Home / Columnists/ Nationalism and populism helps Trump to triumph

Nationalism and populism helps Trump to triumph

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 11 November 2016 00:01


Donald Trump, 70, the real-estate developer and reality-TV star, a Republican who has never held public office, defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton after a punishing campaign that exposed searing divides in the American public.

Though a total novice in politics, Trump was firstly able to capture the party of Abraham Lincoln with the largest turnout of primary voters ever, and next shocked the world by beating Hillary Clinton despite losing the popular vote by around 200,000 to become the 45th President of the USA. Never has a candidate inflicted so much wounds on the nation’s ruling class from which it may not recover in a hurry.

Bush I and Bush II, Mitt Romney and the GOP nominees were all dismissed by Trump as morally and temperamentally unfit. Yet, most Republicans voted for Trump, and he drew the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of any GOP nominee in recent memory. Not only did he rout the Republican elites, he ridiculed their agenda and repudiated the wars into which they plunged the country.

Trump did not create the forces that propelled his candidacy. But he saw a working class revolution in the offing and recognised the waves and plugged into them, further he unleashed a gusher of nationalism and populism that will not disappear for a long time. untitled-5Whatever happens from now on, there is no going back now for America and Donald Trump.


The Trump candidacy exposed what seems an unbridgeable gulf between the ruling class and the country. He said publicly John McCain was no hero, that some Mexican illegals are “rapists.” He mocked a handicapped reporter. He called some women “pigs”. He wants a temporary ban on Muslim immigration. He once engaged in “fat-shaming” a Miss Universe, calling her “Miss Piggy,” and telling her to stay out of Burger King. He allegedly made crude advances on a dozen women.

While such “statements” are normally fatal for candidates, Trump’s followers stood by him through them all and a delivered stunning victory for him. Why, in spite of all this, did Trump’s support endure and finally win the election? Why did the American people who cherish decency and liberty not react as they once would have and dump Trump from the race? 


Firstly, Donald Trump had a knack for making himself the centre of the conversation – for good and for the bad. Secondly, Trump pressed forward with a message that he could “Make America Great Again”. That found resonance in a portion of the electorate anxious and angry about economic, cultural and social upheaval. His rhetoric on immigrants, Muslims and minority groups also energised fringe groups outside the political mainstream. 

Clinton and her advisers however had taken for granted that the traditional states would stick with a Democratic nominee, and that she could repeat President Obama’s strategy of mobilising the party’s liberal coalition and largely overlooked the blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalisation, trade deals, wars and multiculturalism. In addition, Hillary Clinton got stuck over her emails.

Going forward

Uncertainty abounds as Donald Trump prepares to take office in January. His campaign featured a shape-shifting list of policy proposals, often changing hour to hour and from day to day. His staff was in constant turmoil. Most people in the US and abroad are unsure about what he truly believes, therefore for a start he would need tell the world what his values are and unite his country. He himself in his victory speech said “It’s time for America to bind the wounds of division and I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.” 

In the final analysis, Trump’s victory is a clear message that when disillusioned voters are pushed to the wall they are willing to take a chance to go with an untested leader or even an unconventional person outside the regular establishment to champion the rights of the economically-downtrodden and the hardworking people.

(The writer is a thought leader.)

Share This Article


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

The Brahmin footprint in Sri Lankan history

Saturday, 17 November 2018

It is generally said that there are no genuine “Sri Lankan” Brahmins in the island today, and that those Brahmins who officiate as priests in Hindu kovils (temples) are of Indian origin with close ties with Tamil Nadu.

The JR-MR effect

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Sri Lanka over the last few weeks has experienced a twin crisis. One is political provoked by its Constitution, and the other economic engendered by its politics. However, this crisis is the combined effect of two previous presidencies, those of J.R.

The fish that swallowed the whale

Friday, 16 November 2018

This is an easy-peasy, elementary effort of an ordinary citizen to comprehend the mad scramble for power among the political class. It is undertaken in the belief that the crisis we face is an opportunity to reject the family kleptocracy of Mahinda R

Courting democracy; Housing disaster?

Thursday, 15 November 2018

A small step was taken by a sovereign court the day before yesterday. It was a giant leap for the supremacy of the Constitution over all three arms of government in a recently benighted Sri Lanka. As well as being the tangible proof of intra-governme

Columnists More