For most of the free world, Donald Trump’s standpoints are illogical and contradictory. Yet for millions of Americans he is the candidate of choice. Why? Because his discursive style has struck a chord with certain groups of Americans and for them his policies make complete sense.
Explaining Trump's standpoints and why they are making an impact.
Trump has been branded an idiot by much of society. His far-fetched policies on immigration, such as building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants, seem ridiculous and unachievable to most of the world. The vast majority of analysis of his political discourse criticizes his unattainable ideas. In other words, his discourse is portrayed as gibberish. Those who brand Trump in this way are ignoring that fact that millions of Americans identify with his standpoints. In this article we will focus on which Americans identify with Trump’s discourse and why that is.
Who cares about Trump?
Trump has taken America by storm. Love him or hate him, he has certainly made an impression. Senior Republican politicians and journalists have despaired as Trump’s flippant discourse has alienated key groups of voters needed to win the election. NBC News named key Republicans who no are longer supporting him because his discourse does not align with the traditional Republican message:
"Sadly, our party's nominee this year is a man who makes a mockery of the principles and values we have cherished and which we sought to represent in Congress” (NBC News, 2016).
Despite being a man who “makes a mockery” (NBC News, 2016) of Republican standpoints, his election proved, that there are people that identify with the 'principles and values' he speaks of. He may not sit well with traditional Republicans, but journalist Thomas Frank cites Trump’s popularity in the polls as a result of support from the “blue-collar” class (The Guardian, 2016). Often a neglected area of society during campaigning, Trump has chosen to direct his rhetoric towards those who feel they have been forgotten by the government.
Arguably the most important piece of discourse illustrating his standpoints in the election is his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again”. Such a discourse encapsulates all Americans, reminding them that his standpoints are in regards to putting American citizens first and focusing on their well-being.
The message speaks directly to the blue-collar workers that Trump is trying to appeal to. Many of these men and women have lost jobs due to factories relocating to countries where there is cheaper labour available. When Trump speaks of America being great “again”, he uses a nostalgic discourse that coerces these people to remember a time when America really was great for them. It follows that if his central piece of discourse is focused on bringing America back into the 'glory days', then his discursive standpoints will follow this pattern. Trump has said, “every policy decision we make must pass a simple test – does it create more jobs and better wages for Americans?”(Trump, 2016a). This garners the support of blue-collar workers. Every policy, standpoint and speech–regardless of its ridiculousness–is believed to help them prosper.
What is he saying?
Trump’s standpoints clearly speak to the blue-collar class. But what are they, and why do they speak to them? When outlining his standpoints, the media has exploited the fact that Trump’s rhetoric focuses on jobs, trade and immigration. Business Insider reported that he believes that illegal immigrants “compete directly against vulnerable American workers” (2016). An analysis of this statement explains why Trump’s policies suddenly make sense for some people. Blue-collar workers who have felt cheated by the system are being given an answer by Trump as to why their problems have been created. According to Trump, illegal immigrants are not just competing against vulnerable Americans, but "American workers” therefore highlighting that illegal immigration is intrinsically linked to a lack of jobs. Trump’s discourse also describes these workers as “vulnerable” suggesting that they have been taken advantage of, and he believes them to be victims (Business Insider, 2016).
Moreover, the fact that American’s feel that “illegal immigrants seem to be prospering more than the average citizen” (The Atlantic, 2015) means Trump’s standpoint to ‘Make America Great Again’ is not only appealing, but also it makes them feel like the priorities in his discourse are citizen-focused. By creating the link between immigration and jobs, Trump can now get away with outlandish discourse to illustrate his standpoints. This means that for academics and the media (who do not relate to the idea of immigrants having taken their jobs) policies such as building a wall seem ridiculous. Not only does it seem impossible to implement but it is unnecessary in the first place.
