Throughout the course of the 2016 election, the conventional opinion was that the renegade Donald Trump had irreversibly torn apart the Republican Party. Yet, despite allegations of sexism, racism and his seemingly un-abashed populism, Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America. The media and polls failed to foresee the result, yet were they wrong to dismiss Trump’s claim to the White House? Instead of viewing Trump as a renegade outsider, should the media have instead concentrated on America and its voters? Usually in any historical event the role of the individual is important, but you can never relegate the importance of society’s readiness to embrace change. This, perhaps, is how Trump secured his place at the Oval Office.
Two messages have become synonymous with the Trump campaign: one is Trump’s masterplan of building a wall between Mexico and USA, and the other is ‘Make America Great Again’. It is these two ideas that have particularly struck a chord with Trump voters of 2016, yet the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ was in fact borrowed from Ronald Reagan’s Republican campaign in 1980. But why is it that this message has been so well received, and why now? The answer centres on two themes: immigration, and further; globalisation. In the 21st Century we have become increasingly accustomed to the free movement of people, with examples being the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. However, we are now seeing a reaction against a liberal view on immigration and Trump harnessed popular opposition to open boarder policies. Yes, Trump’s message was undermined by racism against Mexican immigrants, calling them “prostitutes” and “drug dealers”, but the message was nevertheless well received. Citizens want to defend what is theirs, their nation state, and in their view immigrants threaten their country. This case was proven by Brexit, some have said, but this was “Brexit times ten” according to Mr Trump. In any historical period, there are times of action, and then reaction. Or, as the philosopher Hegel argues, this is ‘thesis’ and ‘antithesis’, resulting in a ‘synthesis’. Applying this to Trump’s victory, perhaps we are seeing a movement away from open borders and liberal immigration policies, and in place of this a determination to protect one’s country from foreign invasion. Trump was able to harness a strong sense of national identity, and managed to bring out white working class voters in large numbers. This is a turning point for world politics, an extension of the message that championed Brexit voters in the recent referendum. Furthermore, maybe this wasn’t a sign of Trump’s appeal, but a reflection of society’s readiness to react against the status quo.
Or is Trump simply offering an ‘America first’ approach by saying he will back away from NATO, secure the country’s borders and follow a more protectionist economic method more similar to the pre-war isolationist America? He promised voters he would spend $400 million on infrastructure and to be a champion of the people. Some question how a New York billionaire could claim to be representative of the common American, but posing as the antidote to the political establishment, and offering to fight for America first did exactly that. Trump was the anti-politician, spoke in a rhetoric that had never been previously associated with a politician, and this appealed to those sick of the current political situation. Almost seven in 10 voters said they were unhappy with the government – and a quarter of those said they were angry.
The Democrat candidate, Hilary Clinton, epitomised the political establishment, and all that was bad about it, in the eyes of many Americans. 39% of voters called her corrupt, following FBI investigations into her emails and allegations of the Clinton Foundation granting access to donors, and using the money to fund political campaigns. An example of this dates to 2010 when the State Department approved a move by the Russian state-owned company Rosatom to purchase a Canadian mining company with uranium mineral rights on US soil after a bank with ties to the Russian company paid Bill Clinton $500,000 for a speaking engagement in Moscow. The Canadian company in question was founded by million-dollar foundation donor Frank Giustra. Another allegation derives from a $1 million payment from the Qatari government for Bill Clinton’s birthday, and a further $20 million for aid after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Trump’s backlash against not only a political system that had neglected the common man by opening borders and not improving the standard of living, but also through personal attacks on a candidate who reeked of the system, gained widespread appeal. It is impossible to count how many times the phrase “crooked Hillary” was heard in the last few days of the campaign. Trump evaded the criticism of the political establishment simply because he isn’t a politician. He stands alone, and therefore elevates himself above a system that the American public have become increasingly disillusioned with in recent years. His claims the election was rigged only fuelled hatred against the political system.
Trump distanced himself from President Obama, claiming his time in office has done nothing to improve the lives of the impoverished American citizen, and represents a share of the electorate Trump was particularly successful in. This is where Trump managed to claim the title of man of the people.
However, Donald Trump has had an enormous impact on his path to the White House, and his role as an individual is not to be discredited. His promises and stance as outside of the political establishment are not the only reasons he was able to gain votes. He was authoritative, exuded confidence and unashamedly went against the grain and ventured into subjects and language that had previously represented a ‘No Go’ Zone for politicians. Not only that, he also boasted an impressive business portfolio, perhaps encouraging confidence for those seeking economic improvement. His controversial speeches on immigration, Mexicans and Muslims spoke the mind of some, but showed others he was prepared to speak his mind and stand up for himself. This is what captivated the electorate; Trump was not afraid of controversy and standing up for what he believed was right, aren’t these the qualities that voters wanted to see in the Oval Office?