The Center for American Studies recently welcomed Mattia Ferraresi to introduce his new book, La Febbre Di Trump. He is the US Correspondent for Il Foglio.
While political unrest continues in the United States, we had an interview with Mattia to grasp a new perspective and understanding of Trump’s presidency.
Q: Trump has publically changed his stance on critical issues over the past ten years, how do you think he was able to recover from that and gain trust from the American people?
A: There are several issues that factor into the equation. One of the main components that I mention in my book is the fact that Trump has been known and familiar to the American households for nearly forty years. There was a poll released when he first hinted at his intention to run for presidency which showed that Trump was recognized by nearly 97% of Americans. I’m pretty sure that this is unprecedented in terms of brand awareness. It is incomparable to any other president. But like I said, this is not the only factor.
Q: In your book, you mention that the United States is not only going through an economic crisis but a social one as well. Can you expand on that?
A: I’m firmly convinced that there is a social or existential crisis occurring, in the sense that it cannot be reduced to only economic factors. While the economy is a big part of it, it is not everything. I typically use the opioid crisis in the Midwest as an example. It’s a very big health crisis. You find a significant amount of the population suffering. But this is not the bottom line, it speaks to a bigger problem of identity. It’s becoming harder to answer the question “Who are we?”. There are isolated communities that, for generations, have aligned with certain values and standards. These values may not be there anymore, or the society is more fragmented. So these people not only struggle with getting by to the end of the month, but also with their identity. I am not suggesting that Trump is answering that, but convinced he understood that the question was out there
Q: How you think Trump was able to resonate with the common middle class?
A: I think there is a tradition in the United States of the wealthy man representing the common man. I am not drawing comparisons between the personalities here, but it is not new for a wealthy family to be a sort of hero for the working class. The Roosevelt family would be a perfect example in that sense. The distinction I make is this; there is a type of wealth that comes out of a main stream job or anything that relates to the traditional way of making money in America, which I think is perceived still as good and virtuous. So in a way, I think American history has plenty of people who could relate to the working class or the lower income class because they were wealthy and thus embodied the American dream. The Trump family made money with buildings and publicity/entertainment, which are really quite essential to American business. Trump always makes a point to mention that he is not connected to Wall Street, to emphasize that he is not that type of rich. He had attained wealth the traditional way, especially his father and grandfather. They were smart and hardworking people that made money the way Americans do.
Q: Why do you think it is important to look past the high level of criticism that Trump receives?
A: The public perception of Trump is clearly shaped by the media, which is part of an establishment that Trump is going against. While he was already engrained in this social dynamic of this establishment, he did not exactly reflect the traditional candidate of his political party. Historically, the candidacy and political process was in the hands of the party. People are used to the traditional perceptions of the Democratic and Republican parties. When a figure comes in and changes that, the reaction is quite hysterical. It can be compared to mouse coming into the house. Everyone screams, yet when you rationalize the situation, you realize it is only a mouse. I think we are still in the initial reaction, which is understandable because it is something new in a system that we thought was perfect or definitive. But now I think it is important to move on because this is the greatest power in the world and 63 million people voted for him. There is a point where the legitimate outrage, an outcome that is not favored in politics, becomes insular. People have a profound and deep right to be extremely critical of the president, yet they are now doing so by implicitly suggesting that 63 million people, in the most powerful democracy in the world, don’t make any sense. As in, they don’t have reason, or have in some way been tricked or brainwashed. So it’s a big responsibility that you take after the election to take that tone of only resisting and attacking.
Q: Trump is one of the first presidents to be so active on social media. Do you think his methods of communication, such as his tweets, are effective? How do you perceive the ongoing issue of “fake news”?
A: I definitely think it is effective, but I don’t think that’s a good thing. There are many people in the United States that don’t rely on the mainstream media. Not only that, but they are also very skeptical of it. It has been like this for decades before Trump. When he skips this media filter and directly connects with the people, he is playing in a dynamic that was already there. He had the capability to understand it and make it more effective. Whoever consumes this sort of media has already established distrust with the mainstream media. This has become a symbol for everything that is wrong. The way they attain news becomes insular because the internet has a way of connecting sources to people who think alike. Trump was able to exploit this and use it as an electoral tool. Obama was also quite savvy with his resources, yet he utilized them in a different environment. When Trump calls out CNN, for example, as being fake news, he is not talking to people who watch CNN. He is only reinforcing the opinion of those who don’t watch it and already have distrust for it. It is easy for someone to make a connection to people by telling them what they already think. They see how the president is validating their beliefs, which I do not think is good thing, yet it is very effective.
By: Natalia Hornik