The political reasons behind Trump’s success

Publié le 14 mai 2016
How a businessman became a major candidate of the 2016 American Election
How a businessman became a major candidate of the 2016 American Election

"You're fired!" This catchphrase has made Donald Trump famous to Americans on The Apprentice. Famous and—paradoxically—popular.

Now, such a straightforwardness might not be ideal for a politician aiming at sounding respectful and thoughtful. But never mind about that, Donald Trump does not need those qualities. He comes from money, and TV; he is no career politician and obviously does not want to sound like one. Still, he has great communication skills, always strikes first and acknowledges that “to be politically correct takes too much time. […] We have to get things done in this country. And you never gonna get it done if we just stay politically correct.” Trump talks trash, but he talks “true”—and it works. He is one entertaining showman, he has got what career politicians lack: in our society of entertainment, he knows the codes and fits in like a charm. (And, since he cannot rely on his own good looks, fair enough: he will turn the election into a First lady beauty contest!) Furthermore, the fact he often repeats his punch lines twice makes it easier to keep up with his speeches. And his key ideas are very basic and expressed in simple words: the man knows the media; he knows what the audience will remember, and what they need to hear.

Because Donald Trump knows how to stir people’s heartstrings. In fact, he has a well-defined target: the forgotten voters, the outcasts of the American dream, in two words—the White trash. As a successful businessman, he can easily convince them he "will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created". All in all he is shrewd enough: many of his propositions are sheer common sense and easily explained... Illegal immigration does cause trouble and is, well, illegal; as for his suggestion Mexico pay for his wall—a rhetoric masterstroke! And going overboard actually is welcome. On the one hand, he sounds like a man of the people, on "their" side (after all, regular Americans are afraid of Islam): he swears with him “the silent majority is back, and we’re gonna take the country back”. On the other hand, such outrageousness is an effective reminder that he is no career politician, albeit an outsider: “The establishment, the media, the special interests, the lobbyists, the donors, they’re all against me. I’m self-funding my campaign, I don’t owe anybody anything. I only owe it to the American people to do a great job. They are really trying to stop me; everybody knows it, everybody sees it.” In fact, this posture embodies the struggle of the individual against the collective, which is very American, and quite the opposite of fascism. Indeed, despite a whole wave of criticism calling Trump a fascist, he is not; he is a genuine populist.

Still, populism has one last yet important aspect: the emphasis on homeland. On the one hand, he just wants to relieve his fellow citizens: his sole concern will be to "make America great again" and to take care of "America first", dare one say... Because, despite his programme fitting McCain's 2008 presidential slogan, he strongly disagrees with him (as well as with the Republican establishment) on foreign policy. For one thing, he has been one of the few staunch opponents of the Iraq war as soon as 2004. Beyond the scope of the GOP, of all current candidates running for president, he is the only one (save, perhaps, for Sanders) who is not de facto a neoconservative, for a reason: he is a good old isolationist. Hence Vladimir Putin's endorsement and that of people who, in the Western world, are increasingly fed up with the New World Order, and yearning for the United States to take it easy on military interventions abroad. For example, he voices their concern that “ISIS: Saddam Hussein was never as bad as these people. […] These people make Saddam Hussein look like a choirboy.” The thing is, the isolationism Trump stands for is a whole doctrine (reluctant to global free trade as well), which is deeply rooted—although derelict nowadays—in the American conservatism. It qualifies as paleo-conservatism, and, obviously, it is all the rage these days.

Donald Trump is an inconvenient candidate, swimming against the stream of the current political class. Yet, he is riding the wind of history, bringing forward a modern way to talk in politics and holding a speech that echoes in people's minds today; all the more so since it has recurrently been one of the American politics’ leading trends throughout its history. Ironically, though, he might not have the background to realise it—at the risk of building his controversial policies on the sand...

Victor Hoet
Membre de l'équipe Isegoria 2016