Trump launched his campaign in front of an "audience" of actors paid $50/each to wear campaign shirts and cheer wildly, and he's brought his paid cheering section with him into the presidency, bringing along staffers to applaud at key moments during his press conferences and other appearances.
The practice has its origin in ancient Rome, where the Emperor Nero deployed his own crowds, called "Augustiani," to cheer at his indifferent poetry and lyre playing. It was revived in 17th and 18th century opera circles, where "claques" were used to "huzzah or hiss their favorite performers."
The claque died out in the 19th century, but everything old is new again, and Trump has revived claques as an integral part of his governing strategy. It's a sharp move: if you can't see who's applauding, you might assume that when Trump draws cheers for damning CNN as "fake news" that the press corps is cheering him on.
One can recognize some key elements of the Neronian claque in its nascent revival. Imperial demands for adulation that abhor a silence that may leave the ruler exposed. The triumph of celebrity rule over stifling norms and propriety.
Indeed, the latter element is why the contemporary claque may win the approval of those who helped elect our current president. The Neronian claque did not simply demand that Romans put aside their critical judgement and submit to a day at the theatre one could not escape, but it did so for specific political aims.
[Richard Byrne/Crooked Timber]
(Image: Simone Giertz/Applause Machine)
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