Donald Trump. Billionaire property developer. Future President of the United States. Fascist. Demagogue. The personification of Americas id. God Emperor of Mankind. Parasite. Businessman. Twitter user. All of these have been used to describe the man that many in the United States believe will ‘Make America Great Again’.
Many people, including the Republican establishment, can’t actually believe that he has made it this far and is now the Republican nominee for the presidential election this year. He has constantly exceeded expectations by severely mauling traditional republicans such as Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. What started out as a joke candidacy in June 2015, is no laughing matter now.
How has an outspoken, business mogul with views that seem to run at a tangent to most other mainstream politicians, crashed through political barriers and is in now being treated seriously as the future president of the United States of America?
Part of the reason may be that trust in the establishment is at an all time low, not just in the U.S but in the Western world in general. According to the Pew Research Center, Trust in the U.S Federal Government to do the right thing has been steadily declining from a high of 75% in the mid-1960s to below 20% in 2015. Trump’s Democratic rival, Hilary Clinton, is one of the most establishment candidates of all time. She was First Lady. A Senator for New York. Then Secretary of State. With such a long political career, you’re bound to end up slightly tarnished by your political deeds. Trump, on the other hand, has made his lack of establishment credentials the main facet of his campaigns. No one really knows how Trump will perform as a politician, as he’s never been one before. He can’t be judged on a previous political crisis, he’s never managed one (The Jury’s is out on how many he could potentially cause though).
At his most recent political rally, he asked black voters, “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?”. Clearly, this sense of being something new, unsullied and untarnished by the existing political machine will be more important as he approaches November.
For some of his adherents, he is a genuine breath of fresh air. For the first time in thirty or forty years, they have a potential mainstream politician that speaks his mind on almost all issues. If his comments on women (The infamous, ‘You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever’ tweet ) Mexicans (‘They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people’) are anything to go by, this is patently true. Many voters will be turned off and will find such unfiltered outbursts abhorrent. Others will dismiss them as misguided attempts at humour but believe there is a kernel of truth in what he says.
Many voters may also see the rise of the social justice warrior and prominence of the ‘illiberal left’ that they represent as another reason to vote Trump. They feel that their free speech is being curtailed in a minefield of ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘no platforming’. Indeed, American university campuses appear to be one of the most active fronts for Trump supporters and debates are often heated and often just descend into verbal abuse from both sides.
Either way, many people find this ‘shot from the hip’ style of debate very appealing when you have had decades of scripted responses and soundbites from politicians, that sound like they originated in a policy think-tank. It should also be noted that being controversial does not automatically exclude you from high office or hinder your chances at winning multiple elections. Former Italian Prime Minster, Silvio Berlusconi, spent his spare time comparing a German MEP to a Nazi concentration camp guard, disparaging Finnish cuisine, claiming that his female supporters that were over 50, were the ‘menopause brigade’ and stating that: ‘I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I sacrifice myself for everyone.’
On a larger scale and in an abstract way, Trump may even represent the retrenchment of the nation state after the large scale globalisation that has occurred since the 1970s. Globalisation has brought us all many benefits, interconnectedness, cheaper consumer goods, the idea of the ‘global village’. However, the benefits have not been evenly spread, even in the Global North, and in particular areas such as Detroit have been decimated. They have witnessed the hollowing out of their traditional heavy industries and manufacturing jobs. Many of these jobs have ended up in special export zones in South East Asia and China where manufacturing costs are lower and labour legislation lax. Trump himself has made his views on the role of the nation-state quite clear by stating that:
‘We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony. I am sceptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down.’
This isn’t something that just appeals to the traditional white, working class either. Many employees in America are now a member of what has been termed the ‘precariat’. They are individuals in employment but without job security and absolutely no job satisfaction. Not on the breadline but far from wealthy either. This is an issue that affects the middle classes, college graduates and those from former ‘blue collar’ employment. Indeed statistics collated by The Economist in April 2016, indicate that Trump has broader support than is initially assumed, across most social and economic groups.
These are a similar type of people that voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Ones that have been abandoned by the lofty ideal of globalism and internationalism and have been ostracised and sidelined when they have tried to speak out against political correctness. Hilary Clinton should remember these people if she wants to win.
Trump does appeal to more groups than the mainstream media like to make out. He didn’t become the Republican nominee by appealing solely to ‘rednecks’. Whether he can broaden his appeal further, particularly to minority groups and women remains to be seen. Whether he will actually be able to implement some of his more outlandish schemes like building a wall along the U.S. – Mexico border or cajole Apple to manufacture its products in the continental United States, thus rolling back decades of globalisation, remains to be seen. Perhaps, as some of his followers like to say: You Can’t Stump the Trump.