Why Trump could be a popular president

… To understand why Trump’s Carrier stunt succeeded, it’s worth turning to a 1964 political science classic, Murray Edelman’s The Symbolic Uses of Politics. The takeaway lesson is that in politics, clear symbolic actions are often more important than results (which are often ambiguous or unclear). As long as Trump defines his presidency through symbolic actions (like the Carrier deal), he could be very popular.

Edelman’s foundational point is that most people don’t pay close attention to the details of policy, and the news media does a poor job of covering the details (in large part because most people don’t care about the details). As a result, Edelman writes, “Politics is for most of us a passing parade of abstract symbols.” Knowing this, skillful presidents and other leaders can deceive mass publics through the careful use of symbols. …

Most people want a decisive, energetic force of action who appears to be on their side. They want somebody who can convey a supreme take-charge confidence.

But here’s the kicker, and the insight that should ring alarm bells: It doesn’t matter whether problems are actually being solved. Most people can’t tell the difference, especially if the symbols tell them otherwise. It’s the appearance of forceful problem solving that matters. CONT.

Lee Drutman, Polyarchy