The election of Donald Trump came as a surprise to many. His campaign as a whole seemed to exist far outside of the scope of American political history. However, the state of the nation is constantly evolving, and an evolving political sphere can be expected to match society. Societal evolutions have pushed the country to expand far beyond a typical campaigning cycle, but Donald Trump’s campaign is not the cause of the confusion and anger. This paper will argue that, while Donald Trump as a politician does not fit into trends of modern American history, his election follows the long arc of media manipulation and the modern evolution of such manipulation through the election’s focus on campaign finances and wealthy media control, strong partisan division, personalities of candidates, and internet marketing and relevance.
America’s wealth distribution is grossly unfair. According to the presentation of Money in Politics, 400 Americans control the same amount of wealth as 150 million other Americans. The wealthy America has the ability to spend more money on government and elections. The Tea Party, a conservative political movement, was organized by the millionaire Koch brothers, who continue to fund it along with other millionaires. Donald Trump exists at the top of the American class system, and has support from other businessmen and rich elites. Due to this, personal spending and donations from people close to him can account for large amounts of money, in addition to donations from supporters. While Donald Trump did not raise more money than Hillary Clinton, his status as a wealthy businessman falls into the political system of money determining political outcomes. The wealthy elite has the ability to donate large sums of money from personal accounts as well as through businesses, including media businesses, which affects how media are run and the content shown to average Americans, potentially swaying opinion.
American media is largely owned by six main corporations: The Walt Disney Company, Comcast, CBS Corporation, 21st Century Fox, Viacom, and Time Warner. These six may become five in the future, as Viacom and CBS are considering merging the two companies. This lack of competition leads to less distribution of independent ideas through mainstream media and less opposing viewpoints available to the average American voter. Furthermore, due to the political affiliations of the wealthy elite in control of some media outlets, the news released is often limited to one side of the story. For example, Fox News is known to be very conservative and support Republican ideology. Opinions are often packaged as news and taken as fact by Americans lacking media literacy. As media outlets continue to consolidate, the amount of independent and rounded discussion can be continuously limited. While Trump did not have major support from any notable media corporation, party division is strong enough to encourage conservative outlets to support anti-Clinton opinions, helping push on the fence conservatives to vote for Trump. The current media concentration is unprecedented in American politics, but again the political evolution follows societal evolution.
The growing partisan division in both government and among average Americans is another factor that could help explain Trump’s victory. The election of Barack Obama saw opposition among party lines, arguably due to racial and other social issues in addition to simple party disputes. As discussed in the class presentation of Obama’s legacy, the Affordable Care Act and other legislation passed during his administration furthered party division. As seen in Fox’s support of Trump, party support can outweigh support for any one particular candidate. Division in government matches division within the public. Instead of discussing politics, parties criticize each other for superficial reasons, such as President Obama’s decision to speak in a football stadium – a move the McCain campaign called “proof of the Democrat’s grandiosity.” Political parties unite in order to attack the other, rather than unite to pass laws to help the nation. The strong political divide is a strong reason for Trump’s election. Many conservative Americans are unhappy with the progress Obama has made, and would vote for any Republican candidate over any Democratic candidate. Many voters vote by party line on positions they are less familiar with, such as their House Representative, rather than research candidates to vote for whom they believe can best represent them. Donald Trump’s decision to campaign as a Republican rather than a Democrat or Independent allowed him to tap into the party divide and win the election. While the scope of this division is unprecedented, party lines affecting voters dates back to the beginnings of American politics and the formation of the two-party system.
One of Trump’s most important traits in winning the presidential election is his larger than life personality and separation from the stereotypical politician. Many supporters praised Trump for his ability to speak his mind, often unfiltered. Some saw this as a refreshing and honest trait unlike anything the White House had seen before. This is comparable to the success of the Kennedy family in politics, which used their competitive nature, good looks, and charisma to win over voters. America cared more about John F. Kennedy’s personality than his policies. Trump’s status as a celebrity entering politics is also comparable to Ronald Reagan, who moved from acting to politics. The actor entered the White House during a time of disillusionment within the American public, similar to today. People distrusted the President following the Watergate Scandal and felt that Presidents Ford and Carter were not strong enough to lead, so Reagan used these feelings to help win the White House. These historical comparisons show the importance of presenting a new personality to the American voters. Donald Trump is not a political figure, but he tapped into society’s love of entertainment and huge personalities and won the election. The election of a charismatic figure is not a new phenomenon.
It is interesting to compare Trump’s election to the campaign of billionaire Ross Perot. Perot ran for president in 1992 against Bush and Clinton. Perot managed to gain millions of followers and take the lead from both candidates before dropping out of the race, then reentering soon after. Perot’s erratic behaviors and scandals mirror those of Trump, yet Trump succeeded in his campaign while Perot did not. Perot’s quick rise to the top is a good indicator that Trump could easily succeed in campaigning. Upon entering the race, Perot pulled millions of followers away from two experienced politicians, similar to how Trump managed to beat the diverse pool of Republican candidates. The support of this billionaire candidate shows the continued evolution of American politics and voting patterns, as well as rationalizing Trump’s election.
Perhaps the most important factor in Trump’s election and the art of political manipulation is the use of social media. This new technology allowed for an unprecedented amount free publicity and media coverage for Trump. While unprecedented, media coverage is not a new tool to political manipulation, as seen with each new advance in media technology. It is, however, the most important factor for Donald Trump’s election. His constant use of social media such as Twitter forced Americans to pay attention to him. Traditional news media as well as new media covered every Tweet and comment made by the President-Elect. In doing this and creating a huge media presence, Trump’s media coverage and discussion reached more voters than any candidate in the past.
Trump’s election does not fit in the arc of politicized media manipulation; it forces evolution of the art of political media. Many predicted a Clinton victory and were shocked when the election went in Trump’s favor. Polls were wrong, much like polls predicting Truman’s loss to Dewey in 1948. The election of Donald Trump seems to be a unique exception to political manipulation, but the election simply takes known trends and extends them to match modern society.