Trump has built a new political bundle: a coalition of feelings

I recently wrote about how, across categories, the cycle of product bundling and unbundling is being replaced by an unbundling of organisations, with new service layers being created to help us navigate this new world.

In that piece I wrote that Donald Trump has unbundled the traditional Republican Party ‘bundle’:

You can see the same pattern in politics, with the bundle of the Republican Party combining policies that united fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, evangelical Christians and white nationalists. Although obviously that’s being unbundled right now by Trump who isn’t religious, has no morals, and has dubious financial credentials — but is racist.

But of course while that might be true, it doesn’t account for his popularity. It’s clearly not just white nationalists supporting him. And he’s sure as hell not using new service layers to embrace a new form of delegative democracy.

What he is doing is building a new coalition. A new bundle. But not one defined by traditional policy positions (which is what confounds a lot of the traditional commentariat). Instead he’s built a coalition of feelings — some of which are contradictory.

The traditional Republican policy-led bundle used to be something like:

  • Low taxes and small government, for fiscal conservatives
  • Pro-life and anti gay marriage, for social conservatives
  • Pro school prayer, for evangelical Christians
  • Anti flag burning, for white nationalists

Trump’s feelings-led bundle is something like:

  • “Let’s go back to how things used to be (make America great again)”, for people who are worried about change
  • “We need radical change”, for people who are worried about the status quo
  • “Let’s take back control”, for people angry at the political class, and conspiracy theorists
  • “Watch out for immigrants or ‘other communities'”, for white supremacists
  • A general sense of disruption and challenge, for contrarians

What’s amazing is how little policies matter. Trump’s been all over the place on the traditional Republican policy positions, but that inconsistency is, ahem, trumped by the emotional appeal of his apparent empathy with people’s feelings. What else is amazing is his ability to somehow reconcile apparently contradictory feelings e.g. ‘fear of change’ and ‘desire for change’.

(This same new coalition of feelings seems to hold true in the UK, with the Leave camp being an alliance of people who want either less or more change.)

It’s entirely possible of course that Trump didn’t build this amazing new coalition skillfully or even intuitively so much as was in the right place at the right time.

It doesn’t matter whether people feel the answer is more change or less change. What unites them is that they really don’t want the current amount and direction of change. The neoliberal hegemony of the last 30 years. And they’ll vote for anyone who offers ‘not that', no matter how nasty or incompetent they seem.

Of course the key question is once we no longer have that kind of change, what new kind of change will fill the vacuum? And how unscrupulous will the vacuum fillers be in exploiting their ‘mandate' to further their own ends?

Written by

Leading a customer-led transformation at a PE-backed #SMEtech. Previously CSO at Albion, a business innovation consultancy.

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