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Tuesday Dec 08 2020

As America moves forward, is there a cure for Trumpism?

A woman holds up a placard in support of US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Why, one might ask, would 71 million people vote for a man who is incapable of leadership and empathy? Why vote for a man under whose leadership America struggled to form a coherent response to a pandemic, under whom it suffered the worst economic recession since the great depression of 1930s, and a civil rights unrest worst since the civil rights movement of 1966?

For some, the answer is simple: the rise of the first black president in the United States caused a backlash from white America. Which is why, they would argue, white men opted 63% for Trump and white women 53% for him in the 2016 U.S. election.

But is the answer really that straightforward?

The rise of Trumpism did not happen overnight. To understand this phenomenon, we have to understand Trump’s messaging and that of his chief strategist Steve Bannon and advisor Stephen Miller.

All three men have repeatedly in the past targeted global trade. Their main concern has been the outflow of American jobs, mainly the shrinking of the coal mining industry, the transfer of the manufacturing sector to China, and outsourcing of the service call center industry to countries with cheaper labor workforce.

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It is these global trade trends that have caused deep unrest and resentment in the middle class of America.

From the 1950s onwards, manufacturing and coal mining employed a large number of Americans. In the 60s and 70s, the American people enjoyed almost unparalleled growth, with little competition, in the world markets, as after the Second World War most of Europe and East Asia were in ruins.

But those golden years didn’t last. The sectors of manufacturing, energy, automobiles, steel, and coal mining faced major structural changes, which altered the business environment in the United States.

For example, in the energy industry, wind, solar and other sources of climate-friendly technologies began to gradually replace the coal-mining industry. Other manufacturing industries including automobiles, steel, consumer electronics, machine tools, gradually packed up and shifted to East Asia, where labour was in abundance and cheap.

While globalisation played its part in altering the trends, another contributing factor was the economic policies of the Reagan administration.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration had a laissez faire approach to economics and governance. This gave too much power to corporate America and weakened trade unions.

Read more: The pandemic that cost Trump his reelection

Then, there was the technological revolution. The rise of the internet caused a major structural change in American lives. Many jobs became redundant, and many more will likely be replaced by technology, causing millions of American people to lose their livelihoods to more skilled computer professionals from other countries.

In the backdrop of these changes came a new political narrative from the Republican party. Global trade, it argued, was to blame for all of America’s woes.

At the moment, all levers of power are in the hands of corporate America. Trump further aggravated this by insisting that his supporters not trust government agencies, like the CIA and the FBI.

America has had very strong institutions. Therefore, for a president to discredit his own government departments sets a dangerous precedent.

History shows us that populist figures rise when people are disgruntled with their own governments. These populist leaders offer simple solutions to complex problems. This is why Trump’s messages resonated with the masses.

Read more: Melania Trump, Donald Trump ridiculed on Twitter for 'tiny table' and Christmas tree

In America, at the moment, there is a loss of faith in institutions, which has been the bedrock of its democracy. This has given rise to a cult following and to Trumpism.

If America wants to correct course, the new government will have to first and foremost restore people’s trust in government institutions — trust which was damaged by Donald J. Trump.

Akhtar is a certified public accountant based in Florida, the United States