What the Liberal Elites do not understand is that poor, White working-class jobs have been affected. Benjy Boxer believes that the frustration of blue-collar workers is due to years of wage stagnation as result of globalization (Boxer, 2016). During his DNC speech Barack Obama stated that:
“There are pockets of America that never recovered from factory closures; men who took pride in hard work and providing for their families who now feel forgotten; parents who wonder whether their kids will have the same opportunities we had. All that is real. We’re challenged to do better; to be better.” (Obama, 2016)
In the above quote, Obama recognizes that people have suffered; this is why Trump’s discourse does actually speak to people. Since globalization occurred, white lower-class Americans have gained the least. In his article, Boxer references psychology studies that show that even when you see gains in your life, you do not recognize the benefit if your gains are not as great as your neighbours.
Trump: the 'non-politician'
Trump appeals to working-class white Americans, yet also to those who are anti-establishment and ready for a “new cultural tone” in American politics (The Atlantic, 2015).
Lempert and Silverstein suggest that obtaining a “celebrity” status rather than status as a politician has become perhaps one the “greatest assets in the realm of one’s political life”(Lempert and Silverstein, 2012). Clearly, Trump personifies this thesis. Having already established a name for himself outside of politics, he can be viewed differently than any other candidate. For some, his standpoints are irrelevant; it is the “comedic value” (The Atlantic, 2015) of the possibility as United States President also having hosted The Celebrity Apprentice that has gotten him the vote.
For others, it is the fact that he was a celebrity and a businessman before a politician that represents a “personal association” and an “unconscious appreciation of the message” and standpoints (Lempert And Silverstein,2012). Trump’s ‘fortune’, ‘hotels’ and trademark name represent success to the American people. He represents the American dream of building success within America (Diggit Magazine, 2016). Thus his standpoints to keep trade and create opportunities within America resonate with American citizens.
His supporters are unphased by his lack of political experience, but rather see his ability to create a fortune as an inspiring representation of his leadership skills, and thus feel this can logically translate into running a country successfully.
Moreover, his non-existent political background is a refreshing welcome to many Americans. Trump supporters are largely considered authoritarian and anti-establishment. It has even been said that “authoritarianism” can be used to explain Trump support “above key demographic characteristics of age, gender, education, religious affiliation, income and political identification”(Choma and Hanoch, 2016). The fact that his standpoints and eccentric discourse may seem illogical and ludicrous—such as making Mexicans pay for their own wall—actually “motivates” support.
One of the strengths of Trump's discourse is his ability to target Americans who “distrust the establishment” (Diggit Magazine, 2016). One way he does this is by attributing the bad things that have happened to America to several Obama and Clinton policies, for example, bad trade deals which resulted in the loss of jobs for Americans, and ‘dangerous’ migrants entering the country (Diggit Magazine, 2016). This leaves his anti-immigration and anti-globalist standpoints as the logical solution to ‘Make America Great Again.’ Therefore, it does not seem illogical that if ‘qualified’ politicians have created problems for America, then someone who may not be a ‘qualified’ politician but has demonstrated business and leadership skills to create success is not illogical. The fact that five living presidents don’t see him “fit to be president” speaks to those who are ‘anti-establishment’ and amplifies support for Trump as he is the antithesis of an ideal presidential candidate (Diggit Magazine, 2016). Voting for Trump can almost be seen as a rebellion against the current political establishment.
Maybe Trump’s policies do make sense
It would be easy to simply brush off a lot of what Trump says as incoherent and unrealistic.
However, for some, this is not true. His standpoints follow a logical discourse that appeal directly to their desire for America’s future prosperity. With Trump as a new leader and his policies, the American Dream of success can become a TRiUMPh and American can become Great Again.
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Choma, B.L, and Hanoch, Y. (2016). Cognitive Ability and Authoritarianism: Undertsanding Support for Trump and Clinton
Frank, T. (2016). Millions of ordinary Americans support Trump. Here's why. The Guardian. Last retrieved on 10/11/2016
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