USA

How America Got Worked by a Club Comic Hack

Doing some crowd work probably.

The role of comedians throughout history has often been difficult to define. From the early days of court jesters to the dirty joke philosophers we see today, comedy has had the most longevity of any art form. All styles of comedy exist to exchange ideas, and hopefully get laughs, while onstage. Through the use of humor in their speech, comedians are able to both question the established norms of society and challenge those norms in often radical ways. By manipulating the built-in response of laughter, a comic is able to sway the audience to feel a certain way about a topic, even if the comic’s beliefs are inappropriate.

The power of comedy, while historically confined to nightclubs and late night television, was on full display throughout much of the 2016 United States election. Indeed, when investigating the election of the comedic phenomenon known as Donald Trump, one cannot ignore the influence of humor in his campaign. When analyzing the linguistic patterns of a typical Trump speech, he seems to behave more like a standup comedian than any politician in recent memory. “Mr. Trump is now a serious candidate… But stylistically, he works in the mode and rhythms of a stand-up. He riffs. He goads. He works blue.”

Donald Trump Is a Conundrum for Political Comedy

The very nature of a Trump campaign, while laughable to many left-wing ideologues, proved itself successful on the night of the 2016 election. The man who openly mocked every other candidate in his path found himself at the top of the Republican food chain thanks in no small part to his ability to insult and belittle those against him. While he may not seem like a skilled orator by any stretch of the imagination, one cannot deny the impact that Trump’s speeches have had on his supporters. His blatant disregard for any sort of political correctness, much like a comedian, made him irresistible to many American voters. While other politicians worked clean and respected one another, Trump came out as the Andrew Dice Clay of American politics. Whenever Hillary Clinton insisted that we must respect all Americans, Trump would sneer, light a proverbial cigarette, and call her a nasty woman.

The man who made a career out of being bold and brash won the presidential election despite all odds, and he did so by being ruthless in his approach. By behaving in a manner more suited to a club comic hack than President of the United States, Donald J. Trump was able to secure the highest office in the most powerful country in all of human history. In many ways, the rise of Donald Trump to leader of the free world is so absurd, that only comedy can explain it.

Like comedians, politicians have to work a crowd, gauge interest, and rally their supporters. Unfortunately for the less charismatic candidates, humor remains an important part of the political process. While politics and comedy often seem intertwined, they are still different in one key aspect. While politicians are expected to maintain a level of decorum in their speech, the standard of speech is quite different for comedians. Comedians are often lauded for pushing these social boundaries, with many legendary comedians doing so for their entire careers. Many comedians often delve into topics that would get the average employee fired, or the average politician impeached. Unfortunately for political comedians, Donald Trump was not the average politician. When political comedians attempt to satirize politicians, they typically harp on the characteristics they deem the most absurd or noteworthy. These portrayals are often exaggerated for comedic effect, and stand as a direct contrast to the generally professional demeanor of the politicians themselves.

Unsurprisingly, Trump stands as a direct aberration to this time tested formula. Trump’s nature as a bombastic and unapologetic person may seem like prime comedic material for any late night television show, but it has actually had the opposite effect. It becomes increasingly difficult for any comedian to exaggerate a presidential candidate’s personality when that candidate already behaves in the most exaggerated way possible. Basically, “How do you spoof a candidate who treats campaigning like a roast?” In an effort to keep things lighthearted, many comedians chose to mock the more superficial aspects of Donald Trump, without attacking his core personality. Jokes about his hairstyle or pursed lips were often favored over the more sinister and polarizing subject matter, as many needed to adjust their material for a broader audience. The same behaviors that would typically be ripe for mockery under normal circumstances actually provided Trump with a shield from most criticism. By behaving like a standup comedian, Donald Trump managed to make himself impervious to criticism.

The same behaviors that would typically be ripe for mockery under normal circumstances actually provided Trump with a shield from most criticism.

Rather than delegitimize his presidency, Trump’s unconventional behavior has instead served to boost his popularity and embolden his supporters. Despite having unclear and often contradictory policies on the campaign trail, Trump managed to maintain strong holds of support amongst key demographics. Areas such as Appalachia were particularly fond of Trump, with “Make America Great Again” signs dotting every lawn for miles. “Those signs are far more numerous in this beautiful part of the country than Muslims or immigrants, let alone terrorists.”

The appeal of Donald Trump

Again, here we can see the power of rhetoric in the Trump campaign. Despite not dealing with the problems of immigration or terrorism regularly or at all, many voters in this part of the country remained convinced that they need to defend themselves from such threats. When asked why they supported Donald Trump, despite his lack of clear policies from which they would benefit, voters a few answers. First, many of the voters in this region agreed upon their mutual dislike of Barack Obama, but also their disdain for what they perceived to be corrupt politics. Candidates such as Hillary Clinton seemed flawed in character, and willing to compromise their moral integrity for personal financial gain. In short, the Crooked Hillary moniker was popular for a reason.

Still, it is important to not paint Trump supporters as a monolithic group. Many had no delusions when it came to Donald Trump’s corrupt business practices in the past. The difference, however, is the openness of these details. While Clinton and other career politicians worked constantly on their public image and likeability, Trump completely disregarded these things. When compared to the political rhetoric of other more authoritarian countries such as Russia, the similarities were highly similar. During the first election of Vladimir Putin, cynicism reigned supreme in Russian politics. Many Russians felt that politicians were inherently crooked, and would be stealing from the people regardless of political affiliation. They viewed politicians that leaned towards easing relations with the Western world as especially terrible, as these politicians complained about Russian corruption but seemed to be engaging in that same corruption themselves. This created a situation in which the problem with politicians wasn’t their dishonesty, but rather how upfront they were with their corruption.

Although much of the Trump campaign seemed to have been characterized by one misstep after the other, these missteps were actually crucial in maintaining Trump’s image as a rebellion against the political system. The key to Trump’s popularity isn’t that he is a flawed person, but rather that he made no apologies for his flaws. “He was a crook, too, but an honest crook.” In a world where every politician is a crook, you might as well vote for the honest crook.

