I still vividly recall the day Donald Trump went down the escalator in Trump Tower announcing his presidency. It was a surreal moment, the eccentric billionaire, challenging the experienced “Washington” swamp for the office of President of the United States of America, or as I like to call label it, the “Office of the Leader of the Free World”. I kept asking myself how will such a xenophobic person win elections in the “epitome of democracy”. Throughout the election campaign and his presidency, Donald Trump mastered the art of “othering”. In order to better understand how Donald Trump won his elections, I needed to understand how identity politics were utilized in the United States of America.
Reflecting on the article “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging – Othering and Belonging”, “othering” was a long time featured in American politics. Politicians usually use rhetoric capitalizing on humans’ nature fear of the unknown to ignite social anxiety, resentment, or fear toward an “other” minority. An example which I like to use which not only highlights the hypocrisy of politicians, especially the democratic party, but also show how unaware Americans are of identity politics techniques that are being utilized on them. Immigrations is a solid example. The democratic party stance is pro-immigration supporting the concept of open borders and usually appeal to the minorities (immigrants included) using such propaganda. In reality, during President Obama’s tenure, a democrat, deportations rose to record highs with over 2.7 million deportations from 2009-2016, denying asylum to refugees fleeing from violence in their respective nations in Central America. What is so hypocritical is that Obama has been solid proponent on immigrant and publicly reprimanded Trump regarding his immigration policies.
Focusing back on Trump, the Southern states, proponents of slavery during the Civil war, and opposing equality of Blacks and whites, are a community whom focus on systematically “othering” people who seem different than them. As mentioned in aforementioned article, our species are “cognitively programmed to form conceptual categories and use them to classify the people they counter”. Therefore, this is how people tend to associate “between color and poisonous berries”; however, such thinking has been extended to their normal lives. People in such states tend to “other” people by associating black people as criminals, Mexicans as rapists, Columbians as drug dealers, etc… Deeming illegal immigrants as “aliens” is in itself implying negative connotations to them as outsiders and increases the social stigma towards illegal immigrants already residing in the United States. Trump capitalized on such and promised the biggest border wall in history spanning the entire border between the United States of America and Mexico. His voters expected that a vote for him is a vote for their security from those gangs, thugs, and all the negative stigma associated with aliens. On a separate note, Trump was able to appeal to evangelical Christian community by adopting a negative stance on abortion leading to a solid 30 million votes. Moreover, Trump was smart in his approach to the rust belt. Rather than focusing on prima facie identity politics, which his opponent Hillary Clinton did, Trump capitalized on the ever-increasing income inequality and the shutting down of factories in these states. These were the result of outsourcing a lot of their jobs due to the one-sided free trade agreements such as NAFTA, upon which politicians did nothing to amend or repeal. He emphasized on him being the outsider himself unlike his opponent who was a part of the “Washington Swamp”. Trump was able to create such a minority of political elites in Washington DC and implied that they are extremely corrupt. Implying that he was an outsider, he kept insisting that the will “drain the swamp” and actually get bills passed and actions done.
In essence, Trump focused utilized the concept of “othering” on illegal aliens, and political elites in Washington, and similar tactics which helped him whip up the necessary votes to flip the rust belt states and win the elections.