What fuels Trump's rise?
March 2, 2016 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I possess no affinity for Trump and therefore feel a complete lack of understanding to why his message has gained such traction with voters. I have read that he is feeding off a general discontent of the US population. His ascendancy seems to go beyond the normal conservatives-pushing-back after 2 terms of liberal presidency, so what's fueling this? What I'm asking for is reasoned, well thought-out articles examining current or building social, political, economic trends that led us to Trump
posted by shaqlvaney to Law & Government (40 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
there's a large fraction of the us population that has not seen anything positive since the "end" of the recession. the economy improved, and the wages of already rich people increased, but for poorer people it did not. see, for example, this article (auto-audio) which was linked by robbyrobs and explains how this has fuelled support for both trump and saunders.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:26 PM on March 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not quite what you asked, but perhaps relevant.

I haven't finished this article yet, though it seems like a rather in-depth hypothesis on the rise of Trump: http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism
posted by megamanwich at 4:27 PM on March 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

This isn't historically oriented, but gives you a pretty good intuitive sense of some individual trump supporters and what's motivating them.
posted by heresiarch at 5:33 PM on March 2, 2016

From the Super Tuesday thread:

Among people likely to vote in the Republican primary, people are 86.5 percent more likely to prefer Donald Trump as the first-choice nominee relative to all the others if they “somewhat” or “strongly agree” that “people like me don't have any say about what the government does.” Using statistical techniques, we can conclude that this increased preference for Trump is over and beyond any preferences based on respondent gender, age, race/ethnicity, employment status, educational attainment, household income, attitudes towards Muslims, attitudes towards illegal immigrants, or attitudes towards Hispanics.

The role of “people like me don't have any say…” is not significantly related to preference for Cruz, Rubio, Clinton, or Sanders as the first choice for party nominee (where Clinton and Sanders are rated by likely Democratic primary voters).
(Figure 6)

source: RAND Presidential Election Panel Survey
posted by bluecore at 5:39 PM on March 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

This won't be quite what you asked for either. But maybe something like this?
posted by O. Bender at 5:40 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a good read too:

Hilzoy: How The Republicans Got Donald Trump
posted by bluecore at 5:40 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lots of people got fucked by the recession.

Working class whites are among the groups who've had the slowest recovery from the recession.

Many of these working class whites perceive this slow recovery not as "we're in the same boat as everyone else" but as a zero-sum game in which their failure to come out on top is thanks to an explicit loss of their privilege because of Those People, and Trump has capitalised on that feeling by loudly and unabashedly hating on Mexicans, Muslims, Blacks, etc. He's acknowledging their problems and saying he agrees on the cause, whereas the other candidates are still appealing to an evangelical Christian social platform that just isn't addressing the people feeling disenfranchised.

Also, as with any stopped clock being right twice a day, he does sometimes say something not wrong. So even hardcore Republicans like my parents who hate Cruz and Rubio but are having trouble stomaching Trump can start polishing that particular turd by saying "well, he's not wrong about [X]".
posted by olinerd at 5:43 PM on March 2, 2016 [20 favorites]

Response by poster: found after I asked but relevant to those who are curious too: Why Trump Now [SLNYT]
posted by shaqlvaney at 5:45 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm glad that olinerd said it first, but yeah, Trump's feeding on that group's hopelessness. This from The Atlantic gets at some of the issues indirectly.
posted by blerghamot at 5:49 PM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you'd like to read about Trump outside the vacuum of American politics, there's quite a lot of ink being put to use theorizing about Trump as the American incarnation of globalized neoliberal economics. This Gary Younge video from the Guardian is brief but good for context (and he writes about Trump, too). Chomsky goes a bit deeper. Other writers thinking on this same idea are easily found with these search terms.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:51 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in a perspective from inside, I recommend this piece by Pat Buchanan.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:59 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two words -- Southern Strategy: "Far from being a 'cancer' on Republicanism, or some jihadi-style radicalizer, [Trump] is the natural evolutionary product of Republican platforms and strategies that stretch back to the very origins of modern conservatism in the 1950s and 1960s."
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 6:13 PM on March 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Onion was sort of prophetic...
posted by The otter lady at 6:42 PM on March 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, has a blog on Dilbert.com, that has been talking about Trumo for months now.
Adams has a long standing interest in persuasion and hypnotism and says that Trump is using techniques of suggestion very skillfully to attract support and detract from his rivals. According to him most statements Trump makes are just designed to plant a certain impression (say Trump is strong or opponent x is weak) rather than being any kind of literal statement of policy. He frequently expresses admiration for Trump's skill at manipulating people and controlling the situation, but without actually supporting him or his policies (which Afams says Trump hasn't even stated for real yet).
posted by w0mbat at 6:46 PM on March 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