The appeal of Trump, much like the appeal of comedians, can be explained using emotional responses. While many Democrats opted for a race based argument to explain the unlikely rise of Trump, this explanation is far too simplistic overall. Although there have certainly been many racial components to the Trump campaign, it is shallow to suggest that all Trump supporters are racists. Rather than look at the 2016 election as an issue of race, one must look at it as an issue of elitism. Many of Trump’s supporters have regularly railed against the perceived elitism seen by politicians throughout their lifetime. As political speeches and campaigns became more sanitized over time, people saw their standard of living continually decrease. While politicians went on and on about the benefits of free market trade and globalization, many voters lost their jobs and their livelihoods. Trump was unique in that he acknowledged this distress, and promised to fix it. Although he often gave no real solutions to the problems at hand, this did not matter for the overall message of his campaign.

Donald Trump's appeal was just perfectly summed up by Chris Matthews

By using emotional statements, rather than factual claims, Trump appealed to people’s deep sensibilities that something is fundamentally wrong with the system. “It’s about a gut feeling that things are screwed up, and this guy is the only person who gets it. No fact-check changes how people feel.” The opponents that spent much of their time fact checking his claims and trying to prove him wrong completely missed his point, and they suffered in the polls because of it.

By using emotional statements, rather than factual claims, Trump was able to appeal to people’s deep sensibilities that something is fundamentally wrong with the system.

The problem with emotional arguments such as this is that they can’t be argued against with facts. When a politician like Trump addresses the economic problems many face because of factories moving overseas, the accuracy of his statements does not matter. The average voter does not care if a statistic is wrong, or if a key fact is left out. What truly matters is the feeling that those concerns are being addressed onstage. This drive towards emotion based arguments is further exasperated by the growing divisions we find in our culture today. While the notion of liberal elites vs. rural conservatives is not new in American politics, it has been especially revitalized during this campaign. Unfortunately for Clinton and her cohorts, the celebrity endorsements, sarcastic comments, and other dismissive claims did very little to persuade his supporters to vote against him. Instead, it cements the belief that everyone is out of touch with reality except him and his supporters. While this is obviously a wild and unsubstantiated claim, the feeling remains the same.

If a celebrity thinks that Trump is an idiot, then that same celebrity must think the average Trump voter is an idiot. If a newspaper calls Trump a racist, then they must think the average Trump voter is a racist. If the other candidate thinks Trump is a deplorable, then she must think the average Trump voter is deplorable too. The Trump campaign recognized this, and dismissed criticism of him as out of touch elitism. Attempts to humiliate Trump quickly breakdown when one realizes that they make no difference to his supporters. After all, if elitists got them into this mess in the first place, then why should they listen to what the elitists have to say about a candidate that seems to care about them.

In the debate between feelings and ideas in the 2016 election, feelings clearly won. A bombastic Trump was able to defeat a robotic and coldblooded Clinton primarily due to his ability to appear to people’s base emotions, regardless of accuracy. The difference between Trump and many other politicians is that Trump stays in a state of unpredictability. His informal and often impulsive style may seem bizarre to seasoned politicians, but it has consistently gone over well with his supporters. Compared to other politicians, Trump’s speeches were a breath of fresh air to many of his supporters. In an effort to come across as well spoken, many politicians seem canned and rehearsed. Here, Trump’s impulsivity is an asset, as his candid nature gives his speeches a level of authenticity. Here we can see the parallels between Trump speeches and stand-up comedy routines begin to take shape. Much like a Trump speech, the average stand-up routine is structured loosely and with room for improvisation. “’Most stump speeches have a beginning, a middle and an end and follow classic speech structure… Trump doesn’t do that. It appears to be free-form just like a comedian.” Once again, behaviors that would kill an ordinary political career proved to be a tremendous asset to the Trump campaign.

Comic Hero: Why Donald Trump's Candid Rhetoric Resonates With Supporters

His speeches, while chaotic in nature, have further highlighted the idea that he is not a typical politician. In turn, his supporters viewed him as a comedic force and a disruptor of conventional politics. This disruption has been highly beneficial to the Trump campaign, as many of his supporters enjoy what they perceive as a positive deviation from the norm. In an election where elitism was the dividing force, being a career politician proved to be Hillary Clinton’s downfall. The lack of qualification that Trump had for the office somehow made him more qualified in the eyes of the American voters.

At this point, it is important to point out the difference between behaving in a comedic manner and being funny. While Trump has indeed said, and done many disturbing things, the way in which he conducts himself is still comedic, in that he mimics the personality traits of most comedians. Much like a comedian, he is often ungraceful in his mannerisms, and will say what’s on his mind at all costs. This type of behavior has been appealing throughout show business history, and has proven to be highly relatable as well. The concept of an everyman character is pervasive throughout many comedic performances, with many comedians relying on their relatability to their audience. Movies like Caddy Shack serve to highlight this relatability quite well. “’It was Rodney Dangerfield or Jackie Mason in the Caddy Shack movies where these two comedians played rich guys who were really average Joes breaking down the barriers of elite institutions.” In this case, one could view Trump as a Rodney Dangerfield-esque figure, in that he seemed to have infiltrated elite institutions and represented the common man while doing so. While one could argue that this is actually not the case, and that Trump actually represents the interests of the economic elite, this campaign proved that reality and perceived reality are two very different concepts.

This campaign proved that reality and perceived reality are two very different concepts.

Trump’s impulsivity had proven to be his greatest asset, rather than his greatest weakness, during the campaign. One example of this was during a debate held between him and Hillary Clinton in October of 2016, just one month before the election.

