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Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

Explaining Trump

Explaining how such an unfit candidate and such a bizarre candidacy succeeded has become a critical concern for journalists and scholars. Through sites like Monkey Cage, Vox, and 538, as well as academic papers, we can watch political scientists in real time try to answer the question, “What the Hell Happened?” (There are already at least two catalogs of answers, here and here, and a couple of college-level Trump syllabi.) Although a substantial answer will not emerge for years, this post is my own morning-after answer to the “WTHH?” question.

I make three arguments: First, Trump’s electoral college victory was a fluke, a small accident with vast implications, but from a social science perspective not very interesting. Second, the deeper task is to understand who were the distinctive supporters for Trump, in particular to sort out whether their support was rooted mostly in economic or in cultural grievances; the evidence suggests cultural. Third, party polarization converted Trump’s small and unusual personal base of support into 46 percent of the popular vote.

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Election Reflection

Mid-day, November 8, 2016. Not knowing the outcome and not being a scholar of elections, I thought I’d nonetheless make some comments on the election–hopefully informed ones.

The central question, the one that will occupy dissertations, articles, and books for many years to come, is how could about half of American voters, the great majority of whom are normal, decent, salt-of-earth Americans, choose as their president a self-admitted sexual predator and tax evader, policy ignoramus, major BS-er, unstable personality, and schoolyard bully who surrounds himself with neo-fascists?

(Does academic even-handedness require a similarly blistering description of Clinton? No, polite symmetry is not appropriate here. Clinton is in the historical range of somewhat-soiled presidential candidates–say, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy. That pillars of the Republican party such as the Presidents Bush and Mitt Romney at least implicitly and conservative newspapers explicitly–the Arizona Republic and the Manchester Union-Leader, for example–do not endorse Trump testifies to his exceptionalism.)

One feature of this year’s campaign is that we have been able to follow social science research on it in real time. Web sites like Monkey Cage, Vox, Five-Thirty-Eight, and others have provided not only a running score based on the polls, but also often substantive analysis directed at answering that question, How could Trump could have so much support?

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Great Again

Part of the exceptional Donald Trump campaign is his not-so-exceptional slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Demanding and promising a return to Glory Days is centuries-old American theme, shared by both the political right and political left, based on the conviction that today’s America is less than yesterday’s America. Trump channels a grand mythic feature of American cultural life, of our “collective memory,” the belief that we are threatened by decline. But the slogan’s appeal is not just mythic; it also taps reality for a specific segment of the population.Make America Great

(My previous post looked at another dimension of the Trump appeal: authoritarianism. Both are at play.)

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A Celebrity Strong Man

This weekend Gawker spoofed Donald Trump into re-tweeting a saying of Italian fascist Benito Mussolini (Il Duce–The Leader) to illustrate their view that Trump is a fascist. Fascist or not, Trump certainly demonstrates the political draw of the “strong man.”

On the eve of Super-Tuesday, Trump looks like a prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination. His success has befuddled the Republican establishment, the political pundits, and the social scientists (me, too). But it now appears that the most coherent explanation of Trumpism is that he satisfies a widespread desire for a “strong man”–that he has tapped an authoritarian strain in the American public.

Trump’s message is: I am strong and a winner; everyone else is weak and a loser (“low energy,” a “baby,” a “pussy,” a friendless liar, a perspirer, a woman who has to pee sitting down, etc.). Through my personal strength, he says, the country–and you personally–will be strong and be a winner, too. Even the traits that horrify so many observers–Trump’s preening, boasting, insulting, bald lies, obscenities, calls to attack hecklers, over-the-top claims, and so on–only reinforce the line: “I am the alpha male.”

(Disclaimer: I am not a political scientist, much less an expert on presidential elections. Discount this essay accordingly.)

That so many Americans would be attracted to such a figure has surprised the world. This is the land of individualism and of hostility to government power. Yet Trump promises to exercise an extremely strong hand from oval office; he will “win” whatever it takes. In post-defeat and Depression-era Italy and Germany, the strong-man appeal was perhaps understandable; in Spain and Latin America, for cultural reasons, perhaps also understandable. But in the United States? Can it happen here? Now?

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