Edition: English Asia Pacific Africa Europe | Español Français العربية Pусский | 中文简体 中文繁体
Homepage > News

Understanding the cultural rise of the Trump phenomenon

Editor: Tong Xinxin 丨CCTV.com

12-09-2015 11:20 BJT

By Tom McGregor, CNTV Commentator

The American intelligentsia are standing aghast at the remarkable rise of Donald Trump’s campaign for President. According to public opinion polls, he’s trouncing all other Republican candidates seeking the GOP nomination. Yet, the New York billionaire real estate mogul remains as obnoxious and bull-headed as ever.

The US political establishment, mainly composed of Wall Street bankers who donate to Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House and 'Country Club Republicans’ who favor Jeb Bush, just can’t seem to figure out why Trump has captured such strong support from American voters.

Even when Hillary’s campaign communications team - the mainstream media - launch another round of frontal-attacks on Trump’s character, such efforts backfire and give an added boost to his popularity ratings.

Well, such confusion could be explained with an understanding of American culture and the nation’s economic demise. The USA had once been a place where if you worked hard and stayed optimistic, you could rise out of obscurity and become great.

It was an era when a poor person had opportunities to rise out of the ashes and get rich. But, that’s no longer the case. Now, you can only succeed if you either have the right connections, a special talent in sports or entertainment or you’re a technical genius.

Regular Americans feel more isolated, under-appreciated and voiceless than ever before. They want to make America great again, but the elitists have closed the doors to them. So, now comes Trump with his take charge and make no apologies attitude.

Here’s a guy who is a self-made billionaire. He didn’t have his fortune handed to him on a silver platter. He had to earn it and at the same time, he refused to join the wealthy elites crowd that would expect him to endorse meaningless platitudes about hugging a tree, saving the whales and narrowing the income inequality gap.

Instead, Trump flaunts his wealth, flying in a gold-plated helicopter, working in a fancy office on Park Avenue and wearing the most expensive suits. He’s a Reality TV superstar, who became famous for shouting “You’re Fired!” on camera to people who chased after him to get a job.

His bold and angry statements on the campaign trail have endeared him to the hearts and minds of regular Americans, the ‘Silent Majority.’

Trump represents American Pop Culture writ-large with all its good and bad traits. When Americans grew up as kids, they loved watching TV. Being famous symbolized true success, because fame inevitably brings fortune in their minds.

Americans watch Hollywood films and TV shows that depict wealthy people living in mansions, driving sports cars and wearing trendy clothes. That is what they aspired to be.

But becoming rich is not easy. Just because you wish to become a  wealthy ‘1 percenter’ doesn’t mean you will. And as reality set in, Americans are likely to join the Middle Class and would cast aside their fame and fortune dreams to accept their fate.

Yet, we Americans (myself included) maintain an optimistic spirit. We usually begin our stories with the obvious statement, “I’m great, because ...” and then resort to flagrant exaggerations to describe ourselves.

We know we are not making accurate statements with our tall tales and our listeners do not believe us either, but as Americans we feel morally obligated to proclaim, we’re “going to change the world ...” and say that with such sincerity it almost sounds believable.

And that’s how President Barack Obama got elected and re-elected to the White House. He promised American voters “hope and change we can believe in.” How could any decent red-blooded American say, “no” to such a slogan. It works on many levels, appealing to ‘I can do it’ American exceptionalism.

Now Trump is telling voters that he will Make America great again. Wow, that’s downright patriotic and inspirational for those who feel the USA is no longer as great as it used to be.

We can also watch Trump role-playing a true American hero with his attacks against what many people perceive as ‘dark and villainous forces,’ such as the mainstream media, wealthy Socialists, Country Club Republicans and Hillary’s Wall Street donors.

He’s tapped into populist themes and many Americans are loving him for it. But is his current popularity for real and will Americans vote him? Well, we must wait and see.



( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.


Follow us on

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Instagram

  • Please scan the QR Code to follow us on Wechat

We Recommend

  • World Heritage China Part 29
  • Glamorous Indonesia Part 2
  • Along the Coast Part 41
  • Glamorous Indonesia Part 1
  • Dreams and the business reality
  • Philippines' beauty pageant obsession
  • China's love for basketball
  • Box office online
  • Jixi: Land of luminaries II