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The Danger of Ridiculing Trump: Even if he loses Trump and his supporters cannot be ignored

 

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Trump and his supporters

Arne van Lienden

Ever since Donald Trump announced that he would run as the Republican Presidential candidate he has been a constant supplier of sensational media headlines. Never before in modern American history did a Presidential candidate attract so much controversy and had so little support from the establishment of his own party. With every shocking statement he has made so far – from calls to ban Muslim immigration to virulent misogynistic remarks – commentators predicted that it would be the end of his campaign. But for Trump it seems that nothing can harm him. He continues to generate support while liberal media are left fazed. His actions made the persona Trump into a constant subject of ridicule, almost a laughing stock. But laughing at Donald Trump distracts the attention from the deeper laying socio-economic issues influencing his supporters. As long as these are not heard or taken seriously, Donald Trump may just be a harbinger of things to come.

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Trump rally in Cincinnati

Recent polling has shown that is rather unlikely that Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States. The leaked video with Billy Bush came at the worst possible moment for his campaign. For weeks he tried to appear more reasonable and substantive in interviews and press conferences in order to gain support among white middle-class voters. But where some middle-class voters just might have started to believe he was not that bad, the video leaked and established Trump’s image as a misogynist once again. The result is that demographically Donald Trump just does not seem have enough support to win the Presidency. Besides having a lack of middle class votes, Trump also lacks support in other parts of the population. Whereas Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 won 6% of the African American votes, polls show that Donald Trump has around 3% support among African Americans. Although these percentages seem both shockingly insignificant one should only remember the Presidential elections of 2000 to see that in American Presidential elections the margins are often incredibly small. In recent years the Republican Party has also aimed for the Hispanic vote as Hispanics are overwhelmingly Catholic and could align themselves with the Republican views on abortion and gay marriage. However Trump has antagonized many Hispanics with his derogatory remarks on Mexicans and consequently this election they seem to favour Hillary Clinton over Trump.

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Trump’s campaign slogan. Photo by Gage Skidmore

While numbers may suggest that Donald Trump is running behind it seems that no one takes any reassurance from this. This election has never been about numbers or statistics because they have been against Trump from the very start. Jeb Bush and Marc Rubio were seen as the golden boys in the Republican Party but they were forced to withdraw their campaigns within months because Trump constantly exceeded every expectation. Donald Trump has gone beyond the statistics and numbers that always dominated the media coverage on the Presidential elections and has done so by mobilizing a group of voters that in recent years has been structurally underrepresented in the vote because they felt no candidate recognized their position. It is the ‘hidden group’ of working-class white Americans that suddenly rose to the surface as an important force during these elections. In areas that have been negatively affected by globalization and ‘trickle-down’ economics Trump is seen as the candidate who can turn America back into the manufacturing superpower it was before. With the newest round of the Clinton email scandal hurting her polling position, a Trump presidency is not impossible.

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Host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver. Photo by Steve Jennings

Popular liberal TV-shows like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight have in the meanwhile started a media offensive against Trump and his supporters. Donald Trump is the perfect persona for ridicule and satire. His inconsistent speeches, outright racist and sexist statements, and his remarkable debating style have been the subject of satirical items that gathered millions of views on TV and YouTube. Also the supporters of Trump are often publicly scorned. There is an overload of videos where Trump supporters are exposed as violently racist and/or sexist. It is important in any free society that people can get mocked and that politics can be the subject of satire, but the current media coverage on Donald Trump uses a dangerous framework to depict him and his supporters. To see the successes in his campaign as a sudden eruption of collective stupidity and racism in American society overlooks the fact that his supporters “may not have it worse than some other demographic groups in America today, but they have fallen the furthest”. The racial and sexist dimension in the Trump campaign should never be overlooked, but neither should the fact that the white working class is the demographic group in America that lives in a worse economic situation than their parents did. Globalization and neoliberal economics have left certain areas in the United States riddled with unemployment, poverty, and a dangerous disgruntlement.

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This Trump supporter at a Cincinnati highlights the deep distrust of his supporters hold for mainstream media

In recent years the main focus of the Democratic and Republican Party has been to gain the middle class vote. The white working class voter is deemed to be aging and to be slowly becoming a relatively small demographic group. So in the Presidential campaigns the Republican Party focused more on the wealthy part of society with promising tax cuts, and the middle class families who were also promised a rise in purchasing power. The establishment of the Democratic Party, traditionally the party for the white working class, has shifted its main focus to social justice for minorities. Although Bernie Sanders did voice the discontent of the white working class, Hillary Clinton is seen as the epitome of middle-class liberalism with no regard for a struggling working class. It is no wonder then that the white working class voter did not feel represented in the establishment of both parties. Whereas usually this does mean that they would not vote, this year’s election is different. Donald Trump presented himself as an anti-establishment candidate who would completely change the partisan and bureaucratic government in Washington. His populist rhetoric and promise to ‘make America great again’ resonate in the areas where the white working class is still the largest voting group. For instance in the Rust Belt – a formerly heavily industrialized area in the Midwest – unemployment is structural after most industries left the area. Trump’s rhetoric to bring manufacturing back from China is hugely popular in these areas that ever since the Reagan presidency have only been in decline.

Framing Donald Trump’s campaign solely in terms of racism and sexism overlooks the fact that 42% percent of the American electorate is nonetheless likely to vote for him. Ridiculing Trump and his supporters will only contribute to further polarization and antagonism between liberals and conservatives in the United States. It is disturbing enough in itself that a substantial demographic voter group only finds itself heard in a megalomaniac and populist candidate like Donald Trump. The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight’s success comes mostly from poking fun at channels like Fox News, but the audience of Fox News is not likely to be open to other views or other channels if they find themselves the subject of scorn there. It rather works to reinforce the polarized media landscape in the United States. It should be the task of liberal media to look deeper into people’s motivation to vote for Trump and to make their concerns more accepted in the discourse surrounding the elections. Also Hillary Clinton’s debate strategy of constantly reminding people of the controversies surround Trump is futile as long as the deeper socio-economic worries of the white working class are being ignored. A more inclusive discourse should begin with the media and politicians that propagate a liberal ideology.

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Trump has many devoted supporters. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

If numbers and statistics can be trusted just this once in these elections, then Hillary Clinton will become the first female President of the United States. This will be a huge milestone for gender equality in United States, just as the 2008 election of Barack Obama was one for race equality. But it should not ignore the fact that Donald Trump has made it so far in the American elections. It should not be considered as a deviation from normalcy in politics or as a unique collective misjudgment. The success of Donald Trump has revealed the discontent of a ‘hidden group’ of voters who previously have been structurally ignored in American politics. The only way to prevent a normalization of populism in American politics is to be more open to the struggles of this group of voters. If they will be ignored again than Trump will prove to only be a harbinger for things to come in the American political arena.

Click here for more by Arne van Lienden.

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“Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016” by Ryan Minett

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