I originally wanted to write my thesis about the rhetoric of science. After months of study and hashing out various arguments, I couldn’t agree on a topic with my thesis advisor. She thought what I wanted to do would work for a Ph.D thesis where I could spend years working on it but not for a M.A. with only a few months. She was probably right.
If I’m ever fortunate enough to retire early and can dedicate a couple years to writing a hyper-academic book for a niche subject that receives almost no attention, I’ll tackle that beast yet.
I ended up just taking an essay I wanted to write and turning it into my thesis. It worked out as it was more appropriate for the scale of the project. It checks many of the academic prentention boxes: It hates on a popular conservative politician, it leans on the works of a post-modern philosopher, and it positions itself as the solution to our problems (pretty much every academic paper claims to be important for this reason).
I may have picked the subject because I knew it would make my thesis committee happy, but I wouldn’t have put my name on it if I didn’t believe in what I wrote. I argue that the Trump administration—especially its public facing press secretaries—engaged in the sort of post-modern rhetoric and behavior predicted by Jean Baudrillard. However, unlike Baudrillard, who predicted that a state we now call “post-truth” was the inevitable evolution of technology, I argue that it’s an intentional, strategic use of bullshit by people with no fidelity to truth.
Baurdillard argues that in the noise of an abundance of communication truth becomes impossible to distinguish. I argue that truth persists and the noise of abundant communication just makes it more difficult to spot a bullshitter.
Much of this paper was written before and at the very beginning of the global pandemic of 2020. Had it been written later, it surely would have addressed all the bullshit surrounding it.