Sociology is the study of society, so naturally it crosses over into politics when it comes to the political issues that affect different social groups. The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 posed challenges for college professors of sociology, since his appeal was based on a niche form of populism, to some degree. But at the same time, his appeal cannot be misconstrued as a reflection of mainstream society, especially since he did not win the popular vote.
One of the factors leading to Trump's rise to the White House that is most commonly overlooked by mainstream media pundits is the fact that Trump is a product of the media. While the United States has elected candidates who came from media backgrounds in the past, such as Ronald Reagan, Trump is different in that he never held a political office before the presidency. The fact that he starred on a nationally televised game show called The Apprentice makes him an outlier in American political history.
Pop culture analysts and sociologists will likely debate for years over the factors that led to Trump's electoral victory, but having his own TV show (about himself) clearly built his name recognition for millions of viewers. The show convinced many of his followers that he was a successful businessman, although his organizations related to the Trump brand logged six bankruptcy filings from 1992 through 2009, as reported by The Washington Post. He also had to pay a $25 million fraud settlement for misleading students about his real estate courses at Trump University.
Trump posses several challenges to sociology educators, including making it more difficult to objectively discuss issues such as immigration, racism, sexism, and income inequality in a classroom setting. Trump's most devoted followers do not recognize him as stirring up emotions for any of these controversial topics, while his opponents do. His detractors are also outraged about his accusations of election fraud and his surrounding himself with people who do not embrace solutions for climate change.
As a TV personality, Trump attracted a broad audience due to featuring mainstream celebrities on his show. Entrepreneurs also paid attention to learn about his approach to management. His famous line, "you're fired," became a major theme in the show, emphasizing how people fail to climb the management ladder. There was still uncertainty at that point as to what his political views were, since he praised and criticized both major political parties.
However, once Trump began to run for presidential office, his most loyal following became elderly white evangelical males who were angry about the loss of manufacturing jobs in America. His "Make America Great Again" slogan resonated with this group, as well as other sectors of society that felt they had been left behind. He promised to bring back jobs and to focus on "America first."
Trump's tax cuts were felt by all socioeconomic classes, but his positions generally favor the upper class. Major media outlets have focused on his personality flaws, such as posting a constant stream of tweets on Twitter that contain inaccurate information. Meanwhile, Trump has consistently attacked mainstream media as delivering "fake news." His personality showcases bravado and personal insults hurled at his opponents, like he is an exaggerated character who ad libs in a movie.
While Trump the TV actor was much more serious and businesslike, Trump the president seems to be more of a humorous entertainer to his fans. Meanwhile, his opponents do not see much humor in his policies of threatening to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, banning illegal immigrants, ignoring climate change, and starting trade wars with other countries.
These issues run deep in twenty-first-century America, as the culture became clearly divided over Trump during the election and after he was sworn in. When he says "Make America Great Again," it's unclear which era he is proposing we return to, but it may possibly be the 1920s, when white males dominated social structure, immigration laws were very strict, and laissez faire economics was celebrated by the business community.
But that era was prior to the age of TV and internet, two forms of media Trump relies on heavily to connect with his constituency, so his vision mixes eras. Perhaps Trumpism can be explained as extreme nationalism with more emphasis on the Second than on the First Amendment.