Trump threatens to jail Clinton if he wins election

During the debate, Hillary and Donald are going back and forth about how the other candidate is less qualified to be president than themselves. Hillary is speaking about Donald’s connections to Russia and his corrupt behavior, and Donald is riffing on how bad of a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been and her email scandal. During a particularly heated moment, Trump is accusing Clinton of committing a federal crime by deleting a large chunk of emails from her private server after being subpoenaed by the FBI. In an effort to relate to his audience, Trump reminds Clinton that many people have lost their jobs for committing a small fraction of the mistakes she has committed during her time as Secretary of State. He then goes on to say that, upon winning the presidency, he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton’s email scandal more thoroughly. Hillary scoffs at the notion of a special prosecutor and says, in her trademark level headed fashion, that “it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” Without missing a beat, Trump immediately replies, “Because you’d be in jail.” The crowd then cheers uproariously after, clearly signaling that Trump had won the exchange.

Here we can see Trump’s comedic sensibilities on display again. Rather than give Clinton a chance to speak, Trump goes for the throat. Following Trump’s remarks, many of his opponents were once again horrified at his willingness to jail an opponent. But, once again, his supporters were even more drawn to him, as he was finally breaking the barriers of polite speech to say what they wanted to hear. A retort more suited for a heckler at a comedy club than a presidential debate may seem unprofessional, but it’s exactly what his supporters wanted him to say. In the world of political mudslinging, Trump proved himself to be the king of one-liners once again.

Donald Trump’s personal attacks did not stop at Hillary Clinton. In 2015, following a string of personal attacks against Jeb Bush, Trump decided to take his insults one step further. During the Republican campaign season in 2015, the Jeb Bush campaign was once again forced to do damage control as they learned that another candidate had purchased the domain JebBush.com. The candidate who purchased the domain was, of course, Donald Trump. The Trump campaign purchased the domain and had it redirect to Trump’s campaign website instead. Trump’s systematic dismantling of Jeb Bush’s credibility was done viciously but with humor in mind. By frequently referring to Jeb as “low-energy”, Trump managed to create a persona of Bush that was both awkward and unlikeable. Upon seeing how effective his attacks had been, Trump decided to push things one step further.

https://medium.com/media/f17948cf814615de7699362423c0c555/href

In August 2015, the Trump campaign released an online advertisement that contained footage of Jeb’s mother Barbara speaking about the state of politics in America. The video, taken from a 2013 interview with the Today Show, shows Barbara Bush answering the question of whether or not her son Jeb should run for president. Upon hearing the question, Barbara Bush voices her opinion that the United States has had enough of the Bush family. “No… I really don’t. I think it’s a great country. There are a lot of great families. There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.” As Barbara Bush speaks, the video is interrupted with footage of Trump on the campaign trail. After the former first lady is done speaking, the video cuts to a black screen with white text reading “Mother knows best, Jeb!” The video was captioned “Even Barbara Bush agrees with me.” and easily garnered over 19,000 likes from his supporters since it was posted. Point being: If Jeb’s own mother doesn’t think he should be president, then why should the rest of America think so?

If Jeb’s own mother doesn’t think he should be president, then why should the rest of America think so?

Shortly after the “Mother knows best!” ad was released, Jeb retaliated with a campaign ad of his own. The ad featured a handwritten letter being sent by Barbara Bush to the voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, detailing how her son Jeb had the real solutions to the country’s problems.

Donald Trump just dragged Jeb Bush's 'mommy' into their fight

She went on to claim that people would soon realize that Jeb will get things done, rather than just talk incessantly about how great he is. Clearly, a thinly veiled insult towards Trump’s blustering attitude on the campaign trail.

Soon after the commercial aired, Trump took to Twitter to voice his frustrations.

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By embarrassing Jeb Bush consistently on the campaign trail, Trump was able to discredit him in front of the entire country. Even when Jeb attempted to fight back by bringing up the fact that Trump has professed to have Democratic beliefs in the past, such as his support of a single-payer healthcare plan or his close ties to the Clintons, Trump remained unfazed. Trump would instead respond that Jeb was “low-energy” and a “loser.” He mocked Jeb for spending millions more than him on his campaign, and still performing badly in the polls. When asked about why he continued his feud with Jeb, Trump responded quite characteristically. “’I shouldn’t even talk about him — he’s down two or three [percent in early polls], but it bothers me when I see guys spending, you know, 60 million dollars on ads… He should go home and relax, he shouldn’t be wasting his time.’”

As the Republican primaries wore on, Trump continued to prove that you can insult your way to the top.

Here we see the comedian at work yet again. Rather than engage in policy debate with a man who has years of government experience, Trump instead chooses to mock his character and behavior. While Jeb Bush is unquestionably boring, and indeed quite “low-energy”, it often seemed irrelevant to the political debate. Debates with Trump could not be tackled in a political manner mainly because Trump is not a politician. Whenever Donald Trump called Jeb Bush stupid, or “low-energy”, or a loser, he was making a bold statement that he did not care about politeness in politics. He was proving to his supporters that his roasting was both effective and entertaining. Jeb continued to drop in the polls as Trump attacked him, and eventually left the race in an embarrassing fashion. As the Republican primaries wore on, Trump continued to prove that you can insult your way to the top.

One of Trump’s greatest assets during the campaign was his ability to coin phrases and use them to his advantage. Whether it be “low-energy” Jeb, “Crooked” Hillary, “Crazy” Bernie, or “Lyin’” Ted, Trump proved consistently that branding is what is most important during a campaign season. Trump’s personal brand remained very powerful during the campaign, and people continuously responded well to his catchphrases. In one instance, Trump is addressing the audience at a rally in Tampa, Florida on February 12, 2016. At the time of this rally, there had been a lot of pushback from the Mexican government regarding Trump’s claim that Mexico would pay for the construction of a border wall along the Mexican border. Former President of Mexico Vicente Fox was particularly vocal about his opposition to the border wall, and frequently spoke publicly about his disdain for it. Seeing this as an open challenge, Trump decided to call out Fox during his speech instead.

https://medium.com/media/3588a1d0aa51d692ccab58239079cb1a/href

He begins by addressing the recent controversy surrounding their problems with one another. “So, the president of Mexico yesterday, or the ex-president whatever, whoever, who cares. He said, ‘we will not even consider paying for the wall.’” He continues on dismissively, refusing to address the ex-president by his name, claiming that no one cares anyway. He then goes into a call and response mode that was quite typical for his campaign. He asks the audience “Who’s gonna pay for the wall?”, to which the audience replies “Mexico!” Trump goads the audience once more by asking “Who?” to which they reply enthusiastically “Mexico!” Trump confirms their response by stating “a hundred percent, a hundred percent.” He then pushes his plans for a border wall even further. “So I got a call from one of the reporters yesterday, and they said, ‘The president of Mexico said they will not under any circumstances pay for the wall.’ They said to me, ‘What is your comment?’ I said the wall just got ten feet higher.” The crowd erupts with laughter and praise. They loved every second of it.

