The Consumer behind the Rise of Trump

In the days after the unexpected election of Donald Trump as president of the US, numerous explanations were published on what caused it. I think one of the most plausible explanations is that he rigorously designed the angry voter in the 13 months pre-facing the election. This is the big populist threat. They are incredibly disciplined in repeating a particular frame to look at reality. Trump’s frame was simple, engaging, seductive and easy to remember: America is losing, the system is rigged, politicians don’t care about you anymore and we’re being threatened by the Islam and the Mexicans. This is the essence of every populist strategy in the world: Fuel the threat of an external enemy (Muslims are currently in fashion) and argue that the “elite” refuses to acknowledge there’s a problem.

In the brilliant BBC-Documentary “the Century of the Self”, Adam Curtis argues that in the second half of the twentieth century politicians and corporations carefully created the “consuming individual” in order to stimulate the economy and to protect society from the dark forces that live just beneath the surface of the masses and that could easily be activated. Consuming individuals desire and buy stuff that expresses their individuality. And consuming individuals can easily be kept docile. Politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair invested heavily in market research to discover what those desires were. And in turn used those consumer insights successfully in their campaigns. A few years later it turned out that the gap between their promises and their inability to realise those promises was impossible to bridge, And consumers respond exactly how they were told to: as disappointed consumers. The election of Donald Trump was just the logical next step of this process. It was only a matter of time before an anti-politician would appear that would successfully tap into the frustrations of this ever-more demanding consumer. What Trump did was to turn this frustration into hate and anger towards politicians that simply didn’t meet up to what today’s consumers expect from them. We’re the most spoiled and demanding generation in history. We don’t accept step-by-step improvement of our daily life anymore. We demand solutions here and now. I’m afraid the worst is yet to come.


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