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The Trump Phenomenon Essay

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Updated: Aug 6th, 2021

Republican candidate Donald Trump has gained immense support in the primaries of the 2016 American Presidential Elections. Trump’s election campaign, debates, and televised interviews echoes his conservative political ideas. He is known for his abrasive, boisterous, and controversial remarks on issues related to immigration, foreign policy related to South Korea, China, and Germany, Obamacare, Hillary Clinton and so on.

His derogatory remarks about women presidential candidates like the Republican Carly Fiorina and Democrat Hillary Clinton has dipped his popularity among women voters. Nevertheless, he is a front-runner in the primaries for the US presidential elections. Critics believe that Trump’s animated offensive tone is politically unacceptable. Nevertheless, his recent successes in the primaries show a different picture.

Trump has not only moved ahead in the Republican primaries, but also has garnered immense support. The logical question that arises, given Donald Trump’s boisterous personality and his tone of speeches, is why does he have such popularity based on the things that he says and the tone he uses.

Donald Trump’s interviews and speeches follow a few basic frames that are repeatedly spoken throughout the process. Trump repeatedly talks of his image of a self-made man who worked as an entrepreneur and earned the capital that he has now. Therefore, he positions himself as a man who has worked in the real world, like most average Americans, and earned his share, unlike the other candidates who were born into a famous political family.

He projects himself as a businessman who knows how taxes hurt taxpayers or how to build a wall between the US and Mexico better than the politicians. For example, in an interview in 2016 with CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer, Trump says, “I’m a really good business guy” (Trump). His pride in being a self-made man and his disrespect for politicians who, he believes, cannot do anything right, is evident. Trump projects an image of a hard-working businessman, an entrepreneur, who has toiled for his success, thus, representing himself as the self-made man of the American Dream.

He, though not a self-made man, is definitely one who has worked his way up the ladder of billionaires. He is a man who has worked hard to gain success. This allows him to associate with the middle-class working population. George Lakoff in his book The Political Mind, points out that a political leader usually uses the “rags-to-riches” narrative to associate with the masses (28). Lakoff believes that the “rags-to-riches” narrative is usually associated with the concept of the American Dream (28).

In other words, anyone who is willing to work hard can get success. Trump projects himself as a self-made man who has worked his way up in the corporate world. Thus, his story immediately becomes a part of the “American Dream” that every American associate to.

Trump belongs to a non-political family that makes him different from most of the politicians and other presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton. This dissociation with the rest of the politicians and association with the working class increases his acceptability. Lakoff believes for a strict father figure, “morality requires discipline, discipline in the market leads to prosperity, and lack of honest prosperity means laziness, lack of discipline, and therefore, immorality” (160).

Thus, Trump builds an image of one who is morally upright, truthful, hardworking, and successful. He boisterously talks of the places he has done business – China, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico – signifying his success as the American Dream come true (Trump).

Donald Trump has often been criticized as boisterous, abrasive, and conservative. His position on immigration, and especially Mexican immigration, has incited criticism. He has outspokenly talked of building a wall between Mexico and the US in order to stop illegal immigration. Furthermore, he says that he will “make Mexico pay for the wall” (Trump). He believes illegal immigrants should be driven out of the country and only those who are competent, talented, and hardworking may legally return to the US: “I want to have really smart people, really good people, really hard workers come back in. But they have to come in legally” (Trump).

Thus, the wall is a symbol of the barrier Trump wants to create for those immigrants who enter the US and waste government money. The idea is to stop paying for those who are aliens in the US soil and deport them. Clearly, those who support Trump are looking for a strict father figure who will punish those who abide by the rule and those who do not. The theory of discipline and punishment suggests that the father, the patriarchal head of the family, has a responsibility to protect the family from the outside world (Lakoff 78).

Trump, with his conservative views about foreign policy and militarization has been trying to show that he would like to save the territories of America from the illegal immigrants, the communists, and the Islamic extremists. The main idea behind his strong military stand appears to be a paternal instinct to protect his family, metaphorically the Nation. This is what a strict father figure would do in a conservative family as Lakoff explains: “The family needs a strict father because there is competition in the world, and he has to win those competitions to support the family – and Mommy can’t do it.” (79)

Trump’s stand on gun control shows his conservative ideals. In the interview with CNN, he says that the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino California might have had less fatality if a few of the people there had a gun in their hands and could retaliate. Thus, the idea of protecting is noteworthy in this argument. Trump makes his supporters believe that having access to guns is their right to guard against an impending danger.

The example used by Trump to show why he supports gun control is, according to Lakoff, a “nightmare case” (159). In such as a case, the political candidate dramatizes the shortcomings of a policy, in this case gun control. The strict father figure disciplines anyone who does not abide by his rules. Trump’s comments on Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal are a clear suggestion of his idea of discipline and punishment for a wrongdoer (Trump). Trump aggressively points out that Hillary Clinton will “probably escape the e-mail problem, which is disgusting that she’s able to, because other people for doing far less have had very, very major consequences” (Trump).

Authority and obedience is the main idea behind the strict conservative father figure image. In a traditionalist family, the male patriarch dominates the family members and commands their unquestioned loyalty (Lakoff 78). However, if a member flouts any rule of the patriarch he/she is punished. Trump’s comments on Hillary show his disgust towards the fact that Hillary may not be punished for breaking the law of the nation.

Coming back to the question posed at the beginning: why is Trump popular even after being criticized as abrasive, boisterous, and conservative? The answer lies in the American people’s love of a family, metaphorically used for the Nation (Lakoff 77).

The perception of the idealized family represented by the Nation is mapped on the minds of the masses. This triggers the ideal model for a national life. Trump’s speeches, though abrasive, controversial, and conservative, trigger this mental model for many people, who believe in these things. They identify with the person who voices these issues on stage or in front of a camera. Once they feel that the man on TV is expressing their thoughts, their ideas, they immediately identify with him because subconsciously they already had those ethos embedded in their mind.

For instance, after 9/11, many Americans became disillusioned regarding the problem of Islamic extremists and after the recent economic recession in the US, they are worried about their work being outsourced to foreign countries and issues of immigrants who are taking their rightful jobs. They are worried about joblessness, economic recession, outsourcing, and imminent danger from ISIS. Trump’s words trigger and satisfy their concern when Trump says that he will get them to pay.

His response to the issues that concerns the conservative is exactly what they want to hear. In other words, Trump’s political discourse satisfies the people’s frame of mind. This has raised the popularity of Donald Trump, even though he may be an abrasive and boisterous personality with a very improper tone.

Works Cited

Lakoff, George. The Political Mind. New York: Viking, 2008. Print.

Trump, Donald. “Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” Interview by Wolf Blitzer. Youtube. CNN. 2016. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Trump Phenomenon." August 6, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-trump-phenomenon/.

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