Rock Ethics Institute Colloquium: Brandon Johnson

Rock Ethics Institute Colloquium: Brandon Johnson
Feb 27, 2024
– 1:00PM
Sparks 133

“‘We Have to Open This Country Up’: Running the Country Like a Business in Donald Trump’s Pandemic Rhetoric”
By Brandon Johnson, PhD candidate in Communication Arts and Science and Rock Ethics Institute Graduate Fellow

Abstract: Drawing on scholarship in presidential rhetoric and neoliberalism, this project studies how Trump used metaphors of a “CEO presidency” to justify his nontraditional background as a presidential candidate. Through this metaphor, he defended his nontraditional background by presenting his business experience and skill at “making deals” as a needed change from more traditional political experience, in turn describing running the country as analogous to running his businesses. In addition to furthering a neoliberal ethics of presidential leadership and helping him make his case to voters in the 2016 election, Trump’s CEO presidency shaped the discourse and policies behind his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. His emphasis on economic metaphors prioritized “opening up the country” and putting people back to “work” to protect the economy, while precluding rhetoric about protecting vulnerable populations or mourning the loss of hundreds of thousands of people. My presentation traces the major themes of Trump’s CEO presidency in his rhetoric, how it shaped his pandemic response rhetoric, and what that means for the ethics of presidential leadership moving forward.