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July 2, 2018
Inroads Journal

In a notorious January tweet, Donald Trump told us,

I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!

In this article I offer a better explanation of his success. I put the question rather differently: looking at postwar leaders in comparable Western “old” democracies, only in America does a person so manifestly unfit manage to attain the highest executive office. Why, and why now? In so doing, I seek to answer a question that Americans, who seldom view their country in comparative perspective, don’t ask, while outside observers of the United States simply throw up their hands in incredulity.

In comparing Trump’s success to the unsuccessful efforts of populists in other “old” Western democracies, I am following up what I wrote in the Winter/Spring issue of Inroads about the Trumpites, the more than a third of Americans (constituting roughly 40 per cent of likely voters and 84 per cent of Republicans)1 who support Trump thick or thin. The Trumpites are not Trump’s creation, I noted, but rather a subculture in American politics that he (and Steve Bannon)2 brought to the surface. They constitute the American version of the populists who have emerged as important political forces in a number of European countries.3 Figure 1 shows the proportion of Americans with positive and negative views of Trump. As we can see, the proportion with positive views began to drop after the election, only to stabilize six months later.


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