Since the inception of this blog, it has been my intention to keep my online writings apolitical if at all possible. I do not wish for this to become a political blog, however the ongoing US presidential primaries are difficult to ignore, so I’m going to break with my normal policy. Hopefully posts like this one will be a rarity. In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I am an independent voter, registered with neither the Republican nor Democratic Party.
There are so many things that could be said about this year’s presidential primaries for both the Republican and Democratic parties, but for this post I just want to address a single facet, namely the ascendancy of Donald Trump. Out of everything that has been happening in the presidential primaries, nothing else has captured the attention of so many Americans, myself included, as this one aspect. I distinctly remember being asked last year while I was in Europe what was going on with Donald Trump’s candidacy. The Europeans didn’t know too much about Trump or American politics, and I confidently told anyone who asked that there was no way Trump would get the Republican nomination. At the time it seemed preposterous that a man like him would gain enough support to be a legitimate contender. Well, fast-forward to the present and see how wrong I was. At the moment Trump is the front-runner, and nothing that happens seems to dent his popularity. He has been described as an insurgent candidate – breaking ranks from the usual messaging of the Republican Party and peddling a form of populism that has been resonating with enough Republican voters to give him a sizable lead over his opponents. The other Republican candidates, and much of the Republican establishment, have been desperately trying to derail his campaign, but to little avail. Barring a large, sudden reversal, or a brokered convention, he is likely on his way to winning the Republican nomination.
Personally, I find Donald Trump to be a rather vulgar individual. The insults, the racist remarks, and other demeaning comments are among the many things that turn me off to him. He is a man completely lacking in integrity, even more so than the average politician, and has shown himself to be unrepentant in his disgusting behavior. Such a man is unfit to lead this country, let alone be a candidate for the job. Added to Trump’s myriad character failures are his absurdly implausible policy proposals, like forcing Mexico to pay for a wall along the US-Mexico border. Granted, all presidential candidates make promises that they can’t keep, but some of the things Trump proposes are borderline insanity. Donald Trump may be an insurgent candidate, but be perfectly blunt, and this is coming from someone who, like many others, holds a dim view of modern American politics, he is even worse than the political establishment he is supposedly rebelling against.
Donald Trump’s political success befuddled me for a long time, and still does to some extent. None of my conservative friends that I talked to support him, so to gain insight into his popularity I had to turn to the Internet. Predictably, this proved to be a minefield of people positing simplistic explanations of ignorance, racism, and/or hatred as the primary drivers of Donald Trump’s support. While I don’t doubt their are people who fall into one or more of those categories among his voters, and Trump himself has certainly said many deplorable things, I’m not so naive to think his popularity solely comes from groups like the KKK, and I’ve known way too many Republicans during my life to believe the popular myth that the party is overrun with hate-filled idiots. It took some time, but with some searching I eventually came across a few journalists, political scientists, and others who have actually done the hard work of investigating Trump’s popularity. Probably the best article I’ve read so far is an opinion piece from The Guardian, a British newspaper of all places, written by Thomas Frank. The article (found here) brings up a very important point which I, and I suspect many others, had not considered, namely how much focus Trump has put on trade and its effects on the American working class. Free trade has unevenly effected American society – enriching some but taking jobs from others, and those on the losing end of free trade policies are flocking to Trump’s tough talk about righting the wrongs they’ve experienced. Yes, they are mostly white, and a few of them probably are racist, but their economic concerns are real and they feel like no one represents them. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have progressively expanded the trade deals that have been to their detriment, so we shouldn’t be surprised when someone like Trump comes along, peddling grandiose pledges to take a hard line on trade, that these people would give him their vote, despite all the other nastiness that comes with Trump.
That brings me to the one somewhat positive thing I have to say about Trump, which is that for all his flaws I must concede that he is a master of campaigning and public relations. He knows how to tell people what they want to hear and has also somehow figured out a way to be almost completely impervious to his own gaffes and the attacks of other Republicans. One of the other things I came across while researching Trump’s popularity was a video examining his debating methods and how he is able to effectively shut down opponents, even when they are making valid critiques. No doubt his years in business and entertainment have given him a lot of experience in the various aspects needed for his campaign, including how to control a conversation. He is the proverbial smartest man in the room – the one who understands what is going on and is a step ahead of everyone else.
The candidacy and current success of Donald Trump does not bode well for the Republican Party establishment, or America in general. There are a number of people out there who believe that what we’re witnessing is a full-scale implosion of the Republican Party, and while I wouldn’t go quite that far, I would agree that with Trump’s ascendancy what we are seeing is the end of the Republican Party as we once knew it. I can only imagine that Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan must all be spinning in their graves at the sight of what has happened to their party.
That’s my Trump rant. I could do more writing on the other candidates, Republican and Democrat alike, or on the election in general, but like I said, I don’t want to make this a political blog. Donald Trump’s candidacy, however, looms so large on the current political scene that I felt compelled to say something about it. I’ll continue to watch how the presidential primaries and presidential election develop, and depending on what happens over the next several months I may again feel the need to write another post.