The Power of Populism (or How Trump Won)

No matter what anyone tells you, Americans are sticklers for tradition. We’ve been electing the same two parties for over a century. We’ve been switching between center-right and center-left, never teetering too far. If you’re perceived as too far right, you’re a fascist comparable to Hitler. If you’re perceived as too far left, you’re a Soviet commie who wants to take all our money and give it to the poor.

That is why it seemed like this election came out of nowhere. Trump was bombastic, equating immigrants to rapists and threatening to deport Muslims, two things which inspired comparisons to Hitler. Meanwhile, Sanders’ main selling points were universal healthcare and free public universities, which got him labeled as a socialist.

The very basis of these two candidate’s campaigns should have been perceived as completely, totally, and utterly un-American, and yet their messages resounded. They railed against the establishment and their elitist politics that disregarded the little man. They vowed to destroy trade agreements like NAFTA and TPP because they were stealing American jobs that went south of the border and overseas.

These two candidates represent the anger and mistrust of politics that have been going on for a century. Even if Sanders didn’t win the nomination, those who subscribed to his anti-establishment message hated Clinton and refused to vote for her. They became Trump’s salvation in the form of the anti-establishment protest vote.

The results of this election season are pretty clear, but they were not surprising if you read between the lines. Everyone should have seen this coming from a mile away. President-elect Trump did not win based on fascist ideas or racist views, even if they helped him win the nomination.

Trump is president-elect because the people wanted a change from more than a century of the same politics. Sometimes you have to shake everything up to make a change. In this case, Trump was something of a populist earthquake.

The Sanders-Trump Phenomenon

The truth of the matter is that this election was predictable at least six months before Election Day. Yes, that puts us right before the primaries. Before the month of May, Trump was almost certain to lose against both Clinton and Sanders according to polling aggregator Real Clear Politics. By the end of May, the primaries were winding down, and the nominees were all but certain. However, the polls presented a different story.

Despite being the clear winner for the Democrats, Clinton suddenly dropped considerably versus Trump, to the point that sometimes he even surpassed her in the polls. Meanwhile Sanders, despite approaching a loss in the nomination, continued to maintain a 10 point lead over Trump. The Sanders vs. Trump poll aggregation ended on June 6th with Sanders maintaining his 10 point lead while Clinton only had 2 points. Again, this is despite the fact that Clinton handily won the nomination.

Both Trump and Sanders surged in popularity in only a few short months. While they are wildly different in ideology, both candidates had an immensely resounding message that grabbed the attention of voters throughout the country: the elite have created an unfair political system, and the American people need to take their government back.

Throughout both of their campaigns for the nomination, the candidates filled arenas with an energetic and passionate audience of captivated Americans who were looking for a change from Government. Meanwhile, the more established political candidates, like Clinton, stuck to the old ways of holding small, exclusive fundraising events. The contrast was strikingly clear.

Trump’s Populist Victory

Despite losing one election and winning the other, populism was the clear winner of both the primary and general elections. In its most basic form, populism holds that the people are being oppressed by a ruling class elite and only a grassroots movement can bring about change to an otherwise hopeless situation. It is the so-called fight against the “Establishment.”

Both Sanders and Trump clearly put this ideology on the front lines of their campaigns, and Trump utilized it throughout the general election to his victory.

Hillary Clinton’s loss was not surprising. She was often criticized for appearing unrelatable, and efforts to make her seem relatable were pandering, such as her hot sauce debacle. The establishment politics were the most obvious in her campaign slogan, “I’m With Her.” The slogan seemed to place her as the leader and the people as followers.

In contrast, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sparked patriotic fervor that became a battle cry for the people to move to create the America they envisioned. Even further, Sander’s “Not Me. Us.” was an obvious contrast to Hillary’s slogan.

Time and time again, Clinton floundered through scandals, and couldn’t shake the narrative that the DNC handed her the nomination- Trump didn’t even have to say anything about it. Trump’s voters were a movement in and of themselves. Anger towards the establishment, represented by Hillary, drove them to the polls.

Towards the end of the campaign, a vote for Trump seemed less like a vote for the Republican platform and more like a vote protesting against the establishment. Voting for Trump was about sending a message, and Hillary’s people failed to recognize this fact. She chose to ignore these negative views and simply pointed to the polls and Obama’s legacy.

The nail in the coffin for Hillary’s election hopes came out of the Rust Belt states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. These are the states where the populist sentiment resounded. For years, manufacturing jobs have left the country, leaving this region full of unemployed, and mostly Caucasian blue-collar workers.

Hillary counted on these states voting Democrat as they nearly always have in the past, primarily because of the party’s pro-union platform. She decided to ignore them almost completely. She decided they weren’t worth campaigning to compared to Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona.

Her ignorance of this population left them to look no further than the overtures of Trump and his promises to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. Trump didn’t win, populism won.

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