I thought this article was helpful, at least from a more sympathetic point of view, accentuating both the economic trends as well as the policies that basically cut loose many parts of America and left them to fend for themselves. Many of those people feel that Trump is the only person who is concerned about them.
posted by deanc at 7:04 PM on March 2, 2016

When I read this essay on the background of Hitler's rise and substitute Trump's name, there are some scary similarities.
There's an incredible amount of fear in in this country in addition to financial instability, a feeling that everything is out of control, and things are changing for the worse, and this, added to to the ravings of a sociopath, is beginning to snowball into a really frightening scenario.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:09 PM on March 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Let's also not forget the fact that Trump has spent the past decade on prime-time television with his various reality shows. The public started out with a basic familiarity about him. Yes, it's not all accurate and it *is* reality television, but compared to a Cruz or Rubio he started with a much much higher Q value.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:09 PM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Republican party traditionally was the party of the wealthy and the capitalist. Starting in the 70s the Republican party used the southern strategy to appeal to lower and middle class whites and abortion to appeal to evangelicals to bolster their voter base.

The declining economic realities of the lower and middle class over the last 25 years has made folks realize that the economic policies of the republican party do not actually benefit the lower and middle classes.

Along comes Trump who has the dog whistles of the southern strategy but a more populist friendly economic viewpoint. Trump's populism sways the republican base voters from the republican party's preferred candidates. Trump is anti-establishment and the republican establishment has burned the lower and middle classes.

I think the key is Trump is a populist, not a conservative.

That's my view anyway.
posted by LoveHam at 7:13 PM on March 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

From a WaPo op-ed by neocon Robert Kagan:

We are supposed to believe that Trump’s legion of “angry” people are angry about wage stagnation. No, they are angry about all the things Republicans have told them to be angry about these past 7½ years, and it has been Trump’s good fortune to be the guy to sweep them up and become their standard-bearer. He is the Napoleon who has harvested the fruit of the revolution.

He sees Trump's success as a result of Trump being the logical culmination of the GOP strategies of exploiting and fostering bigotry and pandering to the most radical and fundamentalist element of their party for self-serving political gain. You can't beat Trump if he's just saying what you're dog-whistling at.
posted by fryman at 7:16 PM on March 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Two advertising experts explain:
Many good ads or politicians will make a direct appeal to viewers' emotions—and of all the candidates in recent memory, Donald Trump may be the best at doing this. . . .

Think about the emotions anger and fear. They’re both low in appeal (no one wants to feel angry or fearful) but have high levels of engagement.

So what makes these two emotions so distinctive from each other? Empowerment. When you’re scared, you feel like you’re not in control. But when you’re angry, you feel the irresistible urge to speak out and take action. . . .

[Trump is] able to consistently evoke issues in a way that makes people feel anger, rather than fear. (Some of his opponents use fear; for example, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Ted Cruz told the crowd that the IRS “would start going after Christian schools, Christian charities, and…Christian churches.”)

And though Trump frequently raises issues that could elicit fear—terrorism, crime, economic collapse—he does so with indignation, which suggests that the audience should feel that way, too.

He’s angry, but not fearful.

