Trumping the Audience
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona. ©Gage Skidmore
It seems every day now there are news stories erupting that trump the last (no pun intended). From Brexit, to extremist terrorist attacks, to the chaos of American politics leading into November’s election, the world is continually on edge and appears to be tearing at the seams. But is this simply a trend of media storms, or is our world shifting to a more extreme place where shock and bold actions are the only way to provoke change?
There’s nothing the Western media bites at quite like American politics. As arguably the most powerful player of the West, the US has a tendency to shock the rest of us with conservative, out-of-date policies that protect so-called ‘American values’ (I say it like this because it has been made abundantly clear that a large portion of the US do not live and breathe these stereotypes, for instance the Second Amendment). But this has become only the bare bones of what has evolved into one of the most heated, controversial, and comedic elections in American history that has the rest of the world scratching their heads. Donald Trump has somehow managed to overshadow the usual Republican stances and turn up the temperature with bold statements on immigration (I think most of us have lost count of how many countries he’s commented on at this point), domestic racism, sexism and violence, torture of war criminals, and abortion, just to name a few. The bigger issue is that he can’t seem to keep his mouth shut and contradicts himself, making wishy-washy statements left and right – to the point that even some of the most notorious right-wing Republicans struggle to stick by his side.
After all that’s been said and done – including bad-naming a Gold Star family, which is probably the most un-American thing you can do – how has he managed to keep support and still even have a minute shot at the grand prize? As a starting point, let’s break down his support. According to a study by the Washington Post, Trump voters are primarily white, male, and poor. There is also a significant gap between male and female support, with women voters 19 percentage points less than men. Unsurprisingly, he also holds the vote for the less educated population and people who identify as white non-evangelicals or Catholics – although this study was done shortly before Pope Francis denounced Trump for his brilliant ‘Mexican wall idea’. Now to my knowledge, there is no statistical evidence to correlate Americans who have never left the US (i.e. without a passport) to the uneducated demographic of Trump supporters, but I think in this case it may be safe to assume that there is a high correlation. This means that public opinion of what occurs beyond the US borders is fed through media and key influencers, namely politicians. But what’s different about Trump is he has done a masterful job at speaking their language. To some of us, his speeches sound like a bad YouTube rant; he repeats himself constantly with buzzwords like ‘terrific’, ‘fantastic’, losers vs. winners, the list goes on. But to others – say white, poor males – these are easy words to live by and believe in.
Supporter of Donald Trump at a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. ©Gage Skidmore
A meme circulated online not too long ago stating that in a 1998 interview with People magazine, Donald Trump said if he ran for presidency, he’d run as a Republican because “they’re the dumbest group of voters in the country”. Turns out not only was the quote a fake, but the image was taken from an interview he did with Oprah that touched on politics, specifically America’s trade deals. If you watch the clip, what Trump says makes a lot of sense – and funnily sounds more intelligent than most of what he’s spat out throughout this campaign. On the opposing side of this, wealthy Republicans have been mixed on support for Trump, including the Koch brothers who chose to support Ted Cruz in the primaries and are only now agreeing to meet with Trump. On the podcast This American Life, a Republican donor talks about how his view of Trump flipped a switch through one meeting with him, saying his personality and charm won them over without even discussing his political views. Some might say this is predictable, being that Trump spends his life schmoozing with the top dogs of Wall Street, but what we may be looking at is a mastermind of communication. From either side of the spectrum, there’s no doubt that Trump has an artistry in manipulation, to the point that I would argue ‘knowing his audience’ has been the pinpoint of his success.
But let’s get back to my initial question: is this all just a media stunt taking headlines or does it represent a significant shift in political extremism? Turns out, his communication is a key component to the answer. As we’ve seen Trump makes big statements with big implications using simple words. As a businessman, he knows what sells and what’s memorable, both at home and abroad. And because he took a different approach that took little consideration of ‘political correctness’, the people that support him not only finally feel like they have a voice, but an influencer that they understand. American society has not necessarily been benefitting these people – the recession of 2008 hit the lower tiers of the American population and with manufacturing industries continually shifting away from the West, many populations have been left in the dust with little guidance or hope. As we saw with Brexit (which will be the subject of a future blog), people are looking for change and are seizing opportunities, whether it’s the right path or not. What Trump has tapped into is a cry for help, even from those who don’t necessarily know what to cry for.
I imagine it’s fairly obvious from this blog that I do not support the ol’ Donald. I sincerely hope for the sake of global security that he does not take the win come November. But what I do hope is the world pays attention. Not to the loud statements and outlandish headlines coming out of this, but to how this represents our global society. This, if anything, should act as a reminder that our world is changing faster than anyone, including the West, can keep up and more and more people will become frustrated, polarising societies. Trump isn’t the real problem here. The problem, as Donald puts it so well, is there are ‘winners and losers’, but the losers may be finally getting their time.
Feature image: ©Thomas Bresson (Creative Commons)