When analyzing Trump’s comments surrounding the border wall, it is important to look at them through the appropriate lens. Taken as a political speech, a claim such as “the wall just got ten feet higher” seems insane. However, when analyzed as a joke, the speech begins to make sense. Every joke begins with a set up. The set up of a joke is essentially the joke’s thesis statement, or the sentence that explains what the joke will address. After the set-up, a comedian will typically launch into the premise of the joke. The premise serves to expand upon the initial set-up, while simultaneously moving the joke forward. The premise is what is typically thought of as the build up to the eventual payoff. After a sufficient premise has been established, the comedian will then deliver their punchline. The punchline is essentially the answer to the initial idea posed in the set up. Ideally, the punchline will be funny, rewarding and worth the wait.

It’s basic science.

Given the knowledge of joke structure, one can begin to deconstruct what Trump said more carefully. When Trump opens by saying “So I got a call from one of the reporters yesterday”, he is laying the foundation for what will be the eventual payoff. When he goes on to explain that the reporter told him that “’The president of Mexico said they will not under any circumstances pay for the wall’”, he is adding details to support the set up presented earlier. The set up in this case is meant to answer the question of “what is happening?” In his speech, Trump states that a reporter called him yesterday. The subsequent premise seen here is in regards to what the reporter told him over the phone. Continuing his speech, Trump explains that the reporter told him that the president of Mexico said that they would not pay for the proposed wall. Trump utilizes this premise quite effectively when he delivers his final statement, commonly referred to as the punchline in comedy.

Upon being asked by the reporter to give a comment regarding the president of Mexico’s statement, Trump gives the perfect response. “They said to me, ‘What is your comment”’ I said the wall just got ten feet higher.” As the crowd cheered, Trump turned around and goaded them even further. He had delivered an effective joke, and the crowd laughed as one normally would at a comedy show. It does not matter if the wall will actually be ten feet higher. What does matter is that Trump was able to effectively spin a serious situation into a joke, and the crowd loved him for it. Trump’s response to the reporter is intentionally mocking and aggressive, because that is the image that he hopes to convey. By saying that “the wall just got ten feet higher”, Trump is furthering the idea that he is a political rebel. Much like a good comedian, Trump does not care what others think and will mock anyone who challenges him. Audiences love rebels who do what they can’t, especially if they’re funny.

As Donald Trump’s campaign tactics continue to be broken down, one wonders who even voted for him on election night. While there are indeed many preconceived notions about the average Trump supporter, voter research shows that many of these assumptions are unfounded. In fact, throughout much of the election, key demographics were often split in their support of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

How we voted – by age, education, race and sexual orientation

When broken down, the demographics of age, education, race and gender hardly revealed any uniform characteristics of the average Trump supporter. In fact, many of the demographics showed that political affiliation in the United States remains incredibly divisive and difficult to define.

I still think Other would’ve made a better president.

When analyzing election exit polls based on gender, one could see that there was a very even spit in voter turnout. Although one would assume, due to Trump’s frequent misogynistic comments both on and off the campaign trail, that women would overwhelmingly vote against him, this was not the case. Margins hovering around 50% are hardly indicative of any sort of real trend one way or the other. Despite the rallying around a female candidate by many in the Democratic party, the gender of the candidates had little impact on how the American people voted.

Likewise, other exit polls went against basic assumptions in this election as well. Although much of the campaign rhetoric from the democratic party focused on the idea that less educated people were more likely to support Donald Trump, this was again not entirely accurate.

Vote Other in 2020.

When analyzing the election based on education achieved, results remained inconclusive. Despite the narrative that Trump attracted a less educated voting base, this was not entirely true. The only voting demographic that seemed to fit that stereotype were voters with postgraduate degrees, who favored Clinton more highly than Trump. Still, voters with postgraduate degrees only made up 18% of the voting population during this election, and are hardly indicative of American voting trends. When analyzing the exit polls of the 2016 election, one gets a better sense of how assumption is often not reality.

Exit polls based on age, race and sexual orientation all seemed to fit the narrative that a certain segment of the population voted for Trump. However, when analyzed historically, one can see that these demographic trends are not unique to the 2016 election.

The times they are a-Stagnant.

While this data may seem to indicate an overall narrative, it is hardly a projection for the future. In fact, in past elections, young people have overwhelmingly voted Democrat, while older people have often voted Republican. When analyzing the exit polls for the 2012 election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, one can see that such trends are not new.

In 2012, voters under the age of thirty preferred Obama over Romney by a margin of 60% for Obama to 37% for Romney. Similarly, voters over the age of sixty-five preferred Romney over Obama by a margin of 56% for Romney to 44% for Obama.

These trends were not unique to the 2012 election either, as the same results held true for the 2008 election between Barack Obama and John McCain. Following the 2008 election, exit polls revealed that voters under the age of thirty preferred Obama over McCain by a margin of 66% for Obama to 32% for McCain. Meanwhile, voters over the age of sixty-five preferred McCain over Obama by a margin of 55% for McCain to 45% for Obama. When placed into historical context, the voter trend of younger people voting for Democrats and older people voting for Republicans is not new.

