What We Do

The Crisis of the West, Part I: Why Trump?

Over the last decade we have seen the rise of rightwing populist movements and parties across most Western nations. Next to Brexit, the most striking symptom of this trend was the election of Donald Trump in 2016, which came to many people in the United States and around the world as a shock. How was it possible that such an unlikely candidate could win the election against a seasoned politician like Hillary Clinton? In short, why Trump?

The initial and “easy” answer to this question is that many American voters were simply frustrated with the current state of political and economic affairs. The harder question is, why were they frustrated? What exactly are the underlying sources of frustration that explain why people turn to someone like Trump?

Few, if any, of the major polls and surveys, experts and political pundits had predicted the election of Trump. So, they clearly seemed to have missed something. The independent scholar Tim Luecke and the photographer Sonja Niemeier therefore decided to take a different approach to answers these questions and to just ask the American voters themselves. In 2018 they undertook a two-months road trip from the East coast to the West coast in order to interview Americans from all walks of life as to why they believed Trump got elected. They talked to artists in New York City, farmers in Nebraska, Uber drivers in Los Angeles, but also to political scientists, such as Henry Nau in Washington D.C., or the philosopher Martha Nussbaum in Chicago.

Over the course of their trip, they interviewed more than 40 Americans and Sonja took over 50,000 photographs. They conducted additional interviews in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The 50 interviews and accompanying photos from their interview partners and their journey will be published in a book that will be released by 2021. What makes this book unique is that the interviews, while shortened, will be published verbatim. Instead of paraphrasing the interview partners’ comments, the goal is to give them a voice of their own and let the readers make up their own mind. This way the book seeks to re-start an actual conversation between Americans and serves as an important corrective to the polarized nature of American society.

The book “Why Trump?” will therefore not only provide some new and sometimes unexpected answers to the current crisis of the West, it will not only provide a beautiful portrait of America and its people, but it will also provide a first step to overcome the divisions that corrode one of the greatest democracies in the world.

For more information on the project, see: www.why-trump.com