Trump and the Failure of Academic Analysis

In his introduction to the Section, Management in an Age of Crisis in the just-released Palgrave Handbook of Management History, the Tacitus Forum’s Anthony Gould observes how,

The story of the 45th U.S President’s political ascendancy embodies the paradox of the last 50 years. Experts have let down the public… they have often been wrong … Wallowing in the intellectual debris of post-industrialism, more experts used more theory and logic to misread who was to be the President of the United States in 2016 … the decimated middle-class and those worse-off … were fed-up with the experts, and not without justification. A new and dystopic era had emerged. It was post-neoliberalism – post-industrialism

Anthony M. Gould

            Once more – as with the 2016 US election – the failure of polls and mainstream analysis has been laid bare. Despite predictions of a Democratic landslide, Biden’s margin in the key battleground states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada – is less than the vote won by the conservative Libertarian candidate. In other words, more people voted for Trump or the Libertarian Party than voted for Biden and the Democrats. In the House of Representatives the Democrats lost seats. Pending the outcome of run-off elections in Georgia the Democrats remain several seats short of a Senate majority. More broadly, Trump and the Republican Party have begun to prise the all-important Hispanic vote away from its long-term allegiance to the Democrats. Overall, a third of Hispanics voted for Trump in 2020, a far higher percentage than was obtained by the Republicans in 2008 and 2012. In the Hispanic-dominated Rio Grande Valley the Hispanic support for Trump was in the 41% to 52% range. In Florida, 45% of Hispanics voted for Trump. Even among African-Americans support for Trump doubled between 2016 and 2020, albeit to a still low 12%.

            Why is it that Western pollsters and academics continue to be blind-sided by political and social trends: be it Brexit, the support for the Conservative Party in northern England, or the continuing mass appeal of Trumpism?

            In large part this failure is attributable to the tendency to prioritize political and social activism over reason and the cold-eyed scrutiny of evidence. As the Tacitus Forum’s Bradley Bowden noted in his recent article, The Historic (Wrong) Turn in Management and Organizational Studies, among critical theorists we also witness a belief that a postmodernist / anti-realist perspective is a precondition for the enactment of “a leftist ideology”. Attractive as this is for many, this approach to scholarship constantly causes one to confuse what one wishes to occur with what is actually transpiring. From this Manichean perspective there is also a tendency to divide the world into two categories, those who fall into the progressive camp and those whom Hillary Clinton described as the “deplorables”.

            What does a cold-eyed use of reason – the guiding principle for the Tacitus Forum – allow us to conclude from an analysis of Trumpism and US politics? First and foremost we can detect a fundamental realignment of politics in ways akin to the transformation that occurred in the mid-to-late 1960s. Whereas prior to the 1960s the Democratic Party represented an uneasy coalition to Southern segregationists and Northern Catholics and organized labor, after the 1960s it was the Democratic Party that proved most attractive to both racial minorities and the growing number of university-educated professionals. Achieving an historic high-point under the Obama presidency, this coalition emphasized matters relating to racial and gender diversity and climate change over more prosaic issues relating to jobs, economic growth and private-sector viability.

            Even the most cursory scrutiny of the US election results indicate a profoundly different alignment of forces to that which underpinned the Obama victories of 2008 and 2012. In the large metropolitan centers oriented towards finance, education, IT and the public-sector (New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco) and / or those with large African / American populations (Detroit, Atlanta) the Republican voter is an endangered species. Also firmly in the Democratic Party camp are the university-educated and broad swathes of big business, most notably Big Tech. The enthusiasm of big business for the Democratic Party is indicated by the scale of business donations during the election campaign, an outcome that allowed the Democrats to far outspend their Republican rivals. Behind the Republican Party, however, we can in addition to the remnants of its historic constituency – church-goers, farmers, small businesspeople – the enthusiastic mass support of the old regional working class that had voted Democratic for generations: the steelworkers of Gary, Indiana, the coal mines of West Virginia and the chemical workers of Ohio. Also rallying behind the Republican Party are large swatches of the Hispanic population for whom work, family and faith are the decisive touchstones. We can thus conclude that Trumpism is not a passing phenomenon. Indeed, it is a much a symbol of a new pattern of social and political alignment as a cause.

            At the Tacitus Forum we are intent on applying reason – rather than wish and ideology – to the problems of our time. Accordingly, in addition to providing a forum for transformative academic research, we will also continue to provide reasoned analysis on the key issues of our time. 

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