Donald Trump, as a Presidential candidate, was revolutionary. He realigned the Republican party and positioned himself as an earnest, occasionally troubling reformer. Vanquishing political correctness, refusing massive corporate campaign contributions and rallying a politically absent class granted him invincibility. Trump advocated for universal healthcare
while opposing abortion rights
, thereby synthesizing blue-collar values and economics to a powerful effect. The long-standing two-party paradigm had divided the blue-collar class and Trump functioned as its grand unifier.
Ever-widening gaps in ideology and wealth demand a unifying, cataclysmic populist. Throughout the Presidential campaign, Trump embodied this populism, mirroring the image of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression and World War II. Even more prominently, Trump shared Roosevelt’s status as an upper-class New Yorker with blue-collar, heartland charm. Both promised sweeping policy overhauls in the face of economic crisis, the Great Depression for Roosevelt and soaring inequality
for Trump. Roosevelt was an innovative communicator, tapping directly into the American home by way of his radio broadcast fireside chats. Analogously, Trump deftly wielded Twitter to agitate for support. While equipped with partisan majorities in Congress and across the states, each faced significant opposition from within their respective parties and attempted to purge disloyal lawmakers
. Distressingly, both men found it necessary to marginalize minorities during times of unprecedented, culturally charged violence.
Although both men display authoritarian tendencies, the anti-establishment fervor which propelled Roosevelt and Trump to victory is essential to democratic renewal. Now and then, government was unresponsive to the people. During both Roosevelt and Trump’s campaigns, Congressional gridlock and stale leadership were incapable of addressing issues relevant to the common man. This similarity sparked a momentary hope that Trump would turn out to be an effective pluralist-populist. His victory speech
struck a conciliatory, almost progressive tone, referring to the heterogeneity of the U.S. American nation and promising economic betterment to all of its members.
Ideas present in this speech provide a partial explanation to why more than one out of ten former Sanders supporters voted for Trump in the general election. Trump promised something akin to the New Deal, an egalitarian resurrection of public infrastructure dedicated to employment. This crossover is encouraging, as it shows the ability of populism to shatter traditional bipartisan constraints. Trump’s victory set the foundation for a unified populist movement.
Once in office and subsumed by the party he captured, Trump has ditched key aspects of populist policy, opting instead to continue his predecessor's ineffectual, unethical legacies. Yet, Trump’s controversial rhetoric may be key to breaking the current bipartisan stranglehold on the U.S. government.
As a functioning president, Trump has governed as an angry Bush-Obama hybrid. Obama’s inclusive rhetoric regarding immigrants stood in contrast to his actions, as he deported more illegal migrants than any other U.S. president
. Obama-era deportations functioned with a tiered system, prioritizing felons, petty criminals and immigrants who arrived after 2014, most of whom were refugees displaced by Central American violence. Trump has continued this policy but attached to it prejudicial rhetoric, calling Mexican immigrants rapists
. Trump campaigned on a border wall, years after both both Hillary Clinton and Obama voted, as Senators, for a 700 mile barrier along the border with Mexico
. As a president, Obama damaged relations with Mexico by running guns to Mexican gangs without the government’s knowledge,
and invoked executive privilege when questioned. Trump insisted that Mexico would bend to American will and pay for the wall, and continues to do so. The Obama Administration tacitly supported intensely autocratic regimes such as Turkmenistan
, whereas Trump expresses open admiration for authoritarian leaders like Putin
. Clinton’s campaign was largely funded by special interests
, while Trump flagrantly invited them into his Cabinet
. It is fair to say that Trump may be the most transparent president the United States has ever had. In doing so, he has generated public outcry unmatched since Watergate, presenting a path forward for the country to abandon the ethically bankrupt and decadent policies of the past.
The greatness of Trump's presidency is rife with contradiction, much like the man himself. The populist wave he represented is a promising threat to bipartisan corruption and stagnation, and his success may serve as an anchor from which a more inclusive working-class coalition can be inculcated. Trump's presidency is the greatest hope and failure of the United States, for in promising populism and delivering a neoliberal-majoritarian cocktail, he has exposed the country’s greatest weaknesses. Through Trump, but not with him, it will be great again.
Benjamin Harris Roberts is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.