That’s why he’s said that he favors soldiers that have been wounded over those that were captured: to Trump, surrendering under any circumstance connotes fear.

Then there’s Trump’s solution to the illegal immigrants who are supposedly overrunning the country: “throw the bums out, build a wall.”

As for China, he’ll argue that China is “stealing” jobs from the US (there’s the indignation)—and if he were in office, he wouldn’t let the nation “have its way with us.”

Furthermore, the feelings of anger he evokes lead to action on his behalf. Outraged voters are all too eager to post his videos on Facebook, retweet his tweets and promote his candidacy to friends and family.

Note what’s going on here: he simplifies complex issues, framing them in a way that’s intended to get a rise out of voters and infuriate them. But he presents solutions (often simplified, often unfeasible) in a way that comes across as clear—even obvious—and has the added benefit of making him appear in control.

In the end, it’s a calculated image that makes him an incredibly appealing candidate.
posted by John Cohen at 7:26 PM on March 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

Another part of his appeal likely has to do with coverage in the media. Anything provocative Mr. Trump says will become fodder for news networks - CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post, you name it.

As with Howard Stern, people who love The Donald keep watching - to hear what he'll say next. Those who hate The Donald keep watching - to hear what he'll say next.

I doubt any website or channel is complaining about increased viewership or ad revenue!
posted by Seeking Direction at 7:33 PM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Trump doesn't talk like a politician. He talks like a blowhard celebrity. Trump doesn't have an ideology. He's a conservative, sure, but he doesn't pretend to be a Christian family man who cares about state's rights. He talks about issues that both parties want to avoid because it diverts their central narrative. I honestly believe that Trump has no idea what he's doing. He just wandered onto the stage speaking his mind and wound up being pegged the anti-establishment candidate because no one else fit the bill.
posted by deathpanels at 8:23 PM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Over at Crooked TimberJohn Quiggin takes a shot.
posted by mark k at 8:32 PM on March 2, 2016

Andrew Bacevich "Has Trump Already Won" in The Nation.

Personally I don't fully agree that Trump has plotted out a winning course through brilliant strategizing. Rather, I think Trump just being Trump has proven to be effective in this current primary because of the reasons the author mentions.

Other candidates like Cruz and Rubio had plenty of chances to slam down Trump when he was talking about birther and other fringe stuff years ago, but they chose not to do it in any strong way. I think the reason they chose not to is because the Republican party operates in an authoritarian and controlling way, in tandem with its de facto messaging arm, Fox News, and with key financiers. That trifecta is now now paying a price for having been successful in shaping the electorate. Trump is merely taking advantage of that situation, he didn't create it.
posted by Dansaman at 9:16 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week has written some excellent columns on Trumpism from the perspective of a heterodox conservative who thinks the populism-adjacent right has value and is disheartened that the person who realized how totally the GOP was captured by its elites and took advantage of it is Donald Trump. I recommend For Trumpism, against Donald Trump, How conservative elites disdain working-class Republicans, and Even if you're ready to burn the world down, don't support Donald Trump, but he's been on the Trump beat for a while now.

Relevant lede:
I've been waiting for a Republican who would say, bluntly, the Iraq War was a disaster. I've been waiting for a Republican candidate to say that the trade deals and legal frameworks that drive globalism have been bad deals for America's workers. I've been waiting for a candidate who would question the elite consensus on mass immigration, not tweak it. And I've been waiting for a candidate to deliver a shock to the conservative movement and the Republican Party, something that would force them to reconnect to the actual material interests of their voters, to make them realize that the market was made for man, and not man for the market.

