‘Trumpism’ is not an entirely new feature in American politics. Trump’s polarising, abrasive, frequently offensive rhetoric has surprised many worldwide, but is finding a captive audience with disaffected conservative Americans.
Trumpism simplifies complex policies issues down to common sense logic, attacks the established political system and mainstream media, and is obsessed with the appearance of strength. Trump’s nativist populism has some historical comparisons.
In the early nineteenth century, Andrew Jackson ushered in an era known as Jacksonian Democracy. Poorer Americans, many agrarian workers, were recently given the vote, and found a sympathetic figure in former general Andrew Jackson, the saviour of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
The crux of Jacksonian Democracy was a rebuke of the existing two party system and the championing of the ‘common man’. Jackson argued against big business in the form of the national bank of the United States, and supported economic policies favourable to small town, rural America.
This form of politician, catering to mass sentiment, was a new force in American politics. Even Jeffersonianism, which emphasised the inalienable rights of the individual against the influences of government, did not involve such mass participation as Jackson’s politics.
Jackson presented himself as an enemy of the elite and political classes, giving those who had previously had no voice a sense of personal connection to the Oval Office.
‘Our Leaders Are Stupid’
Trumpism, when seen through this light, can resemble a kind of 21st century, perhaps twisted, Jacksonianism.
Trump’s notorious for claiming the leaders in Washington D.C., including of course the President, are ‘stupid’. According to Trump’s logic, American leaders are being out-foxed by the Mexicans, Chinese, and numerous others.
This anti-establishment hyperbole is supported by a supposedly common sense practicality that is designed to appeal directly to the ‘ordinary American’. Trump promises to take the fight to the political elite, just as Jackson did so long ago.
It doesn’t hurt that he can campaign largely on his own funds and isn’t force to filter his opinions, as he is not tethered to his financial donors.
It is even possible to argue that the supporters of Trump draw parallels to those of Jackson. Jackson had a diverse range of support, but a particularly passionate core of his following was from his previously disenfranchised poor wage workers.
Many of Trump’s supporters feel disillusioned and divorced from Washington D.C. For them, the political classes are corrupt or incompetent. Left behind by modern popular culture and mainstream media, these conservatives seek a mouthpiece.
It could be that Trump is their champion.
In drawing this comparison, it is worth noting at least one significant difference between Trump and Jackson. Andrew Jackson was a general, and as commander and chief, he had experience of war.
In contrast to the military record of an Andrew Jackson, America is offered a post-1980s ‘model American’ businessman. Trump waves his business success in the face of voters and rival candidates as his form of machismo.
Given the tone of his statements regarding ISIS, China, Iran, and North Korea, it is important to remember that this hyper-capitlist, ultra-nativist, pseudo-populist has no where near the experience to understand the implications of his foreign policy.
The Truth Doesn’t Matter
One of the other alarming characteristics about Trumpism is the fact that Trump is not handcuffed to the truth. Time and again Trump has made unverifiable, or simply wrong, statements and yet his reputation and support is not diminished.
For the audience to which he is preaching, Trump’s outlandish claims are in themselves a vindication of an anti-political correct attitude that they feel is stifled in modern culture.
While it is plain that Trump is therefore capitalising on some rather ugly, often racist, sentiments amongst his bedrock of support, when the New York Times or Washington Post fact-checks and refutes such statements, Trump’s followers simply see another example of ‘mainstream media’ pushing its agenda.