President Donald J. Trump was an unexpected gift to the United States on Nov. 20, 2016; however, like some surprises, not everyone was willing to accept him. When he began his race for Presidency in June of 2015, all the odds were against him. Political analysts highlighted a list of his deficiencies; the media, like CBS for example, exploited him for their personal marketing gain during his campaign and spoke disparagingly about him throughout; and although Trump was successful in the business world for decades, dealing with others auspiciously in both domestic and international relations, it was evident that within politics, he was an outsider, not part of the political establishment, not even accepted by his own party. As a matter of fact, according to Ceaser, Busch, and Pitney, “GOP leaders were at a loss to stop a reality TV star with seemingly unlimited wealth and almost universal name recognition.” Perhaps it was these outcast elements that helped Trump relate to those whom he would best serve and who would in the end help him win his Presidency.
To those in the opposing party and other multiple factions across the nation, dubious and ready to take offense at his every word, action, and policy, Donald Trump was simply a bombastic icon, a too-familiar brand; he was mocked, chastised, and judged for his past moral failures, his current temperamental weaknesses, and his apparent lack of political etiquette. How could such a man then outrun every other candidate and accomplish the improbable, becoming the 45th President of the United States of America?
Some in the evangelical Christian community would assert that the game changer was that President Trump found real Christianity during his campaign. Although Trump had not officially spoken out about his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, key pastors like Robert Jeffress began serving and promoting Trump because they had confidence that Trump would protect evangelical Christians in America. At the time of the election, Christian consciences and rights were being violated through lawsuits. In multiple private businesses throughout the nation, evangelical Christians were being forced to compromise their consciences or to pay penalties to the government. America, a place once known as a haven of religious freedom was slowly becoming a place of persecution for those of faith. Therefore, when Pastor Jeffress stated, “I can tell you from experience, if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, we who are evangelical Christians are going to have a true friend in the White House,” regardless of President Trump’s personal faith, this acknowledgement gave the unsettled Christians hope. What they didn’t realize was that Trump was also providing hope to many more of his constituents, as well.
Keeping these details in mind, after analyzing Ceaser, Busch, and Pitney’s book, Defying the Odds and reading Richard Neustadt’s Presidential Powers and Jeffrey Tulis’ The Rhetorical Presidency, I assert that the fundamentals and contingencies surrounding the 2016 election impacted President Trump’s relationship with the American people in a more positive manner than what most are willing to admit: President Trump has been able to begin building trust with the people by keeping his promises to the “Forgotten” Americans.
Fundamentals and Contingencies During the Election
Ceaser, Busch, and Pitney ask the question, “Are presidential elections mostly about ‘fundamentals,’ or mostly about ‘contingencies?’” They later admit that like all elections, the 2016 election was a mixture of both. If we are able to see fundamentals as the practical groundwork, framework, and blueprint of what is taking root in America, then perhaps we can see contingencies in elections as the means of potential fruit for the future. Pragmatic roots and the hope of economic fruit were among several reasons why hardworking Americans had favor for President Trump during his campaign.
One of the fundamentals that highly stand out during the election process of 2016 was the need for jobs in the economy. When Obama took office, he inherited an unemployment rate of about 11.1 million according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in December of 2008. However, by 2014, the rate had become 17.7 million unemployed people, and in 2015, the rate had been 16.9 million people unemployed, showing a decrease of 783,000.
Yet more employment is what the people expected the new President to provide. To work toward this end, Donald Trump made promises during his campaign to blue-collar workers that he would make America great again by bringing jobs back to America. According to Ceaser, Busch, and Pitney, automation had put blue-collar workers out of jobs, and they were also afraid of the rise in economic globalization. From automobile jobs being sent to Mexico, to the rise of undocumented immigration, the native-born working whites were feeling the effects of not only job loss, but also wage depression. Ceaser, Busch, and Pitney state that “Between 2007 and 2016, whites between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four lost about 6.5 million more jobs than they gained,” whereas Hispanics, Asians, and African-Americans all gained employment during that time. As a result, resentment began growing regarding discrimination. Trump would step onto this scene, however, and reach out to “the forgotten” blue-collar Americans in the Mid-west and Pennsylvania, and this outreach would work toward his electoral gain and building trust with the American workers.
