What Makes Trump Popular?

DonaldTrump-RidingtheWreckingBall_by_DonkeyHotey

Illustration by DonkeyHotey

Most of us around the world are perplexed by the fact that an otherwise reasonable country like the USA could produce a presidential candidate with some possibilities of winning like Donald Trump. Even flamboyant 1 leaders such as Berlusconi seem positively mainstream 2 in comparison. Has part of the USA gone mad?

Of course not. Trump is just a magnet for a fear that has appeared periodically throughout 3 US history: ‘nativism’. In US history this does not refer to the defence of Native Americans but rather 4 to the belief that established White populations should be privileged over immigrants. Nativism is as old as the USA and in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century US political parties variously 5 tried to defend the privileges of established ‘Anglo-Saxons’ vis-à-vis 6 German and Irish immigrants. After the American Civil War many uneducated White Americans felt that their relative privilege was under threat from 7 the recently freed African American population. In the late 19th Century nativism in the Western USA took the form of opposing immigration from Asia and hostility towards Chinese and Japanese immigrants. In the early 20th Century the USA’s WASPs 8 felt that their relative privilege was threatened by recently arrived Catholics and Jews. The extreme manifestation of this insecurity took the form of the KKK (whose primary victims in the 1920s were, in fact, Catholics).

Despite some loss of privilege the ‘Golden Age’ was the 1950s. Anybody willing to 9 work could get a good job and ensure a high standard of living for his family (even without the need to go to college). 10 Of course, by ‘anybody’ we mean any White man. This situation of relative privilege has been eroded from many sides over the last 60 years. African Americans and US women demanded equal rights in the 1960s and after. Immigrants continued to enter the country – many from the rest of the Americas but some from Muslim countries. Efforts at integration meant that there was some positive discrimination, which didn’t feel very ‘positive’ if you were a privileged white male11 Globalization means that non-white men didn’t even have to settle in 12 the USA to take your job away. Gradually, the WASPs had no guarantee of a job, let alone 13 a good one.

Meanwhile, the cost of a university education in the USA has increased 80% over the last decade while salaries have stagnated. 14 Those who are not Caucasian males are more likely to be 15 offered scholarships16 As much of the USA suffers a process of deindustrialization, those white males who are not rich are beginning to feel underprivileged.

Trump vaguely promises a return to when America was great (if you were a white male): the 1950s. This is not the real 1950s when the top rate of tax 17 in the USA was over 90% on the rich but a fictional 1950s bred of 18 nostalgia. A time when “everybody knew their place” and you didn’t have to be politically correct (i.e. polite 19 and empathetic to people who had different life experiences from yours). Trump offers a return to this ‘normality’ to the downtrodden 20 uneducated white man. Of course the message is riddled with 21 hypocrisy – he manufactures his products abroad, 22 he is supposedly ‘anti-Washington’ 23 but is in fact a one-man lobby, he is anti-immigration but has married an immigrant, and so on 24 – but the nativists are so desperate that anyone who promises to wind the clocks back 25 is a hero – even if he is a loud-mouthed 26 orange man-baby.


  1. flamboyant – extravagant, excessive

  2. mainstream – conventional

  3. throughoutduring all of

  4. but rather – (in this case) by contrast it refers to

  5. variously – in different ways an at different times

  6. vis-à-vis – in relation to, in contrast to

  7. under threat frommenaced by, in danger because of

  8. WASPsWhite Anglo-Saxon Protestants

  9. willing toready to, prepared to

  10. college – university

  11. male – man (or boy)

  12. to settle in – migrate to

  13. let alone – much less

  14. to stagnatestop increasing or even decline

  15. are more likely to be – have a greater probability of being

  16. scholarship – educational subsidy

  17. the top level of tax – the fiscal contributions paid for the highest levels of income

  18. bred of – resulting from

  19. politecourteous, respectful

  20. downtrodden – oppressed, underprivileged

  21. to be riddled with – be full of

  22. abroad – in foreign countries

  23. anti-Washington – against the special intererst groups and lobbies that dominate US

  24. and so on – etc.

  25. to wind /waind/ the clock back – return to the past

  26. loud-mouthed – vociferous, offensive

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