Sean and Mittie | Trumpism Explained to the Rest of the World 11

Trumpism Explained to the Rest of the World

This article was written prior to Trump’s election. At the time, it still seemed unlikely to many of us – if not most of us – that he would be the 45th President of the United States. 

Living in Mexico, it has been hard to understand Donald Trump’s appeal. From abroad, surrounded by friends who travel, Trump appears xenophobic, reactionary, and petulant while offering few real policy proposals. So why is he polling so well without the Jim Jones charisma? The answer is that Trumpism is much larger and older than The Donald.

Trump held a rally in Baton Rouge while we were visiting; we wanted to learn what we could – or maybe we were driven by morbid curiosity. We wanted to witness the spectacle first hand and catch a glimpse of what so many see in the man.

We arrived around 6pm for the 7pm event and quickly realized we would probably not make it inside. There were almost 10,000 people waiting in line – some had been there since noon. The rally started an hour late because at 7pm people were still filing in. While other candidates struggled to fill high school gymnasiums, Trump packed the River Center.

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The large turnout definitely had something to do with where we were. But Trump isn’t just doing well in Louisiana or the south – he recently beat all other Republican candidates in the New Hampshire primary and would probably do well as the Republican nominee.

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We spoke to a few people waiting in line and were surprised to discover that they were mostly pretty normal – maybe not our nation’s top scholars but no one seemed angry, outwardly racist, or hateful. They even remained calm while being berated as sinners by several street corner preachers. The crowd was almost entirely white. Another uniting factor was that they were generally fed-up with the country’s leadership.

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But why were they so motivated by Trump’s campaign? The answer has to do with the decades of worsening socio-economic strife in the country. The working class is angry with the decision-makers and the oligarchy behind them. In a WSJ piece entitled “Trump’s America”, Charles Murray explains:

[…] the central truth of Trumpism as a phenomenon is that the entire American working class has legitimate reasons to be angry at the ruling class. During the past half-century of economic growth, virtually none of the rewards have gone to the working class. The economists can supply caveats and refinements to that statement, but the bottom line is stark: The real family income of people in the bottom half of the income distribution hasn’t increased since the late 1960s.

(Murray, Charles. “Trump’s America.” The Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2016)

This disenfranchisement has been compounded by two other main factors. The first is a barrage of perceived threats to security from abroad – seemingly unchecked illegal immigration and international terrorism, that has triggered a fight or flight reaction throughout the US working-class (Edsall, Thomas B. “Donald Trump’s Appeal.” The New York Times, December 2, 2015). The second is a broad departure from the traditional moorings of our society – there is no longer a sense that we are one culture moving forward with common values and ideas. Meanwhile, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” feel continuously more restricted as government regulation increases. Many people in the United States are not happy about any of this and yet don’t feel politicians in Washington DC are interested in addressing these issues.

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I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d vote for Donald Trump and his anti-everyone-else rhetoric, but I recognize that he has touched on some truths during his campaign and has given voice to a large segment of society that is dissatisfied with the government. Whether Trump leaves the race pre-election or becomes the Republican nominee, the reasons for Trumpism have been with us for decades and will stay with us long after Trump is gone.

I leave with you with a quote from his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal:

You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.

Trump, D., Schwartz, T. (1987). The Art of the Deal. Random House, 1987.

We photographed this place just north of Baton Rouge. While we encountered many Trump supporters on this trip, we didn’t see anything else like this.

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With flags flying Union side down (a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property, according to the flag code) & the moralist rhetoric, it is clear these people feel that they, their nation, and its moral foundations are under attack.

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The enemy, in broad terms, appears to be all liberals and anyone who threatens to undermine conservative American values.

Sean Reagan

Sean’s photography is a contribution to the visual record of changing cultures in Latin America – documenting peoples and customs evolving together in an increasingly interdependent world.

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