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Donald Trump’s Rise Has Historical Similarities, And Dangerous Consequences

By Anubhav Shankar:

So the 2016 American elections are in full swing. Both candidates, namely billionaire mogul, Donald J Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have begun their respective general election campaigns after securing their respective party nominations. However, as much as the campaign trail heats up as the season progresses, the comments made by Donald Trump in this election cycle are sure to remain etched in people’s minds for a long time to come and perhaps go down in history as a case study of how populist anger can propel an anti-establishment candidate to have a shot at the most powerful office in the world.

Since the inception of his campaign on June 16, 2015, to him becoming the official nominee of the Republican party on July 19, 2016, after beating sixteen other candidates in the running, one thing that has set the Republican nominee apart is his propensity to make outrageous statements on issues ranging from immigration, trade, and the economy to his recent comments hailing President Obama as the “founder of ISIS” and hinting at the possible assassination of his Democratic rival in order to attract pro-gun rights voters to his campaign, have turned the established political decorum on its head. Since the get-go, he has positioned himself as a candidate who’s not politically correct and someone who tells it like it is” which is quite understandably why his support base consists of white working class men from Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio who feel that America needs to be made “great again,” as they nostalgically recall the good old-days when the steel mills were robust and one could earn a decent living if he was a hardworking white man. This is the section of population that previously formed the support base of the Democratic Party in the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; now this section of population feels left behind by the advent of globalisation and feels that the establishment has gone too far in its bid to appease the minorities. However, amongst all this din of analysis and counter-analysis, I couldn’t help but notice some stark similarities and differences between the ascents of individuals like Donald J. Trump and the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Let us take a look at the aforementioned similarities and differences.

Former British PM, the late Margaret Thatcher. Source: Sion Touhig/Getty Images
Former British PM, the late Margaret Thatcher. Source: Sion Touhig/Getty Images

In Robert Greene’s book, “The 33 Strategies Of War”, he speaks vividly about Margaret Thatcher. Flashback to the early 1970’s, when the British political system had settled into a sort of comfortable power transfer cycle; the Labour party would win one election, and consequently followed by a Conservative victory in another. The transfer cycle had gone for so long that the parties had started to resemble one another in functioning and ideology. In 1974, according to Greene, the Conservatives lost the elections and some party workers frustrated by the trend decided to shake things up by supporting Margaret Thatcher’s candidature for the top post; Thatcher took advantage of a split in the party to secure the nomination. Margaret Thatcher was in stark contrast to the seasoned politicians and senior bureaucrats who made up the core Conservative party structure, says Greene. Her biography shows that she came from a typical middle class family and proudly inducted herself into a traditional party of aristocracy, a woman making her mark in a world run by men. Greene continues by stating that Thatcher was a politician unlike any other; while others sought to maintain a façade of civility to appear conciliatory, she confronted her opponents with aggression unlike any before. When in 1978-79, several unions went on strike, she went on a warpath linking the strikes to then Prime Minister James Callaghan. Greene remarks that James Callaghan was the epitome of a genteel politician and ardent defender of the status quo, but Thatcher’s criticisms increasing in vehemence and intensity finally got under his skin and he lashed out and giving into his disdain for her, calling her nomination a fluke and warned that if elected she would send the economy into a shock. However, Thatcher’s bold and divisive talk had clearly opened up a divide between left and right, and in 1979 she was elected as the PM. Had she, as an outsider in a party of traditional aristocrats, tried to mold herself as her peers, she would have lost all the features that made her unique and would have been unable to wrest control which she dearly required for executing her visions, says Greene.

Now this is practically what Donald Trump had done in the primaries to secure the nomination. Coming from a non-political background and hiding behind the veneer of his brand and wealth he distinguished himself from the establishment Republicans, whom the electorate viewed as nothing more than pawns in the hands of Wall Street. Trump with his vast fortune and bombastic personality clearly positioned himself as a non-establishment ‘politically incorrect’ candidate who was finally giving a voice and ear to the ‘silent majority‘. However, I do not believe that Trump is like Margaret Thatcher in any other way whatsoever even if his rise has some parallels to hers. Margaret Thatcher, during her campaign, proposed budget cuts which seemed excessive to the seasoned politicians and no one believed that she would go through with it, however, when she unveiled her economic plans, her budget cuts went even deeper than what she had proposed, which was to become her signature style of going beyond what was promised. In contrast, Donald Trump’s economic speech was laced with blatant inaccuracies and more often than not incomplete understanding of the statistics and couple that with his promises like bringing back the libel laws or putting a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the US without understanding that the Constitution in the form of First Amendment and guarantee of religious liberty makes it next to impossible for him to do so.

Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty
Hillary Clinton. Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Even with his campaign suffering a rough couple of weeks and his poll numbers dipping, I would still not count him out of the contention, as doing this would be sheer arrogance. In the 1979 British elections, when James Callaghan was leading by a sizable margin he fell pray to his disdain for Thatcher’s middle class upbringing and lashed out on it in response which clearly polarised the electorate and Thatcher, seizing the opportunity, dove headfirst sucking in the attention and pulling the undecided on her side, thereby winning a sizable mandate. The Democrats too should keep this historic fact in mind while positioning themselves as an alternative, but also woo the significant undecided and Republican voters against Trump to resonate with Hillary Clinton’s message, because Trump, as a reality TV personality, knows how to use the media to his advantage even if he claims that both the election and the media are “rigged” against him. The Democrats have been trying to do this, however, they still should not count Trump out and give into complacency. Now the second reason why I take this poll numbers with a pinch of salt is because these are the same outlets who predicted a 3:1 split in favor of the Remain camp during the Brexit referendum. Elections are extremely dynamic and volatile and one needs to keep charging till the last day to stand any chance of victory. Donald Trump’s support base in Pennsylvania and Ohio can still keep his bid alive and to counter that Clinton needs to shore up her campaign in states like Virginia, North Carolina etc. to offset a Trump victory in the two major Rust Belt states.

The world eagerly awaits the results of this election come November 8, 2016, to witness whether the world ushers into a progressive multi-cultural direction which will eventually benefit all in the long run or towards an inward looking isolationist future for petty short-term gains.

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