Donald Trump’s meteoric ascent to the White House will be a hot topic, much talked about across social media, over coffee and dinners. Most of the predictions had lined up against him. His opponent was the experienced Hillary Clinton, who had support of most of the established media houses, Wall Street executives, even endorsements from candidates from Trump’s Republican Party. In any other day, Clinton would have expected to win against a man who had made open statements that were misogynistic, racist, even had a string of controversies against him.
What went wrong for Hillary Clinton?
If one widens their scope of vision, one will see that this phenomenon is not isolated, but it was foreshadowed by the rise of the “strongman” nationalist leaders in other parts of the world. The strongman is the tough-talking, aggressive, hawkish and often not scared to articulate sentiments that would be considered politically incorrect but voicing and acknowledging growing concerns. If we are to understand broadly the situation of the world in economy and security, we would see that Donald Trump was a logical culmination of the growing chain.
The world economy is still shaky and jobs in many developed and developing economies are low. Terrorism is rampant, now even spreading to areas previously untouched like France and Belgium with gradual mushrooming of sleeper cells and lone wolves. It is entirely possible that a subconscious fear psychosis set in and thus, it made many gravitate towards the leader that appeals to baser instincts for safety. This, unfortunately, also manifested as an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim vibe which was often subtle but often overt as well. Brexit vote saw its signs.
Coupled with this was the growing, even open distrust of the “liberal media”, which was increasingly seen as in cahoots with the establishment and oblivious to the grassroots, and often seen utterly insensitive to the plight of the middle and the lower middle class. The media was increasingly seen with hostile eyes, channels like NDTV and CNN in their respective countries invoked hostility with their reportage, often seen as biased and anti-majority sentiment while pandering to the minorities and enforcing political correctness.
The trust deficit between the media and the growing disillusioned massed caused sense of alienation and the fear of being neglected en masse. Thus, the leader that seemed promising, who would “shake things up” and bring down the establishment and the media’s ivory tower attracted massive following.
The cases for Narendra Modi and Donald Trump, in this context, would not seem very different. As a Prime Ministerial candidate, Modi was seen as the saviour coming from outside Lutyens’ Delhi to save India. Donald Trump, too was seen in similar light.
Another trait that attracted was charismatic leadership, built around their tendency to talk tough and promise impactful action in a stagnating system. Rodrigo Duterte built his campaign around strict action against drug dealers and drug addicts, didn’t hesitate to use crude language in building the tough image.
It isn’t necessary that the strongman would sweep power in an election or would be anti-establishment. What is necessary is that the leader is seen to rise up to a difficult challenge and often build cult-like followings, obliterating entrenched corrupt politicians from their positions of privilege.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current President of Turkey is under increasing criticism for his growing authoritarian actions, became the public hero for thwarting a coup and is now enforcing a mass crackdown across Turkey on journalists, scholars, military officers, etc. that are considered undesirable by the regime, coupled with the tough action on the Kurdish insurgents and negotiating tough against European Union in the refugee crisis and acting on Turkey’s interests in the Syrian Civil War. Putin too, has massive support because he could project Russia as a world power by his actions in Syria.
Strongmen aren’t identical in their characteristics. They have slightly different approaches, but in their country’s respective political ecosystem, their party is increasingly hinging on them - Modi, Putin, Netanyahu, Xi Jinping, Erdogan, Duterte and now Trump.
Thus, it is not a matter of surprise that large voters decided to throw their support behind the strongman in their hope.
For those who have read philosophy or political theory might know about Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, an all-powerful sovereign that holds people in awe as their protector. The very image of the Leviathan on the cover of the book is the giant crowned figure, towering over the landscape holding the sword and the crosier, symbols of power. It seems that many people across different countries, found their best hopes in their Leviathan.