In my last blog, “Will Trump Ruin the Republican Party, I started off with acknowledging Trump’s meteoric political rise. After I wrote that, I started to think about the origins of his candidacy and why he’s performing so well with such a sizable portion of the American electorate. At one time, there were seventeen candidates on the Republican side; the most participants in a presidential race in the history of US elections. So why did he win? Was it the money? Celebrity status? Hair style?
Donald Trump won the Republican primary because he has postured himself as a strongman. A strongman is defined as a political leader that is assertive, powerful, and “unafraid to speak his mind, unafraid to clash with international powers, unafraid to stand up for what’s been…perceived as protecting the interests of ordinary people,” says Wang Feng, editor-in-chief- of FT Chinese. And guess what? People love it. They love that he has the guts to tell-it-like-it-is and stick it to anyone who gets in his way.
While Donald Trump is not promoting a new totalitarian state, some have argued that his ascent has been fueled by the rise of a new American nationalism and populism that is sweeping through the electorate. Trump has an almost cultic-like personality that portrays strength and decisiveness. He’s the new American strongman, boldly declaring that “we’re going to win again” under his leadership.
I believe that Trump’s strongman aura has been the main factor in his political ascension and it mirrors a larger, global trend. The rise of the strongman is not an American phenomenon. When you take a bird’s eye view of international affairs there seems to be clear evidence of a new wave of nationalism that is rising in several countries; Trump is just riding the wave.
Despite our present age of globalization, where nations are interconnected economically (think IMF/World Bank), geographically (think EU and the Schengen Zone), and politically (think UN) we are seeing many countries becoming more nativist and populist in their political affairs. This populism can often produce authoritarian, forceful, dynamic men and women who capitalize off of the anger of the populace and vow to change everything once in power.
Don’t believe the strongman is the new trend in international politics? Check out the list below of foreign heads of state that are using their popularity and powerful personality to up-end the status quo in their country and abroad.
CHINA – XI JINPING
Despite coming to power only three years ago, President Xi Jinping has taken firm control of the Communist Party of China. He has launched a fierce “anti-corruption” campaign that has consolidated and garnered enormous power by cracking down on political rivals and civil rights activist. Abroad, President Xi has asserted Chinese territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, angering the United States and its allies.
RUSSIA – VLADIMIR PUTIN
When President Putin took the reins of the presidency “again” in 2012 it led to a fierce crackdown on journalists and media that portrayed the Russian strongman in the wrong light. Putin has now been in power for close to 17 years and shows no signs of stepping down. Many civil rights advocates have been jailed or have gone missing in Russia.
INDIA – NARENDRA MODI
India is the world’s largest democracy and while Prime Minister Modi has respected civil rights – he has built a strong brand of forceful leadership over the slow, ineffective, and bureaucratic government in India.
HUNGARY – VICTOR ORBAN
Victor Orban has become the new European strongman. Even though Hungary is a member of the European Union (a supranational entity known for its liberal policies) Prime Minister Orban has shown strongman type tendencies, especially during the flow of Syrian refugees through his country’s borders.
Bloomberg Businessweek writes, “Orban has rewritten the country’s electoral laws, curved press freedoms, and appointed party loyalist to nominally independent institutions.
TURKEY – RECEP ERDOGAN
The nation of Turkey is a democracy. But this new global trend towards nationalism has shown the democracies are not immune to authoritarian tendencies. Gideon Rachman notes, “Mr. Erdogan, who had already served 11 years as Prime Minister, was elected President of Turkey. He immediately moved to strengthen the presidency, marginalize other leading politicians and cracked down on the media.”
What is the cause of this new wave of nationalism and strongmen? Numerous countries have not had the best experience of economic globalization and have actually become weaker. Globalization has produced economic anxiety in various parts of the world as manufacturing and industrial jobs are being replaced with service and innovation-oriented economies.
The strongman capitalizes on political and economic weakness and promises to use his strength and dynamism to lift the fog of bureaucracy to get real things done and to return their country to its former glory.
It’ll be interesting to see how this strongman syndrome plays out in November. Polls show Trump losing to Hillary Clinton nationally and in several battleground states. However, don’t count Trump out because like it or not, the era of the strongman has returned to global politics.
I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading.