Trump: the rise of The Donald

Saturday 22 October, 14.00 - 15.30 , Cinema 3 Battle for America

In Association With:

Listen to this session at the bottom of this page.

Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party is the biggest defeat for the Republican establishment in living memory. The outsider Trump joined the Republican Party in 2012 expressly with the purpose of running for the nomination as its presidential candidate, despite previously having donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. And this billionaire capitalist claims to speak for the majority of the American people as the straight-talking, anti-elitist voice of no nonsense and getting things done. His more controversial proposals have included banning Muslims from entering the US and building a wall along the Mexican border (at Mexico’s expense), but he has also attracted criticism for his political style, such as insulting rivals, being disrespectful to women and even mocking a disabled journalist. While many predicted his campaign would collapse into farce, liberal media commentators and the Republican establishment alike have been forced to take him seriously as he has marched on to the nomination.

Despite the stereotyping of his supporters as knuckle-dragging bigots, many of Trump’s followers have moderate views and they do not feel that certain hot button issues on which Trump does not fit the conservative Republican mould - like abortion and gay marriage - should be a priority. Many are secular although they are often traditionalist rather than cosmopolitan in cultural terms. Many who back Trump were once registered Democrats. His followers appear to be united by a number of populist and nationalist themes but a key one is a rejection of the political establishment and cultural elite. Trump has capitalised on the inability of the Republican and Democratic parties to inspire and engage with the majority of ordinary American voters.

The fragmentation of the traditional Republican and Democratic Parties has provided a space for a new political constellation in opposition to the political and cultural worldview of the governing class to emerge: parties or individuals who speak for, and on behalf of, a social constituency (particularly the white working class) long disdained by an increasingly technocratic political elite. And yet political polls show that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton can claim majority support. What is the basis for Donald Trump’s popularity? Why do the US establishment and even many Republicans hate him? Does support for Trump represent an act of political self-assertion by Americans?