Aggressiveness is still proving to be Donald Trump’s greatest weapon, beyond a doubt.
Being the head of state and government of the most powerful nation in the world, the President of the United States of America is almost always under the scrutiny of the press. However, in the last weeks, Donald Trump has received even more coverage than usual.
Indeed, the President has recently ordered new ICE raids against undocumented migrants living peacefully in the United States, and defended the harsh living conditions inside the migrant detention centres located on the US southern border, which accommodate thousands of adults and children. As if that wasn’t enough, Trump launched one of the most aggressive attacks since the beginning of his presidency, urging the regularly elected congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley to: ‘go back to their problem-filled countries’.
Known as ‘the squad’, the first-term Democratic congresswomen do have foreign origins, but they were all born in the US except for Ilhan Omar, who arrived in the US from Somalia as a child refugee and became a US citizen at 17. Predictably, such violent and aggressive words have shocked both American and foreign audiences, with figures from all over the US political spectrum, like Joe Walsh, Bernie Sanders, and David Gergen, condemning the President’s statement.
If these attacks only produce indignant critiques, why is Trump persisting with such extreme rhetoric? The reason is simple: no matter how much outrage they spark, the President’s incitements are also met with great enthusiasm and support, precisely by his voters. During a rally in North Carolina, for example, Trump’s supporters have coined a new choir which goes ‘Send her back! Send her back!’, referring to the congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Not only do they agree with their President, but they are also happy to reinforce his message and ready to support him whenever he crosses the line of political correctness.
On the eve of the 2020 electoral campaign, these events illustrate something very important: Trump’s strategy to win the election will not consist in toning down his speeches, nor mitigating his rhetoric. He will not aim at conquering the centrist and indecisive voters; instead, he will try to polarize the conflict, using all the charisma and aggressiveness he’s got. It may seem a foolish strategy, but during the last election it worked: it was his extreme political incorrectness that brought Trump to victory in 2016. Together with his simple slogans, his promises of incredible change — never accompanied by considerations about how to achieve that change — it allowed him to separate himself from the ‘Washington establishment’; from the old politicians who forgot about the American people.
Indeed, in the last decades, a fracture opened between a large share of American citizens and the world of politics. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the perfect examples to illustrate this tendency: they presented themselves as cultured, progressive, focused on great themes like ecology and gender rights. They wanted to transform the US by promoting a greener economy and emerging companies. For all these reasons, they were perceived as linked to the high spheres of society, banks, or modern tech companies. They had nothing in common with the millions of factory workers, construction workers, blue collars, and unemployed people in the US, who just wanted someone capable of understanding their needs and frustrations.
Trump used this discrepancy to build his political success. On the surface, he too has little in common with the average American voter, being a billionaire who made business with the biggest firms of the United States. However, he presented himself as a man of the people, who spoke his mind without filters, and was ready to take down the ‘Washington elite’. Paradoxically, Trump made political figures like Hillary Clinton look like bullies who denigrated and ignored America’s lower classes, and then he stood up to defend those citizens. His aggressiveness and rudeness are praised by his electors because they set him apart from the other politicians and because they are always directed against their ‘enemies’. That’s why such extreme political incorrectness could win him a second term: it’s his speciality, it’s what attracts his pool of voters.
This means that we may be facing an extremely heated electoral campaign, characterized by personal attacks and denigration. The key question is then: do the Democrats have the strength to survive it? By looking at the current situation one would probably be tempted to answer negatively. The staggering number of 23 candidates, which makes it the most crowded primary in decades, makes the party look divided, with everyone having slightly different views on key questions like healthcare, climate, and border security. According to the latest CNN polls, the top three candidates are now Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren, who may be considered charismatic leaders capable of standing up against Trump. However, looking at the totality of candidates it’s difficult to see them as a united front against the President’s policies. At this point, none of them are willing to take a radical position, in fear of losing even the smallest number of voters. By doing so they risk becoming invisible, overshadowed by Trump’s extreme declarations, which attract much more media coverage.
On the brighter side, there is a new generation of Americans that seems more than ready to fight Trump. On March 2018, American students organized a protest against gun laws which, according to Vox, brought 1.2 million people to march along the streets, as well as prompting a wave of political activism. Since 2017, women from all over the world gather to protest against gender inequality and sexual abuse at the annual Women’s March. The recent abortion bans in states like Alabama, Georgia and Ohio have pushed thousands of people to attend coordinated rallies, says The Guardian, while outrage continues to spread against the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants. Such ferment is not limited to the civil sphere of society. The 2018 midterm election has brought great changes in American politics: 117 women were elected in Congress, the highest number ever reached. Among them, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, members of the ‘squad’ that Trump recently attacked, are the first Muslim women to occupy a seat in Congress. These newly-elected figures seem to be more connected to anti-Trump campaigners and are putting the administration under severe scrutiny.
If the Democratic Party managed to incorporate their passion and commitment and to extend this to the presidential candidates, Trump would have to face a much harder task than what he’s expecting today. With 467 days to the general election, there is still time for the Democrats to decide their strategy, but, whatever it will be, they will need to stand united if they want to beat the most direct, aggressive, and unpredictable of all US Presidents.