Briefing Paper

Briefing Paper 198 (2016)   

What's Going on in the USA?
Explaining the Trump phenomenon

Publicerad 30.6.2016

Michael Haltzel
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

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The remarkable economic recovery of the United States from the Great Recession has mainly benefited the top 20–25 percent of American society. Many other people have legitimate complaints, and they are susceptible to demagogic appeals.

The Republican Party, which gained the support of much of the white working class by stressing social issues, has ignored its current economic distress through ideological rigidity. Donald Trump has grasped this dynamic, and discarded many core conservative principles in his campaign. The widespread alienation that Trump has understood and channeled also appears to have psychological and racial components.

Trump is a master communicator whose tactic seems to be to overwhelm the public with a torrent of lies, making it nearly impossible for fact-checkers to keep pace with him.

The US media and Trump have had a symbiotic relationship for most of the campaign to date. Since Trump clinched the Republican nomination, however, he has had to field tough questions about his record and his policies. His reaction has confirmed the view of many that he has no respect for democracy and – as President – might well endanger it.

Hillary Clinton should be the favorite to win the presidential election, but there are several variables which could tip the balance in Trump’s favor. Whether Clinton or Trump emerges victorious, the American political landscape will be significantly changed.