What is Trumpism and its Sociocultural Background Context?

Trumpism is a recent social movement characterized by populism, strongman politics, and identitarianism (1). It is also a personality-driven movement fueled by former American president Donald Trump’s celebrity power. The term Trumpism was first used to describe Trump’s political vision and brand of politics. 

There are various reasons why scholars and sociologists find it important to study Trumpism. Some scholars and commentators believe it is necessary because Trumpism has relied upon fear, threats, aggression, hatred, and division (2). Most would at least agree that Trump has been a divisive force in American politics and that these divisions should be studied (3). Rebecca Martínez of the University of Missouri highlighted this during Trump’s presidency writing that,

“Our current political climate is one where President Trump has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals,” has supported sexual assault (“grab ’em by the pussy”), and has said of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville that some were “very fine people.” These comments and many more have emboldened white supremacists, making them more vocal and dangerous” (4).

Samira Seramo argues that Trumpism perpetuates meta-violence “evidenced by extreme emotions, social antagonisms, and international tensions” (5). Trumpism is also embedded within the culture. As Jeet Heer argued in 2016, Trumpism is “a transformation that transcends politics and bleeds deeply into our culture” (6).

Paul Nicholas Jackson notices how “Donald Trump’s politics has regularly been likened to fascism” which has produced a debate referred to as ‘Donald Trump and Fascism Studies’ (7). Scholars have considered the complex relationship between fascism, the politics of Donald Trump, and the wider MAGA movement. 

Trumpism’s Sociocultural Background Context 

Scholars have studied the background sociocultural context they believe contributed to Trump’s rise in popularity and success in the elections of 2016. Trump’s rise was built upon the global economic crisis of 2008, the refugee crisis, and the increase in terrorist attacks around the world (8). These have produced a reaction of distrust in many Americans towards traditional politics, political institutions, and the whole political system itself (9).

These frightening events have been widely featured and addressed in media and have led to uncertaintyinsecurity, and fear, which has also led to policies concerning borders and immigration. Securing and controlling the borders became associated with protecting the country’s economy (imports and exports, jobs, fair competition) and its people from outsiders (immigrants, refugees, terrorists). In light of this there has been a proliferation of extreme-right groups and political parties that have “propelled the rebirth of nativism and nationalism such as Trump’s ‘America First’, and earlier populist slogans such the ‘Austria First’ in the 1990s” (10).

Nativism is understood as a combination of nationalism and xenophobia that results in the exclusion of parts of the society and a political agenda upholding an anti-pluralist approach (11). This situation strengthens a nationalist view reinforced by perceived outside threats to a nation’s values, borders, people, and a nostalgic imaginary past of “greatness.” Trump is said to be a populist politician who,

“…present[s] those issues as hyperbolic threats, to later emphasize thorough repetitions and catchy phrases, that as leaders, they are capable of meeting those threats, get the job done and solve the situation, without much detail about the means, but with a focus on the goal (to make the nation great again)… Trump’s immersion in politics has been accompanied by scandals (abuse, extramarital relationships, bribes), provocation (insults and politically incorrect language) and transgression (rejecting mainstream media news as fake news and defending his views as “alternative facts”)” (12).

Populist politicians also present simplistic explanations and solutions, and claim to “reflect the voice of the people” (13). Trump is known to claim that mainstream media constitutes “fake news”, that political parties are “dysfunctional”, and that other politicians are incompetent and incapable of protecting the United States against threats. Judges and the intelligence services have also come under attack from Trump.  

References

1. Saramo, Samira. 2017. “The Meta-violence of Trumpism”. European Journal of American Studies 12(2):1-18. p. 1.

2. Saramo, Samira. 2017. Ibid. p. 1.

3. Kidder, Jeffrey L., and Binder, Amy J. 2020. “ Trumpism on College Campuses”. Qualitative Sociology 43:145-163. p. 145. 

4. Martínez, Rebecca. 2018. “Fomenting Fear and Calling on Our Courage: Being Latinx on the Tenure Track in the Time of Trumpism”. Women, Gender, and Families of Color 6(1):110-117.

5. Saramo, Samira. 2017. Ibid. p. 1.

6. Heer, Jeet. 2016. Republic of Fear. Available.

7. Jackson, Paul Nicholas. 2021. “Debate: Donald Trump and Fascism Studies.” Fascism 10:1-15.

8. Reyes. Antonio. 2020. “I, Trump: The cult of personality, anti-intellectualism and the Post-Truth era”. Journal of Language and Politics 19(6):869-893 p. 870.

9. Wodak, Ruth. 2017. “The “Establishment”, the “Élites”, and the “People”: Who’s who?” Journal of Language and Politics 16(4):1-12.

10. Krzyżanowski, Michal., and Ledin, Per. 2017. “Uncivility on the web: Populism in/and the borderline discourses of exclusion.” Journal of Language and Politics 16(4):1-16.

11. Mudde, Cas. 2007. Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

12. Reyes. Antonio. 2020. Ibid. p. 871.

13. Norris, Pippa., and Inglehart, Ronald. 2019. Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 66.

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