Another exit poll that seemed to fit the narrative in this election was that the race of voters determined which candidate they would vote for. Throughout the 2016 election, racial arguments were used quite frequently, and often with harmful intent. This lead many to believe that voting in this election would be a race based issue, with white voters preferring Trump over non-white voters.

Shocking.

Again, however, when placed into historical context, this is not a new phenomenon. When analyzing the 2012 election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, similar trends seem to emerge.

Following the 2012 election, it was revealed that white voters preferred Romney over Obama by a margin of 59% for Romney to 39% for Obama. Similarly, it was revealed that black voters preferred Obama over Romney by a margin of 93% for Obama to 6% for Romney. Latino voters also preferred Obama over Romney by a margin of 71% for Obama to 27% for Romney. Asian voters again preferred Obama over Romney by a margin of 73% for Obama to 26% for Romney. Finally, voters in the “other race” category preferred Obama over Romney by a margin of 58% for Obama to 38% for Romney.

Again, these trends were not unique to the 2012 election either. Exit polls from the 2008 election between Barack Obama and John McCain revealed that racial trends remained static. Following the 2008 election, it was revealed that white voters had preferred Romney over Obama by a margin of 55% for Romney to 43% for Obama. Similarly, it was revealed that black voters preferred Obama over McCain by a margin of 95% for Obama to 4% for McCain. Latino voters also preferred Obama over McCain by a margin of 67% for Obama to 31% for McCain. Asian voters preferred Obama over McCain by a margin of 62% for Obama and 35% for McCain. Finally, voters in the “other race” category preferred Obama over McCain by a margin of 66% for Obama to 31% for McCain.

When analyzed through a historical lens, one can see that the race based arguments for preferred candidate are not unique to the emergence of Trump. In recent elections between more traditional career politicians, one can see that the trend of white voters preferring Republicans and minority voters preferring Democrats remains true. Overall, it seems that race was not an indicator of who you would vote for in 2016, but rather another wrench in the political narrative of this election.

One major demographic that was discussed quite often throughout the 2016 election was the white working class. Something that has puzzled Democrats throughout this election has been the insistence of lower income white voters to vote for the Republican candidate. Many Democrats would argue that Republican policies do not benefit white working class voters, making it therefore illogical for this voting block to continue supporting the Republican party.

What So Many People Don't Get About the U.S. Working Class

However, when examining the white working class segment of America more closely, one can see that many of our assumptions are in fact false. First, it is important to point out that the way in which the white working class voter perceives rich people is vastly different from the way it perceives white collar professionals. While rich people are generally admired by the white working class, professionals were frequently resented and looked down upon. Class migrants, or people who grew up in blue-collar families but worked their way towards becoming white-collar professionals, often report that the sentiment towards the professional class was rather negative in their families. Presumably noble professions such as being a doctor were often looked at with suspicion, with the prefix of “quack” being added to every doctor’s name. Lawyers were also looked down upon, as they were viewed as dishonest “shysters” by many within the working-class community. Professors and teachers were perceived as condescending, unhelpful and above all else, “phonies.” Office managers were seen as young and inexperienced, with many claiming that their managers “don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job.”

Here we can see the divide between the working class and the professional class begin to take shape. Many white working class Americans view the rich as something to aspire to, while in the same vein viewing those a step above them economically as being totally reprehensible. While this may seem odd in theory, it makes sense when one considers the living situation of many working-class people. “For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class… the dream is to live in your own milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money.”

KFC goes best with champagne.

When we consider the daily lives of working-class people, their resentment of the professional class begins to fall into place. Every day, thousands of working-class Americans are forced to work at jobs they may hate, often for little money. These jobs are typically physical in nature and rather arduous. While jobs such as these are designed to benefit the owners on top of the economic food chain, the owners often have little contact with the workers they employ. Instead, wealthy owners prefer to hire corporate middlemen to handle their business for them. These middlemen take on the role of a manager, or shift supervisor, and are in charge of employee oversight. The perception of most working-class Americans is that, while they work their fingers to the bone all day, the manager above them gets to sit comfortably in their office and boss everyone around. This in turn leads to a resentment of the professional class, as the presence of managers is seen as a direct threat to their independence. In contrast, they envy the wealthy class that owns the means of production that employs them, as they represent the sense of independence that comes from owning your own business.

According to many class migrants, the main aspiration of many working-class Americans is to achieve the independence of being able to make your own living while also not taking orders from anyone else. With that in mind, the voting patterns of the white working class begin to seem quite logical. After all, who was richer and more in charge of himself in this election than Donald Trump?

Another important factor in understanding the voting patterns of the white working class comes from understanding public perception. While Hillary Clinton was indeed highly qualified for the position of president, the overwhelming majority of white working class voters chose Donald Trump instead. This was largely due to the fact that Clinton was perceived as being arrogant, while Trump was perceived as being a “straight talker.” One of Hillary Clinton’s main downfalls in this election was her inability to connect with broader segments of the population. Working-class voters felt that Clinton’s behavior epitomized what they hated about the professional class. “The dorkiness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorables. Worse, her mere presence rubs it in that even women from her class can treat working-class men with disrespect. Look at how she condescends to Trump as unfit to hold the office of presidency and dismisses his supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic.” Indeed, much of Clinton’s rhetoric during the campaign was extremely dismissive of both Trump and his supporters.

In contrast, Trump was viewed as the antithesis to Clinton by working-class voters. Trump’s bluntness on the campaign trail represented the honored value of “straight talk” to many of his supporters. In other words, a direct form speech in which one is able to bypass political jargon and phoniness in order to get to the heart of the issue at hand. Trump’s main appeal in this election was his ability to be authentic on the campaign trail. Compared to the often dismissive, speeches given by Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump was a breath of fresh air to white working-class voters.

One of the most notable things about Donald Trump on the campaign trail was his ability to embolden his working-class supporters. The concept of male dignity is very important for men in this country, and many men measure their dignity through their ability to be breadwinners. White working class men felt that Trump represented a welcome return to the days in which they had power and control over their own lives. The Great Recession of 2008 had bruised the egos of working class men across the country, as many of them found themselves in a position where they could no longer support their families. These men often grew up being taught that, to be a real man, one must be able to provide for their families. “For many blue-collar men, all they’re asking for is basic human dignity (male varietal). Trump promises to deliver it.”

