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Source: University of Canterbury

03 November 2020

Even if American President Donald Trump loses this week’s election, the damage he has done to politics is something the United States – and the world – will have to reconcile in the years to come, says University of Canterbury (UC) Associate Professor of Sociology Mike Grimshaw.

He has edited a special collection about Trump for Continental Thought & Theory, which brings together thinkers from America, Brazil and Aotearoa New Zealand, (including UC colleagues Associate Professor Peter Field and Dr Cindy Zeiher) to consider ‘The Problem of Trump & Trumpism’. 

“Whether a one-term or two-term president, Trump has fundamentally changed not only America, but also the world, demonstrating that no democracy is immune to the dangers of populism, for such issues lurk everywhere within modernity and capitalism,” Associate Professor Grimhaw writes in the introduction to the collection. 

Aiming for a space between scholarly articles and newspaper opinion pieces, he calls the collection “a set of serious reflections on what Trump and Trumpism represent – and threaten – in the world today”.

There are many theories as how Donald Trump, a businessman with no military or public office experience, was elected to the Presidency and how he manages to maintain popularity. This is despite his well-documented incompetence – or is it because of that?

In her essay Dr Zeiher notes the President’s “scarcely articulate, trigger happy tweets” and a “huge bumbling ego, perversely more concerned with retaining power than engaging with the political welfare of the state”.

“We feel duped by this unlovely, capitalist misogynist and frustrated by his incompetence to lead a nation,” she writes. “Yet what happens in the USA has huge social, cultural and political effects on many other parts of the world.”

Associate Professor Grimshaw summaries the theories: “A constant theme arose that Trump was a symbol of a crisis in American – and perhaps Western – democracy.”

Meanwhile, Associate Professor Field compares Trump to the outsider president Andrew Jackson, elected almost 200 years earlier. “The democracy did not seek to elevate Jackson to the presidency despite his lack of elite credentials. They elected him because of it.  The same for Trump in 2016. As with Old Hickory, The Donald seems a most unlikely underdog or outsider,” he writes.

Ultimately, however, the problem is bigger than Trump. Associate Professor Grimshaw explores “why the problem of Trump has arisen – and to what larger and deeper issues may it point to?”

Perhaps, as Dr Zeiher suggests, Trump is the outrageous public figure we love to hate, with ever-growing passion. “In the case of Trump, we might say that while some enjoy his authority, others enjoy expressing their outrage, both of which are over time caught in an ongoing circuit of repetition and intensification.”