Unfortunately, the candidate espousing these views is Donald Trump. And the few good causes which he espouses — the ones which could stand on their own, apart from the crutches of noxious racism and populism he uses to prop them up — are too important to be entrusted to him.
His thesis—which you can find shorn of its Trump particulars in the "conservative elites" article—is that the thought/policy leaders in the GOP have built a coalition around elite/globalization-facing ideas (libertarianism, free trade, guest workers, etc.) thanks in part to the unexamined loyalty of social conservatives and populists and the white working poor, who they don't really have any interest in and would just as soon abandon if the math worked; in his words, "Let them eat tax credits."
posted by Polycarp at 9:54 PM on March 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I really haven't seen this pointed out -- Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Kasich, Rand, Christie and Carson are/were terrible, terrible candidates. None of them possessed the skill to simply point to and elucidate Trump's weaknesses and incompetence.

Bush said Trump was "unhinged." What the fuck does that even mean? Bush spent $150 million failing to explain it. Is that all you got, dude?

Meanwhile, it took John Oliver only 22 minutes to do 10x more damage. A good candidate would've had a similar message.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:22 PM on March 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

i don't want to excuse racism, but i do want to understand it. this recent bbc article shows that trump's main difference with other candidates is on immigration. to understand that you need to understand that immigration may indeed have increased wage pressure on lower paid jobs (and so explain the wage stagnation i mentioned earlier). i am unsure whether these sources are biased, but a similar phenomenon may also be seen in the uk (and the ft is a reliable source).

so, for the lowest paid - which is where support for populist candidates is particularly pronounced - "foreigners" may indeed be partially responsible for their poor conditions. and since the two main parties are divided largely on racial lines, trump is "free" (ignoring social mores or common humanity) to stress this.

finally, this is likely exacerbated by the poor, expensive education system, which likely makes it difficult for the lower paid to learn new skills, and the lack of a social safety net.

(i hope this answer is ok - i don't have a single article that makes this argument, but i have provided support for each step. i would love to have an article that does explain this (or refute it)).
posted by andrewcooke at 2:06 AM on March 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

What I'm asking for is reasoned, well thought-out articles examining current or building social, political, economic trends that led us to Trump

I'm not trying to be funny when I say that his appeal is strong specifically with people who don't care about analyzing social, political or economic trends.

He attracts people who are angry and scared and discontent about money and things in general. They see his plans to get rid of "those" people and about making America great again; that's the attraction. They see him as a truth-teller who understands their fears, who can blame large groups of "others" for all of their problems and that makes him a refreshing breath of fresh air.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:46 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Trump does seem to be benefitting from a lot of animus against immigrants viz a viz outsourcing. Disney having fired IT workers and asking them to train their H1 replacements is a story that's had a huge (YUUGE, TREMENDOUS) amount of traction lately; lots of support for Trump in discussions in comments sections of papers (and on e.g. Reddit).
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:08 AM on March 3, 2016

I haven't read through everything so apologies if this duplicates, but this article from Noam Chomsky captures it best for me.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:59 AM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

My view: there are many contributing factors:

- Economics: as others have mentioned, Trump is speaking to the inequality and economic stagnation (or decline) that is the experience of large sectors of the American population over the past several decades.

- Bigotry: probably the most commented upon aspect of Trump's rise and why he is the bete noire of liberals. Unfortunately, pandering to racist / nationalist / sexist / etc. sentiments is a tried and true political strategy in many historical contexts. Trump feels less restraint in employing this rhetoric than seemingly all other candidates in the current presidential race.

- Showmanship: Trump has spent much of his life in front of a camera, and it shows. He knows how to say outrageous things that the media will cover virtually 24/7. He is quick on his feet in debates. His Twitter feed is sensationalistic. He is an insult genius.

- Anti-establishmentism: Trump has trained his fire on the people and institutions that disenfranchised Americans know have been screwing them. Establishment politicians who can't keep the government operating. Political dynasties that have little good to show for their tenures in office. Party establishments which deceive and swindle their constituents.

- Independence: Of course, it is not strictly true that Trump is completely funding his own campaign and beholden to nobody. However, that does seem to be the perception of many, and Trump certainly acts like it is the case much of the time. This allows him to make critiques that candidates beholden to establishment donors are effectively prohibited from making. Additionally, it allows him to play up the narrative of himself as his own man vs the other candidates as corrupt lackeys.