Many of the behaviors that Clinton was criticized for, were the same behaviors that would have boosted a male candidate’s popularity.

Still, it is important not to demonize the Liberal agenda during this election. One cannot deny that Hillary Clinton was often held to an unfair standard on the campaign trail. Her qualifications were frequently questioned despite her experience, and she suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of Trump and his supporters. Many of the behaviors that Clinton was criticized for, were the same behaviors that would have boosted a male candidate’s popularity. Clinton spent much of the debate cycle being called a “nasty woman”, while Trump was seen as a man’s man.

Admittedly poor choice in font.

This election proved that, while sexism still weighs heavily on the American psyche, classism is perhaps more important. When white working-class women chose Trump over the first female presidential candidate, they did so because of class, not gender.

One of the most influential factors in the election of Donald Trump was often also the most overlooked, as it existed only online. Unlike elections in the past, the Trump campaign seemed to get a rise out of a particular portion of the internet that is considerably removed from the mainstream. One website in particular, known by its users as “4Chan”, had a demonstrable effect on the popularity of the Trump campaign. Much of the posting on 4Chan is done anonymously, with users being able to submit content within seconds. The forums grow popular rapidly, and are quickly replaced by new forums constantly.

4Chan soon became a cultural phenomenon, with its user base growing daily. As 4Chan continued to grow, the engagement of its user base grew as well. The typical 4Chan user is often a young male under the age of thirty, and can be characterized by a set of principles that are ubiquitous on the website. 4Chan users have been described as adolescent males who are “particularly lonely, sex starved man-boys, who according to their own frequent jokes about the subject, lived in their parents’ basement.” Many are also incredibly introverted, intensely nihilistic, and deeply guarded in regards to their insecurities. To compensate for this insecurity, users will often display extreme insensitivity online, with a sense of irony always being present. Many users will post pornographic images, Nazi symbolism, racial slurs, and so on, all while insisting that they are doing so in jest.

4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump

After numerous successful forays into the world of protests and politics, many 4Chan users found themselves drawn towards the Trump campaign. A frequent topic of conversation on 4Chan was the lamentation of supposed “Social Justice Warrior” culture. Referred to as “SJWs”, this group consisted of young liberals who fought aggressively for the elimination of hate speech and discrimination in society. Many 4Chan users viewed this as a direct attack on their freedom of speech, and would often attack these groups online.

The characterization of Trump as a “joke” candidate made him an obvious choice to a website full of people who treat everything, even the most heinous things, as a complete joke.

Soon, this hatred of “politically correct” culture lent itself to the emergence of extremist thinking on the website. As the Trump campaign grew, many 4Chan user began to gravitate towards the messages being presented. This generation of Trump supporters had no recollection of the supposed “great” era that Trump frequently referred to. Instead, they viewed Trump through a nihilistic and ironic lens. The characterization of Trump as a “joke” candidate made him an obvious choice to a website full of people who treat everything, even the most heinous things, as a complete joke.

As the joke candidate continued to get closer to the office of president of the United States, the people who supported him online became even more zealous. Memes in Trump’s image were created to spread his messages in class trolling fashion. These memes were meant to make light of the serious nature of the campaign while being adamantly insensitive as well. One meme in particular was “Pepe the Frog.” This frog, referred to by Hillary Clinton as a symbol of hate speech tolerated by the Trump campaign, was used as a rallying cry by many in the internet community who supported Trump. To many 4Chan users, Pepe the Frog represented a celebration of one’s low status in life. Pepe the Frog soon became the symbol of a certain value system on 4Chan dedicated to reveling in the idea that one would remain deplorable.

Much like the users of 4Chan, Trump often displays the same perpetual insensitivity and trolling that made him so popular on the website. Despite being called a loser by the political left for much of the campaign, Trump remained loudly arrogant and proud of himself. This arrogance was shown even in times when it was apparent that Trump was wrong, as he would often just accuse his opponents of doing the very things he was guilty of himself. The left’s attempts to expose this behavior as proof that Trump was unfit to lead would often have the opposite effect.

For many 4Chan users, Trump’s behavior was the embodiment of what they enjoyed about their favorite website. By supporting Trump, the users of 4Chan acknowledged that they view the world as one big joke, and are willing to vote for the joke candidate just to get a laugh. To them, Trump is a celebration of the idea that politics is meaningless, and that the political promises we’ve been told time and time again have all been a lie. The users of 4Chan do not hold any delusions that Trump will save them, rather they view him as the ultimate punchline to the greatest joke they could ever tell.

Throughout the Trump campaign, branding was everything. Regardless of personal politics, one cannot deny that Trump had memorable and marketable campaign slogans and strategies. Branding in politics is not new, and has often been the deciding factor in whether a candidate wins the presidency. As a politician gets closer to political office, their image increasingly becomes a brand that people attempt to identify with. Typically, the personal brand of politicians is defined by three categories:

1. logos,

2. slogans, and

3. image, voice and reputation

The logos used by politicians often serve to symbolize their overall message. Logos are typically used with patriotic red, white and blue colors, and are made to look appealing to the eye.

Slogans often accompany these logos, and are used as a rally cry at political events. Slogans are often displayed on signs, shirts, and other merchandise as a show of support for the candidate.

Finally, image, voice, and reputation all go together, as they represent what one thinks when they see a certain candidate. Many candidates spend a majority of their time campaigning on crafting a certain palatable image for the American voter to gravitate towards. Candidates will often work towards developing a certain voice, or pattern of speaking, that people can find comforting and likable. Politicians are highly mindful of their reputation, and will try to protect their reputation at all costs.

