logo

The Trump Phenomenon and American Democracy

Abstract

The article is focused on the question how and why the iconoclastic candidate Donald Trump won in 2016 election despite the resistance of his own party and most of American political elite. Also analyzed are current American debates about causes, nature, and implications of this phenomenon for the future of American democracy.

The key component of Donald Trump’s victory was a protest vote of America’s working class, coming mostly from the Mid-West and the country heartland in general. This protest is rooted in deteriorating material conditions of this electorate that has suffered from the negative consequences of globalization and de-industrialization. It has also experienced a painful loss of status and identity in the context of a changing racial composition of the country and the spread of multiculturalism imposed by the liberal elite. Donald Trump’s campaign, according to the author, has skillfully mobilized and rode this discontent channeling it against political elites, mainstream media and academic community, blamed for total disregard of ordinary Americans’ interests. Speaking for the “Forgotten America” Trump offered a populist program of action in tune with this mood. The country’s political class reacted to Trump’s victory as an “authoritarian-nationalistic” threat to liberal institutions that had to be rebuffed. Defending liberal democracy from populist extremes becomes even more urgent in light of international scope of this challenge.

In this context, the article traces an erosion of the main institutional barriers on the way of populist protest – anti-majoritarian features of U.S. Constitution, the party  leaders’  control  over  nomination process, political elite dominance in public information through mainstream media and expert community. Since this erosion is largely irreversible, the main attention in the current debates is focused on searching for a constructive response to populist challenge – a response aimed to ameliorate its preconditions – a glaring social and economic inequality, negative consequences of globalization, and extremes of multiculturalism. The article’s final conclusion is that the Trump phenomenon presents a serious test for American liberalism.

Keywords:

Trump; populism; democracy; liberalism; political elites; election of 2016.


Authors: Vladimir Pechatnov

Read the article in PDF