Currently, Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. His nomination and rise in popularity divided people in America and the world into supporters and opponents, and the effects of this change are noticeable today. Trump’s election campaign relied on outrageous claims and made use of phrases that were hardly diplomatic. However, the charisma of the current president and his use of social media allowed him to win.
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The methods that Trump has continued to employ since his first introduction to the world of politics can be analyzed through the lens of demagoguery. This is a concept in which a person appeals to the prejudices of the public through lying, scapegoating, and treating the opposition as weak (Hahl et al. 1). Trump’s behavior, if continued, represents a great threat to the American notion of democracy because it both indirectly and directly promotes hate, inequality, disregard for facts and knowledge, and tactless political leadership.
Current Political and Economic Situation
One can assess the current state of the U.S. to understand the changes that Trump has brought to the country in the two years since his inauguration. According to Zurcher, issues can be divided into ten major categories such as immigration, taxes, or healthcare. Immigration, in particular, was one of the first issues to be addressed by the new administration. According to his claims during the campaign, Trump started to close the borders to whole populations, as people from multiple countries with predominantly Muslim citizens were banned from entering the U.S. (Zurcher).
Other significant attempts include the termination of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which was temporarily put on hold, and the closing of the immigration lottery (Zurcher). Overall, the administration and the president have pushed to make immigration much harder for all people, including the families of U.S. residents.
Another point of focus for this presidency is the sphere of healthcare, in which Trump has voiced his opposition to the previous president’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). ACA is a system that allows people to receive essential health benefits, purchase insurance despite having pre-existing conditions, and access subsidies based on the families’ poverty level. Although the ACA was not repealed completely, the administration is still working on changing the field of healthcare. In contrast, Trump succeeded in other reforms. Notably, he introduced tax cuts for some citizens and businesses (Zurcher). The president is also interested in reversing the environmental protections instituted by the previous administration, establishing new diplomatic relations, and increasing tensions between countries.
Donald Trump’s Demagoguery
The economic and political decisions described above show that, in two years, Trump has focused on many previously established reforms and programs, aiming for their reversal or elimination. However, the most prominent changes in the political world are strongly related to the overall shift in America’s self-identification and the tone of the discussion. Here, the personality of Donald Trump is significant because his campaigning and post-election activity have substantially affected the public.
One can argue that Trump’s style of leadership falls under the category of demagoguery. In order to support this claim, it is necessary to dissect the president’s behavior and tactics in comparison to the main methods that demagogues use, as well as to analyze his statements, speeches, and actions.
Charisma: Oversimplification, Vulgarity, Personality, and Emotions
One of the most prominent characteristics of Trump that separates him from other political figures is his charisma. Trump’s way of expressing his thoughts and important news related to his campaign or the government would be considered unthinkable for all previous presidents. Hall et al. suggest that even the motions that Trump uses are closely tied to the effectiveness of his speeches (71).
The authors ask “how a businessman situated in the uppermost tier of American wealth [captures] the allegiance of the working classes” and find that Trump retains attention by being entertaining (Hall et al. 71). In fact, while speaking to audiences during his rallies, Trump chooses an informal tone with many exclamations and repeated short words, creating a vocabulary that is easily recognizable and emotional.
Moreover, he often evokes laughter by telling jokes or unrelated stories that reinforce his and his supporters’ positions. Hall et al. suggest that such activities keep Trump at the forefront of media coverage and draw both his followers and the opposition into the debate (91). One should also highlight Trump’s use of social media as an essential part of his campaigning and governing (Wells et al. 672). Ahmadian et al. compare the speeches and Twitter posts of Trump and other presidential candidates. They find that the current president surpasses others in such categories as “grandiosity ratings, use of first-person pronouns, greater pitch dynamics, and informal communication” (Ahmadian et al. 49).
Trump’s use of Twitter is especially relevant to his political career as he uses the platform to applaud or criticize people. As a result, through speeches and social media, Trump creates a sharply defined personality that is directly tied to his claims and is easy to understand or find relatable.
Scapegoating and Fearmongering
The next characteristic of a demagogue is his or her use of fear-evoking and aggravating tactics to shift liability from one group to another or to target particular communities while keeping opposing sides off balance. For instance, fearmongering is the process of provoking fear in people and making the public believe that they are under threat from external powers. In the case of Trump, one of the most obvious examples is his treatment of immigrants. He has been using this tactic since the very beginning of his presidential race. While talking about Mexico, Trump says, “they’re sending people that have lots of problems … They’re bringing drugs.
They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people…” (qtd. in Huber 222). The notion that immigrants are dangerous offenders who pose a threat to the country’s people and the economy was one of the central campaign statements that Trump used in order to appeal to the public.
