By Ashlee Pitts
The antipathy for political correctness and the hunger for something new, even irrational or unpredictable, seemed to be the driving force behind the appeal of the new president-elect of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. His policy proposals regarding issues ranging from criminal justice reform, trade, climate change, reproductive rights and combating global terrorism changed about as often as his one-on-one feuds with other politicians, celebrities, foreign leaders, journalists and even Pope Francis. Despite his lengthy list of scandals and the unprecedented amount of negative international news coverage, it appears that Trump’s rather unconventional populist message was in fact the winning strategy to secure the White House.
His ability to somehow connect on a personal and deeply emotional level with factory workers, coal miners, small business owners, farmers and those who feel removed from the political process despite his elitist and billionaire upbringing and lifestyle proved to be remarkable – and more than anything, underestimated. His populist message was structured around the idea that he understands the common man; that he shares their pain and grievances. Many people who have felt abandoned by politicians and used for votes every two to four years suddenly felt seen and heard. Many of them found this comfort in the 45th president of the United States. He spits in the face of the status quo, challenges the so-called “Washington cartel” and changed the way many Americans view politics. He spoke to the American people in a way that was dramatically different from what they are used to – unapologetically and bluntly. Though many people were turned away, disheartened or outright disgusted with his rhetoric or way of speaking about rather complex issues, situations and people, his seemingly honest and forthright nature was refreshing to a rather large portion of the American electorate. His war against political correctness fueled his campaign. He fought against political correctness continuing to be the norm in American and global politics even though such norms were put in place to maintain a certain level of civility in society. His populist message and telling it like it is strategy, became the new PC; the reconstruction of American politics.
It is important to note that such provocative language and targeting of minority groups are political tactics that we have seen earlier in the year – notably with Brexit. While many Brits were simply fed up with feeling as though their country was being ran by behind-the-scenes bureaucrats in Brussels, prompting their vote to leave the EU, many had other reasons namely the unintended consequences of open borders and the vast influx of immigration. The anti-immigration rhetoric that spread throughout the Brexit campaign fostered the idea that immigrants, those coming from in and outside of the European Union, are a huge drain on the United Kingdom’s economic resources. This same idea, anti-immigration, undoubtedly served as a strong talking point for Donald Trump in his desire to appease and awaken many of his supporters that are looking for an “America First” / White nationalist agenda in the White House.
The issue with Trump’s populist message is that it is presented as a package decorated with bigotry, laced with divisive rhetoric and peppered with false promises to appease the vulnerable pockets of American society that are desperately betting on his success because they believe that he is the only one that can drag them out of what they perceive to be poor economic growth and an overwhelming shift in ethnic demographics. Another issue with his message is that it is disturbingly inconsistent.
As a global superpower, Trump’s new promotion and policy inconsistencies have pushed the international community and the global market into panic mode. Many Americans are left not knowing what to expect and feel high levels of anxiety, not excitement, of the unknown. For example, despite being pro-choice for many decades, his need to appeal to conservative principles as the Republican nominee has led him to adopt the position of punishing women who make the painful decision to have an abortion. Whether or not he would push such an idea as president is unclear. Also, although he has relentlessly claimed that he was never in favour of the Iraq War, he is well documented in stating that he was in fact in support of the Iraq war. This is significant because it raises serious questions about where he truly stands on the issue of American-led military interventions in the Middle East and what America’s response should be to the threat of ISIS under a Trump administration.
It would appear that his policy positions are highly contingent upon the mood of the crowd in which he is entertaining, his feelings on any given day or simply the direction of the wind. For the majority of the campaign he made a carefully calculated effort to appeal to the Americans who have felt left behind, disenfranchised and/or forgotten by the political elite. While he was blaming open borders for violent crimes in the inner cities and the heroin epidemic in suburbia and using China and Japan as scapegoats to explain the fleeing of manufacturing jobs in America, it became clear that his campaign concluded that the winning strategy for his campaign was to pin Americans against each other as well as Americans against the globalize world making the rural middle-class American worker the ultimate victim in today’s global economy. Towards the end of his campaign, he made a cringe-worthy and half hearted attempt to reach out to the African-American community by overgeneralizing the plight of the average person of color living in the US as well as vowing to restore law and order inadvertently rehashing the failed initiatives of the 37th president, Richard Nixon, who resigned before facing impeachment.
While his populist attitude may be regarded as a success given his recent upset victory over Secretary Clinton, his message has left many scars, rips and tears in the American fabric that is in desperate need of mending. Hate crimes have risen at an alarming rate since the election and as CNN commentator Van Jones mentioned on the night of the election, countless parents across the country must explain to their children why the 45th president of the United States of America has fully embraced the qualities and characteristics that they urge their children not to adopt. These characteristics include ones that compel someone to be a bully, a sexist, a misogynist, a racist or ones that allow a person to mock the disabled and the less fortunate. Two days before the final presidential debate, a video tape surfaced of then presidential candidate Trump bragging about relentlessly hitting on a married woman and delivering sexual advancements to women without their consent; an action that he appears to feel is justified for him and those like him given his fame, fortune and vast name recognition.
His populist message of trying to appeal and connect to the little guy, being on the same side as the little guy and being the “voice” for the little guy is a significant aspect of what catapulted Trump to where he is today politically. His ability to connect to the darker sides of ourselves, channeling the hate, greed and/or resentment allowed people to overlook his egregious remarks about women, the Muslim community, the African-American community, the Hispanic community and many others pockets of the American population. Trump’s populism is the new PC in America. He appeals to the common man by tapping into irrational fears of man and challenging the notion that love always trumps hate.