Those seeking to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon often use the word “populism.” The heyday of populism was the 1890s, when it was an actual political party representing farm interests. But it has popped up from time to time since then.
This definition of populism seems pertinent today: “A belief in the rights, wisdom and virtues of the common people as opposed to political insiders and a wealthy elite.”
People voted for Trump for various reasons, but I think the populist impulse was front and center. For some time a slow burn had been building among many voters against the political class, especially at the federal level. Trump was the only candidate to recognize it, and he played it for all it was worth.
The story is told of the Indian chief who kept a pouch, into which he dropped a pebble for every insult and provocation he received from another tribe. When his pouch was full, he went to war. A lot of voters in key states had full pouches on Election Day and voted accordingly.
Various factors contributed to that: eight years of Barack Obama, Benghazi, Hillary Clinton being above the law, the politicalizing of the IRS, the weakest economic recovery since 1949, the widespread feeling that America was on the wrong track, the heavy hand of political correctness, etc. Trump‘s slogan – “Make American Great Again” – resonated with a lot of voters.
But many Americans also had enough of being demeaned and talked down to by their political betters. Obama set the tone for that during his 2008 campaign, when he said working-class voters in old industrial towns “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Clinton hurled her own insults at voters: “… you could put half of Trump’s supporters into … the basket of deplorables … racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.”
Her campaign staff dismissed faithful, traditional Catholics as “backward,” and their beliefs as “an amazing bastardization of the faith.” Catholic voters, God bless ‘em, returned the favor by voting heavily for Trump. It never seems to occur to the liberal elite that people might cling to their religion because they believe it to be true.
The Obama Administration’s hostility toward Christianity saw the full weight of the federal government fall on the Little Sisters of the Poor for daring to oppose Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. Whatever segments of the population remained to be angered quickly became so when the feds ordered schools to provide transgender (a condition lacking scientific support) students access to bathrooms of their choice.
Democrats have always depicted themselves as the “party of the little guy.” But its liberal majority has made it clear that it has only contempt for ordinary Americans. The party paid a high price for that arrogance on Nov. 8, not only in Washington but across the nation.
Donald Trump reached out to these disenfranchised voters, and it returned big dividends. To the extent the Republican Party builds on this new political alliance (if it turns out to be one) will determine whether the party has a future.
— Doug Kneibert is a former editor of the Sedalia Democrat.