By Kevin Martin
How did Donald Trump become President? The question is asked so often that it seems to have lost meaning. In fact, it is not merely a fair question, but a vital one. How does a New York City real estate mogul turned media star, with a personality of both, become the most powerful person in the world? Most people have an answer. Some say it was a “white lash” against Barack Obama, the first black President, who, I might remind you, the majority of Americans voted for twice. Another is that Trump won due to deep-set American sexism that doomed Hillary’s campaign from the very beginning, a paternalistic notion that only serves to condense Hillary’s electoral failures into the excuse that she was a woman. I believe, however, that Trump won in 2016 due to the desperation of the American people, who were, and still remain, frustrated by the political theatre, economic stagnation, and social decay that has plagued this country for decades. Trump’s electoral successes were rooted in his rejection of the status quo and his acknowledgement that not all Americans were “doing fine.” Trump offered frustrated Americans a populist platform which assured real change for ordinary Americans and thus, despite his serious character flaws, he won in 2016.
For decades prior to Trump’s election, American politicians have been sent to Washington by their constituents, promising to bring about change. However, nearly none have succeeded in delivering anything of substance. Rather, these career politicians enter the political class and are indoctrinated into becoming political arsonists, whose principle goal is to set their political opponents on fire for electoral gain. Of course, through this process the needs of those who voted for them become a casualty. Washington is not completely devoid of bipartisan agreement. No, most of our politicians can agree on a few political objectives, such as keeping America in wars that are deeply unpopular; wars in places the average American couldn’t place on a map and that often result in destabilized failed states, such as Libya. These conflicts serve no real American interests, yet we have spent trillions of dollars and thousands of young American lives fighting them. This is not to suggest that America ought to isolate itself from the rest of the world; this country has had tremendous success in bringing about peace in certain conflicts. But in the past twenty years, our leaders have foolishly dragged us into unwinnable and seemingly endless wars.
The economic condition and outlook for Americans prior to 2016 was similarly dim. The average American worker had seen no serious gains in real wages since the 1960s. All but those in the managerial class experienced wage stagnation for the past sixty years. Americans were guaranteed cheaper products imported from abroad, but any economic gain from this was offset by the rising prices of housing, education and healthcare. All the while, the American job market was transforming into one that values high-level analytical and social skills, often requiring a costly college education. In this economic system, those who don’t possess a college degree—nearly two-thirds of the American population—are no longer of serious economic value.
Unlike the economy, the social fabric of this country was not stagnant, it was rotting away. Communities made up by social organizations such as churches and clubs were deteriorating, only to be replaced by rampant individualism that fails to fulfill our basic sociological needs. According to Gallup, church participation alone has plummeted by twenty percent in the past twenty years. A symptom of this loss in the social fabric was the recent decline in America’s life expectancy, largely caused by increased drug overdoses, chronic liver disease and suicides. Ponder a moment on what this means: the citizens in the richest, most prosperous nation in the world began to die sooner because they were directly or indirectly killing themselves. The lack of an adequate economic safety net cannot be solely to blame for this, as some might suggest. Rather, it is the lack of our shared community, and the underlying lack of shared ideals.
And so, for all these reasons, in the 2016 presidential election, the American voters elected Donald Trump to become the President of the United States. Whether or not you support him is not the issue at hand. What matters is the contextual understanding of why he got elected in the first place. Even if he does lose this November, which looks probable, it will not be because the problems outlined above were solved or because the American people have rejected an “America First” ideology. Rather, it will be due to Trump’s unpopular character attributes, his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and his failure to keep the promises he made to the American people. Unbeknownst to those in the political class, the underlying factors that led to Trump’s victory will not dissipate if Biden is elected. Unfortunately, they will continue to plague the American people until a political party comprehends them and creates a political platform that adequately responds to the issues facing the ordinary American.