Is Don, Is Good?

Darcy Coombs

He is overtly brash and smug. He chooses to taunt opposition candidates on their appearance rather than policy, much to the delight of his supporters. He has been labelled a misogynist and a racist by many throughout his career as a businessman and his run for the presidential nomination. The GOP establishment despises him for being both a dominant outsider, and by definition, for not being a conservative.

His popularity really doesn’t make logical sense when you write it down on paper.

Even more astounding that his popularity is demographically extensive. He has received resounding support from the Southern states, home to many Evangelical Christians, seen by his caucus victories in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana. This support extends up the east, with more victories in the states of Massachusetts and Vermont.

In a regular election, a republican candidate might focus heavily on one particular demographic to garner a large portion of their vote. In Mr. Trump’s case, however, he has managed to unite and win over drastically different demographics, adding to the overwhelming momentum of the “Trump Train”.

Much of this needs thesis length literature and research for proper explanation. Nevertheless, the sheer domination of Donald Trump’s presidential run is as fascinating as it is shocking.

Like any candidate, the admiration of Donald Trump by voters can be examined through the interplay of Trump’s qualities and the psyche of the voters themselves. The political realm can be dry and monotonous for many individuals. Along with this, it’s difficult for voters and candidates to identify with each other and relate on a personal level.

The individuals of the entertainment industry allow for a more intimate connection with a target audience. Such is our admiration for celebrities, that we place them high up on the pedestals of society and approbate their success. As such, when a well-off celebrity TV personality such as Donald Trump or Arnold Schwarzenegger enters politics, the political realm becomes increasingly accessible to the uninformed.

Mr Trump has this incredible advantage of celebrity status, which his fellow candidates cannot obtain. The fact that he is simply a household name further emphasises and even partially certifies his political popularity.

Many of the other candidates are career politicians who might not have been known to the general public before the presidential race. Meanwhile, many Americans view Donald Trump’s very name as synonymous with fiscal success, which for his supporters, justifies his legitimacy as a presidential candidate.

Obviously, there are plenty of arguments to suggest being Commander in Chief is more complicated than acting as a Chairman or CEO of the USA, but the simplification of Trump’s ideology resonates strongly with his supporters.

This brings up the notion that Trump’s answers to everything are simple in both nature and delivery. To stop the flow of illegal immigrants crossing over the Mexican-US border, he promises to build a big beautiful wall.

To stop the spread of terrorism at the hands if ISIS, he has proposed a total ban on Muslims immigrating into the United States. He has repeatedly backed up this proposal by stating that he has many Muslim friends that agree with him entirely.

Despite being completely unsubstantiated, the statement holds a large amount of sway when delivered in a manner only Trump can muster; if he believes the statement to be true, then his supporters will whole-heartedly accept it.

In doing so, Trump reiterates the significance and advantage of persuasion within the political realm. This seems to be the one and only idea all the candidates can agree upon.

Once these attributes are broken down, it is easier to understand Trump’s appeal and how some may view this man as a president. All this, however, does not tell us anything about the voter or particular group of individuals Trump is targeting.

His popularity transcends demographic boundaries but varies amongst groups who favour him, such as the evangelicals.

Recently, a small group of political scientists have proposed a startlingly accurate hypothesis as to whom Trump appeals to. These scientists study authoritarianism, the psychological profile of voters, mainly characterized by their desire for order, civil stability and fear of outsider intrusion.

Matthew Macwilliams, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts shows that individuals, who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, seek strong leaders who promise to take all necessary actions to deter the threat.

This could be used to explain the popularity of his extreme calls, such as temporarily banning Muslim immigration and wanting to legalize torture measures. Additional study conducted by political scientists from varying American institutions has further compounded this idea.

In a book published by Marc Hetherington (Vanderbilt University) and Jonathan Weiler (University of North Carolina), the two muse over the polarization dividing American politics. One of the key players in this schism was in fact the unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group, bounded by authoritarianism.  

They found that because the Republican Party has upheld ‘traditional’ American values such as law and civil order, the party had unknowingly attracted a particularly large group of voters seeking the authoritarian candidate.    

The authoritarian electorate tend to succumb to fear of the imposing threat on their lives and freedom. Trump has taken advantage of this fear, exclaiming repeatedly that the illegal immigration from Mexico and the terrorism waged by ISIS as both “huge problems”.

This exacerbates the us-and-them dichotomy between the authoritarians and minorities such as Muslims, immigrants, legal and illegal, and to an extent, the remainder of the American populace.  

Moreover, Hetherington suggests that these individuals aren’t necessarily stimulated into becoming authoritarian, but have merely held these beliefs until an external threat triggers these preferences to be expressed. He states that this arises through social change or a perceived “big problem” on everything these individuals hold valuable.

Therefore, when a somewhat charismatic, well-known and incredibly outspoken celebrity bursts into the political realm expressing similar thoughts to these individuals, it becomes far easier to see his appeal objectively.

The fact that Trump can claim that he (sort of) self-funds his campaign, continuously boast his wealth, put down every other candidate on appearance and say what he likes only validates his legitimacy in the eyes of authoritarians. Repeatedly, fans of Trump have stated that they love him because “he tells it like it is”. This statement can be gut-wrenchingly aggravating for many because what he says is more often than not both politically and factually incorrect.

The fact is that according to Matthew Macwilliams, much of what he says runs surprisingly close to what the authoritarian electorate want: A strong leader who will safeguard them from any existential threat no matter how distant or incomprehensible. In turn, it’s understandable that people believe that the GOP frontrunner really does tell it like it is, as he constantly validates their own attitudes. 

When viewed from a perspective driven by fear, division and desperation for a charismatic leader that both shares and endorses their political views, the “Trump Train” looks primed to build upon its already unprecedented momentum. 

It will continue to divide the nation. The Republicans will continue to scramble for answers and devise countless schemes to bring him down the ladder, all the while knowing he will now be the likely winner of the party’s nomination.   

The rise of Donald Trump has forever transformed the political landscape of the United States, regardless if he becomes the 44th president of the Free World. He has taken on his own party and won, glaringly ignoring attitudes that the party has historically stood for in the process.   

Most significantly, the Don has trekked a path nobody thought would lead to success. That path now lies open. 

Darcy Coombs hides behind his computer as the beat scribe for his band Otious. You'll find him voicing his opinions in 'Read'. He also hasn't grown a millimetre since he was 14.