"Journalists’ Mnemonic Techniques and the Rise of Trumpism." Communication, Culture & Critique, 2020.

Jennifer R. Henrichsen

As journalists search for explanations for their reporting failures during the U.S. presidential election, it is worth examining how journalists may have facilitated the rise of Trump and Trumpism through a recursive turn to the past. Collective memory, or “a metaphor that formulates society’s retention and loss of information about its past in the familiar terms of individual remembering and forgetting” allows journalists to activate the familiar which operates as a heuristic for audience comprehension while simultaneously affirming the news media’s authority in the retelling of the event. Journalists invoke the past through the use of historical analogies to analyze and predict the outcome of a current situation. Journalists’ decisions to connect to past events provides a way for them to reassert their cultural authority and to strengthen their position as members of interpretive communities at a time when trust in media is at historic lows. Yet, in doing so, they also limit the potential of journalism to engage with prospective memory and imagine different futures. This article will show how journalists relied on connecting the present to the past via the historical analogies of McCarthyism and Watergate to bring meaning to an unprecedented and mercurial presidential candidate, a surprising and historic presidential election, and a seemingly endless deluge of controversial and norm-breaking behavior by Trump during the first 10 months of his presidency.