By relying on expert branding, Trump managed to create a persona of himself that millions of people could identify with. First, much of Trump’s campaigning was focused on a niche demographic. Rather than attempt to persuade all of America to vote for him, Trump’s campaign rhetoric focused on appealing to the white working class voter. Many of the promises that Trump made during his campaign were geared towards the concerns of this segment of the population, thereby increasing his support amongst these voters.

Trump was both extreme in his rhetoric and anti-establishment in his behavior. Trump’s speeches frequently contained expletives, and his tweets were often aggressively charged in nature. These behaviors were polarizing, yet effective, as they made him seem firm and decisive in his views.

Another Trump strategy was to rely on nostalgia and transparency. By using the slogan “Make America Great Again!”, Trump was able to conjure up an idealistic image of an America that has passed us by. The nostalgic slogan forced voters to not only reminisce about the old America, but also fight to get that America back. Trump’s transparency was perhaps the most significant asset to his overall brand on the campaign trail. His brashness and refusal to apologize for his faults further reinforced his image as a political outsider. By remaining unapologetic on the campaign trail, Trump strengthened the personal brand that his supporters loved.

Is it Great Again yet?

Finally, and most importantly, Trump’s branding remained simple on the campaign trail. Slogans such as “Make America Great Again!”, “Build the Wall”, “Drain the Swamp” and “Lock Her Up”, were all catchy and memorable. These slogans painted an obvious picture of what Trump supports as a candidate, and gave voters something to repeat when asked what they like about their favorite candidate.

Trump utilized a similar strategy on the campaign trail, where he showed a fondness for using nicknames to talk about his opponents. Phrases such as “Crooked Hillary”, “Lyin’ Ted”, “Crazy Bernie”, “Goofy Elizabeth Warren”, “Little Marco”, and “Low Energy Jeb”, all help Trump differentiate himself from the competition. By insulting his opponents, Trump was able to delegitimize the competition while simultaneously making himself look like the alpha male onstage.

How Trump Won Using Strategic Branding, and What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Him

When judged from a marketing perspective, Trump made all the right moves when it came to branding. First, he focused on identifying and understanding his target market. Rather than have broad sweeping plans, Trump focused on addressing the needs of a small segment of the population. He understood that specializing your political message was more effective overall. He also kept things uncomplicated, as simple slogans helped paint an effective message of what he represented. Finally, by appealing to the emotions of his supporters, he created an environment in which emotional statements overshadowed actual facts. Trump’s victory on election night was in no small part due to his ability to market himself above the competition, and brand himself as the ultimate winner onstage.

When compared to the Trump campaign, it appears Hillary Clinton fell short when it came to marketing. Although Clinton did have many policies worth noting, she had a remarkably difficult time expressing her views during her campaign. Throughout much of her campaign season, little was done to shift the narrative away from the idea that she was anything more than the “anti-Trump.” The lack of an overarching message for the Clinton campaign was particularly noticeable, especially when compared to the obvious “Make America Great Again!” slogan that her opponent loved.

Study: Hillary Clinton's TV ads were almost entirely policy-free

Despite having a stance on nearly every issue imaginable, many voters struggled to remember a single Clinton policy. Instead, voters were more likely to remember her private email server scandal, or the speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs. “’So much of the campaign is based on defeating Donald Trump rather than talking about Clinton…’There does not appear to be any spear point in the Clinton agenda. It is everything yet nothing.’”

Despite having a stance on nearly every issue imaginable, many voters struggled to remember a single Clinton policy.

When analyzing the rhetoric used by Clinton and her supporters, it seems that much of the dialogue was aimed at discussing how unfit Trump was for the presidency, rather than what Clinton planned to do once she took office. Despite being one of the most widely known candidates in political history, many voters were also unaware of Clinton’s personal background or her accomplishments. Despite having a laundry list of accomplishments, she failed to generate the support necessary to win the presidency.

The strategy of presenting Clinton as the “anti-Trump” was almost omnipresent during the campaign season. Much of the push behind Hillary Clinton for president focused mainly on the fact that Trump would be dangerous in office, and a bad choice for America. Very little was done to either highlight Clinton’s accomplishments, or discuss the political policies she hoped to implement as president.

When compared to other presidential candidates in the last four elections, Clinton’s campaign ads on television featured less policy discussion than every other candidate. Despite spending a total of one billion dollars on the election, and seventy-two million dollars on television ads, Clinton was still unable to present a coherent message to voters. Of all the advertising she featured during her campaign, only 25% of it attacked Donald Trump on policy grounds, with 75% of her attack ads going after Trump’s personality instead.

This stands in direct contrast to past presidential candidates who devoted over 40% of their advertisements towards attacking their opponent’s policy, rather than their personality. When comparing the attack ads aired on behalf of each candidate, “It says about 70 percent of Trump’s ads ‘contained at least some discussion of policy.’ About 90 percent of Clinton’s attack ads went after Trump as an individual — compared with just 10 percent that went after his policies, the studies found.”

The study conducted goes on to claim that Clinton’s strategy backfired mainly because personal attack ads can often have a negative reaction for the candidate presenting them. Rather than swaying voters away from the opponent, it creates an image of negativity that makes the candidate supporting the advertising look unfavorable. While Clinton spent much of her time discussing the problems with Trump, she spent very little time explaining why she would be a better choice. Trump remained negative in his attack ads, but also chose to focus on policy-based contrasts, and emphasized why he would make a better president than Clinton.

While it may seem obvious in hindsight, the Clinton campaign was not aware of the losing strategy they were implementing. Initially, it seemed that Clinton’s personal attacks were having the desired effect. However, as the election season was ending, it became more apparent that Clinton had failed to generate the support needed in the Rust Belt states. Her lack of ground strategy in the Midwest, as well as her oversight of the problems faced by union workers, caused her to lose key states in the election. Although the Clinton campaign attempted to mitigate this oversight during the last week of the election, it was too late.

By focusing all of her resources on attacking Trump’s personality, rather than his ridiculous policies, Clinton created a situation in which many voters did not know what she stood for. A lack of branding, combined with an inability to present a succinct overall campaign message, made Clinton’s loss inevitable.

