Date
8 December 2016
Donald Trump's campaign was a populist movement to topple the traditional meritocracy, which struck a chord among those who are fed up with the status quo. Photo: Reuters
Donald Trump's campaign was a populist movement to topple the traditional meritocracy, which struck a chord among those who are fed up with the status quo. Photo: Reuters

The secrets behind Donald Trump’s victory

Jaws dropped across the globe as Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a significant margin in the US presidential election, and many Americans are still in denial about the upcoming Trump presidency.

The fact that Hillary Clinton lost even though she had been leading in almost every mainstream poll before the election suggests that the “Trump phenomenon” is a game-changer that has not only defied political norms but also toppled the conventional wisdom of mainstream pollsters.

Obviously, traditional theories can no longer explain the secrets behind Trump’s victory.

Still, I am going to play Monday morning quarterback and try to identify some of the factors that contributed to his victory.

Firstly, Trump has made history in this presidential election by managing to not only hold the support base of the Republican Party but also unprecedentedly conquer some of the traditional Democratic strongholds such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and almost Minnesota.

These states used to be the traditional industrial heartland of the US but have declined significantly in recent decades as most of the manufacturing plants have moved overseas.

Many former blue-collar workers in these states who lost their jobs consider themselves victims of globalization and Trump succeeded in taking advantage of their discontent and resentment with his protectionist rhetoric.

These people are often the silent majority who are not very forthcoming about their political views and therefore their support for Trump was not reflected in mainstream polls.

Secondly, the “Americentrism” pitched by Trump has not only won the hearts and minds of conservative whites who are feeling increasingly threatened by ethnic minorities and refugees but also rather surprisingly resonated with many long-time immigrants as well.

These immigrants who have settled in the US for decades are still struggling to integrate into the American mainstream and are dismayed at the fact that latecomers such as refugees are often better treated by the Obama administration than them.

On the other hand, Trump’s success in portraying himself as an underdog marginalized by the political establishment and vested interests in Washington also helped him gain substantial popularity among the American public.

As he himself put it, his campaign was a populist movement to topple the traditional meritocracy, a theme that has apparently struck a deep chord among those who are fed up with the status quo.

To these angry voters, the rugged, unpolished and in-your-face Trump bore a stark contrast to the hypocritical mainstream politicians in Washington.

In comparison, Hillary Clinton appears to be the embodiment of the political vested interests that have been dominating the political scene in Washington and have gone out of touch with the American working class, hence her unpopularity among the underprivileged whites and young people.

Besides, many die-hard Republicans were drawn to Trump because of his pledge to repeal Obamacare, which they think is a highly polarizing policy that contradicts core American values and which they want scrapped as soon as possible.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 10

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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AL/DY/RA

Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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