The interesting part about this fundamental puzzle piece is that in a sense it was all made possible by a contingency, Trump’s spirited personality and his “demotic rhetoric” with the people. Although Trump was a billionaire, as he campaigned, he grew in public prestige as “the people’s billionaire.” Trump found that he didn’t need to identify himself as an elite with a super PAC or any other party organization. Instead, he simply related directly with the people through his rallies and social media. As a result, he came to identify himself as a “spokesperson of a popular movement.” Whereas most politicians were busy chasing money to make a difference, Trump already had the money. He shifted his focus to chasing “the forgotten,” and as a result, he won their votes.
Certainly, Tulis would see Trump’s rising as “soft-demagoguery.” After all, Trump saw himself as a solution for the white working class; he would bridge the apparent gap between his prosperity and their need for a job by extending his attention on their behalf and drawing closer to them in understanding. Then, he would assure them by making campaign promises to bring back jobs that would serve them when he became President. However, to Trump it wasn’t just a speech to gain their loyalty, but his word.
Consequently, in his is first 100 days of office President Trump did keep his word to his constituents. He effectively used his Presidential power to decisively withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Also, he chose to approve the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline and roll back anti-coal regulations, as well as implement the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. Neustadt would have been proud that Trump used his Presidential power to build his reputation as a decisive leader in the first 100 days of office, building his prestige and trust with the American people by keeping his promises to them.
Consequently, Trump used some Neustadtian principles also to pass the above orders, which additionally built up the President’s credibility and relationship with the people. He made certain that all Americans knew he had signed executive orders by publishing them on his White House homepage and sharing them on social media for the public to see. In addition, he held press conferences, so the country could know about his executive orders. Furthermore, any directives he issued out to his cabinet members were understood and astutely applied, and they were fully aware that he had authority to sign the executive orders, terminate agreements, and begin new ones, all on his own authority without Congress (although we certainly found courts jumped in to try and stop him).
The fundamentals and contingency plan were clear: America needed a better economy and more jobs, and the fruit would be Trump keeping his word to the people, building trust to bring those jobs back to America. As Neustadt asserts, “[I]f choices are the means by which a President builds power, it is only as he sees his power stakes in what he does that choices become building blocks for him.” In Trump’s case, his choices helped him build trust in his relationship with the American people, especially his constituents, “the forgotten” blue-collar workers who voted him in to do exactly what he said he would do.
Both the fundamentals and contingencies of the 2016 election greatly impacted President Trump’s relationship with the public. President Trump understood that economy and jobs were a major concern in people’s lives. Using his unique personality and bold rhetoric, he built a relationship of growing trust specifically with his constituents, the working class, even as he tried to build better relationships with angry factions across the nation.
Where some will see a “basket of deplorables,” God will allow another to see with His heart of compassion. Maybe that is the spark of hope that inspired Trump to run for office, Make America Great Again.
Donald Trump was an improbable candidate in the 2016 election; however, truly his win has been an unexpected gift for our nation. God says in His Word that whatever we do for the least of these, we do it for Him. “The forgotten” blue-collar workers finally had someone looking after them this past election, someone they would never have likely expected, a billionaire from New York City. They understood what it meant to be falsely judged, what it meant to be overlooked, and what it meant to be misunderstood and forgotten. I suspect Donald J. Trump had not expected to be the one to help them, but by the time he could, he understood all those things, as well. That’s what servant-leadership is, a true gift to those who are being served. We never look more truly like Jesus than when we are willing to lay down our lives to serve others, and in order to do that well, sometimes we have to go through what they go through. Perhaps this is why Robert Jefress knew President Trump would be a friend.
God bless America. God bless President Donald J. Trump.
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