Going forward, it is important that we understand the ways in which the Democratic party can improve its platform to overcome a Trump presidency in the future. First, progressives need to understand that the working class is in fact the middle class in America, they are not the poor class. The working class made a median income of $64,000 in 2008, and represent the middle 50% of America. The poor class is different, and instead represents only the bottom 30% of all Americans. Democratic policies such as raising the minimum wage, or offering paid sick leave, may seem like they benefit the working class, but they in fact do not. White working class people in America aren’t interested in a higher minimum wage, because they weren’t interested in working minimum wage jobs in the first place. These voters would prefer industrial jobs instead, and will vote for whoever promises it to them.

Similarly, progressives need to understand that a certain resentment exists amongst working class people towards poor people. Due to income restrictions, many working class Americans are not eligible for the same public aid benefits that poor Americans are. While this is done intentionally in order to keep costs and taxes lower, it creates class conflict as a result. This conflict is in turn fueled by the white working class stereotype that poor Americans are lazy freeloaders, while working class people such as themselves are doing all the hard work.

Geography also plays a big role in this conflict. While urban areas have the option of engaging in the financial or service economies, rural areas do not have the same opportunities. This is in turn leads to feelings of despair, with many turning towards drug use to cope. The once booming industrial rural towns of the old America have slowly withered away over time. Trump was unique in that he actually addressed this despair, and was wildly popular with this segment of the country because of it. If the Democratic party hopes to connect with the white working class voter, then they should begin to focus more of their energy on economic issues.

The white working class is not stupid or delusional when it comes to Trump, or other Republicans. They are aware of the fact that the country’s Republican politicians have largely given up on them, but the Democrats are no better. Many of these voters came from key swing states such as Ohio Michigan and Pennsylvania, states that the Democrats need in order to win elections. The Democratic party’s shift towards focusing on cultural issues was done at the expense of their economic platform. While cultural issues are indeed important, one must not forget that many Americans chief concerns are still economic.

One must refrain from painting all blue-collar voters with a broad brush. Dismissing legitimate political and economic gripes by claiming that the working-class voter is racist or ignorant will only further the divide we currently face. Race had played an undeniably negative role in this election, and was often weaponized to yield certain election results. By placing the blame on immigrants and minorities, Trump furthered the divide that working-class people felt between themselves and their urban counterparts. Racism is unacceptable, but the dismissal of working class people as ignorant, bigoted, or unworthy of attention is unacceptable as well.

This election proved that class conflict is still alive and well in the America that we know today. If we do not take efforts to bridge this gap, then soon the election of Donald Trump may be the least of our worries.

In times of distress, people look towards comedians to make us feel better. During an interview segment on Conan O’Brien’s talk show, Conan asked comedian Bill Burr if he felt any sympathy for Hillary Clinton following her loss.

https://medium.com/media/2c097998d3b93fafd090633cf6c88910/href

Burr responded quickly, “I get sick of people making excuses for her, she blew it.” The crowd then pauses for a second, as Burr continues to reiterate his point. He points out accurately that Clinton lost to a candidate who should have been incredibly easy to beat. Or, as he put “you lost to a guy who said three things a week that would torpedo anybody else’s campaign. How do you do that?” Indeed, it is hard to argue with Burr in this case. Clinton was a flawed candidate throughout her entire campaign, and her loss to Donald Trump was inexcusable.

Other comedians have also given their insightful takes on the election as it was unfolding. During another interview segment on the Conan O’Brien show, Conan is interviewing legendary comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Conan asks Dice Clay about his relationship with Trump, and points out that Dice Clay has stated in the past that he was an influence on Trump.

https://medium.com/media/e3b17f0db1d1ddbbbd21f8d6d99eea23/href

Dice Clay then responds with “well, you know what it is? The guy like stole my whole act.” He then proceeds to get up and mimic the braggadocios behavior Trump displays on television. Dice Clay then turns to Conan and reiterates “he’s doing me… and he’s wearing the red tie with the white shirt like he’s Rodney Dangerfield… just taking all my bits.” Conan O’Brien and the rest of the audience laugh as the realization finally sets in. Trump stole Dice’s act, and managed to win the election because of it. Trump proved to not only be a hacky comedian, but a joke thief as well.

The 2016 election proved that our preconceived notions of a standard politician were no longer relevant. Those of us who voted against Donald Trump were quick to point out the bigotry that put Trump in office, while those of us who voted against Hillary Clinton were adamant that elitism pushed us towards this outcome. While some politicians pointed towards issues of economics and gender, others pointed towards bad campaign strategies. While students in liberal cities may say that all Trump supporters are stupid, farmers in rural America can just as easily say that all Hillary (or Bernie) supporters are spoiled.

While there is no perfect answer to the question of how Donald Trump got elected, his behavior seems to be the only constant in this election. The constant mockery of the political field by its greatest clown turned the election into the bizarre and often exhausting ritual that it was. By behaving like a comic doing the late show on a Friday night, Trump managed to subvert the entire political process while the world watched in a mixture of amusement and horror.

Like any good comedian, Trump worked his audience and got them on his side. He was quick to riff, and always had a callback handy. By mocking his way through the campaign trail, he secured the presidency without any real plans in place. He simply talked a big game onstage, like good comedians do. However, Trump was not auditioning for a spot on the Tonight Show. He was running for the highest political office in the entire world. Unfortunately for Trump, the jokes that may have gotten him a couple laughs in a comedy club, do not work on a global stage. The routine that once proved popular enough to earn him the presidency is suddenly not as funny as it once was.

Trump is quickly running out of new material, and his act has gotten stale. All comedians eventually run their course, especially the hacks. If one thing is certain in this election, it’s that Trump may be a comedian, but he’s a hacky comedian. Soon, the club owner will give him the light, and Trump will have to get offstage. Until then, hail to the comedian in chief. He’ll be here all night. Tip your wait staff.

Originally published at ameerayoub.com.




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