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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Roberto Alejandro

Second Advisor

Jesse Rhodes

Third Advisor

Joyce Peseroff

Subject Categories

American Politics | Communication | Economics | Economic Theory | Political Economy | Political Science | Political Theory | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Influence and Political Communication


The 2016 Presidential Election of Donald Trump was unexpected by most mainstream media, political, and academic analysts. In this dissertation, I use a combination of historical analysis of economic data, polling statistics, and discourse analysis to understand Donald Trump’s rise in its historical and political context. I argue that the election of Donald Trump did not indicate a dramatic sea change in political culture, but a continuation of a decades-long process. The path to Trump’s election was laid out in structural changes in our economic, political, and cultural landscape. I argue that the coalescence of right-wing factions that brought Trump into power was significantly an effect of conservative media, enabled in large part by the increased corporate consolidation and deregulation that began in the 1980s and intensified in the 1990s. In terms of structural changes, I argue that the effort to roll back New Deal legislation that was ongoing in the latter half of the twentieth century, and accelerated with the anti-government rhetoric and supply side economic policies of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and continued under Bill Clinton along with Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, contributed to an economic and political structure that favored the interests of the financial elite over the majority of Americans contributing to widespread disapproval of government institutions and actors. The main historic events over the past twenty years that contributed to this political moment were; the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the greatest economic crash since the Great Depression, and the election of President Barack Obama. Finally, for a large portion of voters, these historic events and socioeconomic changes were framed and presented through scapegoating narratives provided by a large and influential right-wing media establishment.