- Commonality: As the Guardian link mentioned, Trump is not a unique phenomenon. Many other European countries are experiencing a surge in right populist/nativist sentiment for many of the same reasons: economic stagnation/decline, a paralyzed political system, fear of immigration, no inspiring political alternatives, etc.

- Resignation: As much as it may surprise some, many in the Republican (and broader) establishment see Trump as a lesser evil. He may be a loose canon and unpredictable, but at least he is not a fanatic true believer in an ideology that the establishment finds abhorrent (e.g. Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders). As his popularity rises, many will (and some already have: Christie, for example) resign themselves to working with him.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:55 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's another good one: The Great Republican Revolt, David Frum:
The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.

You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”
posted by Tin Man at 12:02 PM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

The VOX piece on authoritarianism is quite illuminating.
posted by Skipjack at 1:34 PM on March 3, 2016

I thought this analysis from Josh Marshall at the Talking Points Memo Web site provides a pretty good overview of the Trump phenomenon.

And if not already mentioned here, Matt Taibbi's recent article in Rolling Stone is informative and entertaining.
posted by WinstonJulia at 12:26 AM on March 4, 2016

Why Trump? at huffpost - focussing on how trump appeals to "pragmatic conservatives."
posted by andrewcooke at 1:14 AM on March 4, 2016

Listen to C-SPAN callers explaining why they support Trump today, after a pretty rough day for Trump. Here's part 2. Notice how much they're focusing on economics and jobs.

Recent poll about Trump's strengths and weaknesses among voters. This is notable:
Trump's relative weaknesses among his supporters are in the areas of abortion, presidential temperament and governing as a true conservative, all things his opponents have criticized him for during the campaign. Barely half of those who want to see Trump become the nominee consider him to be the best candidate on these three dimensions. In essence, his supporters are aware that these are not his strengths, even while favoring him for the nomination.

Republicans choose Donald Trump, who promises to "make America great again" -- as the best GOP candidate for handling the economy and federal budget deficit as president. These strengths appear to be at the core of his support, tying in with the persistent economic anxiety Republicans express on a host of Gallup measures, such as confidence in the economy and their own economic progress.
"'Not even my wife knows': secret Donald Trump voters speak out"
posted by John Cohen at 7:51 AM on March 4, 2016

"5 myths about Trump supporters"

NYT article from December — Donald Trump’s Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat:
Donald Trump holds a dominant position in national polls in no small part because he is extremely strong among people on the periphery of the Republican coalition.

He is strongest among Republicans who are less affluent, less educated and less likely to turn out to vote. His very best voters are self-identified Republicans who nonetheless are registered as Democrats. It’s a coalition that’s concentrated in the South, Appalachia and the industrial North.
posted by John Cohen at 8:10 AM on March 4, 2016

He's a conservative, sure, but he doesn't pretend to be a Christian family man who cares about state's rights. He talks about issues that both parties want to avoid because it diverts their central narrative.

More than being a generic "conservative", he's a populist and nationalist who has tapped into issues that the mainstream Republican party desperately wants to avoid or sweep under the rug. Iraq war fiasco? Yeah, Trump says, GWB screwed that one up badly. Illegals entering the country and undercutting Americans on wages? Trump says he'll deport eleven million illegals and build a wall.

The elite of the GOP and pundits are out of touch - Trump is speaking directly to the voters and speaking across partisan lines from an tough-guy nationalist point of view. A generic, cookie-cutter "conservative" would not have gotten this far.
posted by theorique at 11:55 AM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

more on racism from kliuless in another thread.
posted by andrewcooke at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2016

Interesting take by Camille Paglia. She describes herself as a 'Clinton Democrat' (after elected, he moved toward the political center) and a libertarian. She's a college professor and highly regarded social critic. In july of last year, Salon.com interviewed her about Trump, among other topics. Two day ago Salon.com published her follow-up, where she states she was wrong about Trump.
posted by Homer42 at 3:06 AM on March 12, 2016

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