On the origins of Trumpism

Conley Hurst

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, I laughed…out-loud. I was half expecting him to turn to the camera at the end of the speech and shout, LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!   Needless to say, I underestimated him. Somehow, Trump is selling something that a sizable portion of the American population buys. His supporters aren’t the Republican establishment who’d support a Bush or a Romney. They aren’t Republican moderates who’d support Christie or Kasich. They aren’t social conservatives who flock to Cruz or Huckabee. According to a Hoover Institute study, Trump supporters are, by and large, older, less-educated, middle to lower class white Americans. Instead of being energized by a single social or economic issue, these voters feel that they have lost their voice in a country rapidly changing and deteriorating. They feel that honest rhetoric has been stifled in recent years and that someone needs to rise up from outside the political circle to recapture the country before it is too late. Trump plays to these beliefs and positions himself as that anti-establishment outsider who can bring honesty back to Washington.

Using brash rhetoric to arouse fear and establish strength: this is Trumpism. And it has proven itself a powerful force.

But where did it come from? The smoke is still clearing, but I have a hypothesis. Trumpism is little more than a radical overreaction to twenty-plus years of political correctness.

This term dates back to the ‘80s and ‘90s. Initially, it arose in the context of higher education. But, over time, American politics in general became saturated with the question of what is and is not “PC.” Nowadays, most politicians are terrified of making statements that might be considered not only false, but politically incorrect.

Many argue that political correctness stifles discourse in American society and politics. They argue that it subverts facts to perceptions and hinders true progress by preventing honest discussion. They see illegal immigrants flooding the southern border. They see radical Islamic terrorism spreading like wildfire. And they believe that political correctness is preventing honest discussion about these issues. Ultimately, they believe political correctness is destroying America.

Whether this perception is true is another discussion. What matters is that it’s out in force. Fox News harps on these talking points and stokes flames of frustration and fear. Regardless of whether the nation is actually falling apart, perception is reality.

Enter Donald Trump. He’s bold. He’s brash. He’s not a politician. Most importantly, he’s politically incorrect.

Trump had the gall to make misogynistic attacks against Megyn Kelly. He called Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists.” He belittled John McCain’s PoW status in Vietnam. He called Carly Fiorina ugly. He made misogynistic attacks against Hillary Clinton. He mocked a disabled New York Times reporter. The list goes on.

Shockingly, these comments had no clear effect on his poll numbers. His supporters not only forgave him, but they embraced him further. As ridiculous and offensive as these comments may be, they assure Trump’s supporters of his political incorrectness. Just saying those things is an act of rebellion.

So, Trump supporters don’t necessarily agree with everything he’s saying. But they love the fact that he’s saying it at all. They love that he has the guts to speak his mind, no matter what.

For all of Trump’s glaring faults, there is one thing I can respect: his authenticity. Trump says what he believes. Washington would be different if more politicians followed his lead.

All in all, this isn’t meant to be an indictment of “PC” culture. I’m not saying political correctness is a bad thing. But I am saying that it has had unanticipated consequences. In the wake of the reaction to “PC,” the stage was set for Trump.