Donald Trump & The Populist Resurgence

Lauren Reiff
10 min readApr 4, 2019

There is much to be learned from Donald Trump’s famously unforeseen rise to the presidency that years removed from the whole upset, still remains untapped to some degree. One must admit, it is difficult to talk about the man at all without immediately incurring the vitriolic criticism of those that hate him — and I’m not certainly not saying whether you should hate him or not. But sole hatred towards our current president has a blinding effect, washing all nuance from the actually curious endeavor of exploring Trump’s ascendency. And the Trump question deserves some “curious exploration” — if only for the sake of national sanity, on the part of everyone involved.

It’s been said before, but Trump’s rise to the national pulpit is symptomatic of larger and more grievously structural issues. His election-cycle popularity and subsequent presidential win happened alongside a series of populist “revolts” sprouting up across the Western world. The American, British, French, and even Italian political scenes interestingly became gripped by populist sentiment, and all uncannily within a similar time frame. Something was obviously afoot. Anti-establishment ethos, a budding strain of nationalism, and anger at the elitist class were cropping up at alarming speeds.

We often forget that politics is a two-way street. More accurately, it’s a sort of vertical channel where top-down forces press against bottom-up forces, jointly molding the political reality in which we live. Top-down forces are the persuasive sells of politicians and their galvanizing messages and narrative spins. It’s what we think of when we accuse politicians of creating national trends in political sentiment. It’s what we think of when we say Trump has incited this or that emotion. In contrast, “bottom-up forces” can be construed as base human impulses that are stubbornly rooted in our DNA — some of them good, some of them bad — which certain political rhetoric can strike hotly at. It’s what we think of when we say that Trump has tapped into resentment, for example.

At cursory glance, these two “forces” appear more or less the same and there is often no distinction made between the two, but there is a difference if studied closely. Because despite the heavy media criticism of Trump and the “top-down” forces against him, there was an unexpectedly strong