Throughout the 2016 US presidential election, pundits repeatedly described Donald Trump as a performance artist and his campaign as performance art. Meanwhile, his alt-right supporters were mounting performance art shows, debating the meaning of Marina Abramović’s work, and developing their own theories of political performance. For experts in performance theory, such punditry and provocation is like the image in a funhouse mirror. It’s hard to make sense of such bizarre, distorted images—let alone to recognize ourselves in them. This article insists that, nonetheless, we should try. Trump and his movement pose special challenges to American political culture—and also to academic performance theory. His rise has revealed the limitations of a politics (and performance theory) based on norms and their transgression. It has also given the lie to politicians’ false belief that they (and only they) are not performing their politics. The challenge now—for academics, activists, citizens, and journalists alike—is to articulate how performance works, how it provides models of cultural power.
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