The exacerbation of racism is particularly apparent in Trump’s claims and scapegoating methods. While portraying immigrants with different cultures and religions (for example, Muslims) as enemies, Trump also relates the growing rates of immigration and the country’s changing demographics to the downfall of white people. The concept of white supremacy, the belief that white people are superior to people of other ethnicities, is deeply ingrained in the history of the world (Bobo S89).
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In the U.S., the resolution of this issue is relatively recent, with slavery, and then segregation becoming illegal less than a century ago. However, Trump’s wording turns newly arriving immigrants into “illegal aliens” who “are flowing across our southern border” and causing the country to lose its “tremendous potential” (qtd. in Huber 221-224). As such, the slogan “Make America Great Again” obtains a new meaning that is rooted in a xenophobic and radical ideology.
Lying and Making Unrealistic Promises
Another behavior that disrupts the democratic system of leadership lies in Trump’s lack of honesty and his readiness to make unrealistic promises. According to Peters, Trump has made many remarks that were quickly disproved by statistics, or by his previous stances, or immediately following actions (563). For example, Trump promised to release his tax returns after being elected but refused to publish them later under the false claim of being audited (Cillizza).
He has also misquoted statistics, exaggerating the rates of immigration, unemployment, and inner-city crime (Peters 563). Another example that entails both lying and scapegoating is his tweet about global warming. In it, Trump declared that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” (qtd. in Dickinson). Later, he argued that he never proposed this idea, although it was posted and seen by many people.
However, one can see that constant lying did not lower his popularity before the election. McGranahan explains this phenomenon by saying that Trump’s false comments are not seen as inaccurate but instead interpreted as passionate and bold (244). Similarly, one can consider his unrealistic promises a part of his demagoguery. Trump’s statements about building a wall with Mexico and “draining the swamp” of corruption in the government, as well as his dismissal of global warming mentioned above, represent highly hyperbolized versions of the beliefs to which Trump is appealing (Huber 224). These narratives reinforce the view that a politician is allowed to lie about certain topics since Trump’s supporters do not view these errors and exaggerations negatively.
Suppressing Opposition and the Media
Trump’s relationship with the media and the opposition, including members of the Democratic Party and other individuals, has been continuously escalating during his presidency. The news coverage of Trump’s statements, especially his erroneous claims, has divided media outlets into those who do and do not point out the president’s inconsistencies. As a result, the term “fake news” emerged among the supporters of the president to suggest that some media outlets are reporting false accusations. Trump has used this phrase several times, refusing to speak to Jim Acosta, a CNN reporter, saying, “not you. You are fake news” (Hoffman 449).
After the term was brought into use by some publications, it became a tool for disrupting the trustworthiness of media outlets that disagreed with the positions of Trump’s supporters. Thus, any claims of the opposition or the media that attempted to be impartial became invalid in the eyes of people who believed in the president’s words.
The Threat to Democracy
The characteristics of Trump’s presidency are analyzed here to form a picture that represents the situation in contemporary America. Since the start of Trump’s political career, the country has undergone significant changes in its self-perception and its view of global policies. Interestingly, Bobo notes that each election period in the history of the U.S. has increased the differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties (S96).
This separation was apparent in the government’s decisions about race and the civil rights of African-Americans, and it influences the political affiliations of the country’s regions. Trump further exacerbated the alignment between race and politics, supporting a return to the unequal representation of different ethnicities and indirectly promoting “alt-right” racism (Peters 565). The rise of conservative values supported by Trump’s demagoguery continues to impact the politics of the country and the world since the American president disagrees with the values that the rest of the democratic world is trying to implement.
The increasing connection between party identities and racial tension poses a threat to the country’s changing demographics. Many states in the U.S. have large non-white communities that have already encountered the outcomes of “alt-right” politics (Bobo S86). As Peters notes, the U.S. may enter a phase of “post-democracy” in which freedoms are not granted but exploited by those in power (564). Thus Trump’s influence, while not the only underlying issue of American politics, serves as a catalyst for people whose radical, aggressive, and intolerant views have become enabled and even lauded. As a result, many people’s opinions have shifted towards oppression and away from transparency.
Trump is a leader whose personality and political ideology make him a demagogue. He uses vulgarity and humor to appeal to particular audiences, devaluing diplomacy and tolerance in the process. He also presents himself as easy to understand and relatable for people who share his values and who are affected by scapegoating and fearmongering tactics. Trump targets minority populations and immigrants, portraying them as dangerous and unwanted.
At the same time, he makes outrageous claims and lies about statistics and facts. The suppression of the views of those who disagree with the president and his followers also aligns with the concept of demagoguery – the alt-right community has adopted the term “fake news,” which is used to devalue opposing views. The increasing tensions based on religion, culture, race, and other personal characteristics lie on the basis of Trump’s undemocratic approach to dividing people and disrupting the range of views suitable for a democratic nation.
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