Political Authenticity and Cynicism on the 2016 Campaign trail
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This project elucidates the relationship between political authenticity and cynicism in the context of the 2016 presidential nominating process. Rhetorical criticism and fieldwork provide perspectives for the analysis of candidate announcement addresses, political campaign events in New Hampshire, and Republican and Democratic presidential primary debates. During these campaign events, presidential primary candidates asserted their political authenticity, which is defined as perceived power over the self on the basis of judgments of external manifestations of character and policy consistency. The relationship between these portrayals of political authenticity and cynicism, as a mode of adjudicating political authenticity, are discussed. Candidates for president in 2015-2016 constructed authenticating political images in their announcement speeches. These preferred authenticity frameworks are grounded in candidate appeals to consider them consistent in terms of character and policy. These authenticating political images are reinforced and challenged throughout the presidential primary process, including during retail politicking in New Hampshire and during presidential primary debates, where candidates seek to bolster their authenticating political images and undermine those of their opponents. At New Hampshire political events, cynicism functioned as a framework for processing authenticating political images, with presidential candidate speeches and citizen responses inviting Americans to cynically process character and policy authenticity appeals. Presidential nominating contest debates represent an important crucible wherein authenticating political images are reinforced, modified, and rendered dysfunctional. Ultimately, I argue that cynicism is a framework for processing the authenticating political images constructed by presidential candidates. This definition of cynicism explicates the reality of citizens and politicians who are politically engaged while outwardly manifesting cynical behavior. This project’s demonstration of the ways in which presidential candidates craft authenticating political images furthers an understanding of the function of political authenticity in contemporary American life. Likewise, an understanding of cynicism as a framework for processing character and policy authenticity appeals moves the scholarly conversation beyond denouncing citizens and candidates that engage in cynical rhetoric to understanding the ways in which cynicism functions as a mode of judging the authenticity of political leaders.