The 2016 US presidential election was the most bizarre election in the history of the country by far. How could a man like Donald Trump be elected president of the United States? Many people scratched their heads at the idea he won based on how Trump acted leading up to the election. Trump felt like a candidate that you would read in a “The Onion” article. He attacked a variety of people that generally always had a place in US politics, whether that be the media, political institutions, and a portion of US voters. He had controversial ideas that did not make sense, such as building a wall with Mexico. He personally attacked his opponents with no respect, taking things a bit too far, even if they were his presidential opponents. So how did Trump win? Lieberman, et al broke it down to three streams of American politics: institutions, identity, and norm breaking. Institutions and identity are in my opinion the main ones of how he won and how the election contributed to democratic erosion.
The identity of Trump voters played a big part in getting him elected. Lieberman stated that Trump was able to use his vocal support of the “white working class and rural voters” who felt themselves alienated from politics in recent years. Those voters saw themselves as “losers in the reshuffling of economic success, social status, and political power”. Trump was essentially the powerful being that would help guide and support the anxious. Trump supporters felt that their identity was threatened, that people who generally had been the dominating faction of America were losing their power to minorities and immigrants. Trump was giving nostalgic promises to the voters, instead of having voters adapt to the current US landscape. The motto, “Make America Great Again”, showed that. He promised to put America on the forefront of politics in an age where globalism is taking over. This was the total opposite of how Barrack Obama, the previous two term president, had run. Obama ran on a platform of change, that he would be changing the norms that America had into something newer and better. Minorities and immigrants felt they finally had a voice in a president. So people in those rural communities who felt the change had affected them negatively, primarily because they were losing power, were able to find someone that would feed on that resentment and change things to how they were in the past. In a sense, Trump was the polar opposite of Obama. Trump portrayed current America as some kind of dystopian hell. His ideas could be summarized as “Immigrants are taking over the country, foreign countries are taking our jobs, everyone but I are too weak to lead”. These ideas further supported his authoritarian figure to the weak who felt like they had no place. He gave support to authoritarian leaders in other countries, whether that be Turkey’s Erdogan, China’s Xi, or Russia’s Putin. The voters believed his authoritarian power would help give their identity back.
Institutions were also a big part, to be more specific, the two party voting system America uses. Obviously the anxious voters who wanted Trump to win were only part of the voters. There was certainly many who did not want his authoritarian regime, but many were basically forced to support him once he won the Republican primary. With Trump using his calculated authoritarian persona he was able to win the Republican Primary. He had 13.3 million votes for the primary, which was record breaking. But he also had 16 million against him, another record (Lieberman 6). That showed that he was not the unanimous Republican candidate but the one who had gained the most support. Once he won Republicans, including those that did not personally support him, realistically had two choices: support the Republican candidate or support another party. Trump was able to get 88% of Republican votes, despite getting 45% of the primary votes. More independents also supported Trump than Hillary.
Two of Lieberman’s parts, identity and institutions, are what contributed to the democratic erosion from the election. The identity of his voters, those being economically weak and white, who felt like their power was weakened by minorities and immigrants in recent years. They needed an authoritarian figure that would give them a strong identity again. And institutions, the fact that American politics had a two party system where there is realistically only two options available. Republicans were forced to vote for Trump because he was part of their party and the only other option would be going with the enemy (the Democrats) which was not a realistic option for most Republicans. So simply voting for Trump caused erosion because voting for him was a sign of weakness and fear, not necessarily that he had a definite plan in place that people agreed with but the false hope that he could magically fix their issues. Additionally the Republican supporters voting for him looked for the interests of the party over the actual candidate, despite knowing he was not what the voters themselves wanted or agreed with but rather putting party over personal ideals. Using fear and party preference to vote for a man who was so controversial and unfit to lead is not the signs of a sound democracy but rather the erosion of it.
Credit of picture: Reuters/Carlo Allegri