies can be skillfully manipulated to offer scripted, fear-inspiring and yet seductive messages. They entertain, even as they disinform and wreak havoc on truth and democracy. Given the gravity of its theme and its' creative analysis and ameliorative suggestions, it deserves to be widely read."

    Gary T. Marx, author of Windows Into the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High Technology.

    "Altheide has given us a provocative book whose title "nails" the outrageous and unconventional presidency of Donald Trump in all its emotional turbulence, its unashamed and skilled uses of power-through-manipulation—all of this unthinkable without stage, screen, microphone, and, most of all, camera. Altheide puts all of this together in a convincing argument laying bare its ‘media logic.’"

    E. Doyle McCarthy, Professor Emerita of Sociology and American Studies, Fordham University, author of Emotional Lives: Dramas of Identity in an Age of Mass Media.