Trump and the Resurgence of American Noir

Virginia Newhall Rademacher


This essay considers the political persona of Donald Trump as mediated by the imagery of hardboiled detective fiction and film noir. As responses to crises of capitalism, corruption, and social fracture, noir narratives provide critical ways of investigating periods of disequilibrium, and their resurfacing in the present. Drawing from John Cawelti’s analysis of the transformation of noir as a mode of interrogating the cultural myths that it embodies, I consider the figure of Trump as fake hard-boiled hero, and examine how Trump’s rhetoric plays on and benefits from a theme of citizen estrangement while simultaneously reinforcing elite networks of power. Through noir’s dual functions to expose and critique social realities, I demonstrate how Trump deforms the image of the hard-boiled protagonist, and how demythologizing this revision of the genre’s code and symbolism serves as potent social analysis.

By evoking and distorting noir’s challenge to the status quo, its suspicion of systems of power and questioning of dominant norms, Trump maintains that he is simply exposing truths no other politician has the guts to acknowledge. In fashioning his political persona, Trump deliberately revises the popular conception of the hard-boiled hero as brash-talking rebel at the margins of a corrupt society, instead using nostalgia over “lost greatness” to justify violence and to assert political expediency as a means of self-interested power.

Moreover, it is not only Trump who uses noir imagery provocatively to shape his political image. Media images frequently present Trump through distorted angles, extreme close-ups, and sharp lighting characteristic of noir. To what extent do these representations sensationalize Trump or turn him into a caricature that avoids deeper questioning?

In this essay, I explore Trump’s political persona within a noir context, and call for the resurgence of critical inquiry that challenges difficult social and political realities implicit to his rise.




Noir; Persona; Politics; Trump; Mediated Identity; Hardboiled Detective Fiction

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