trump

Ever since Trump announced his candidacy, countless publications have come out with articles claiming we (or at least the GOP) deserve or created him:

That’s a light sampling.

The majority of the writers conclude that Donald Trump was a natural product of the vitriolic atmosphere the GOP and its media acolytes have been pushing for years, one that saw compromise as weakness, non-whites as monsters, intellectualism as Marxism, government as public enemy number one, and progressivism as conspiracy to undermine white America. They insist that Trump’s draw relies solely on his bombastic statements (and implications) that Mexicans are rapists, that Muslims are potential terrorists, and political correctness the root of all evil. Donald Trump, they argue, says in plain language what establishment Republicans only hint and nudge at. When they step too far, they back down and apologize or insist their words are being misconstrued by the omnipotent liberal media. Trump, however, never backs down from a statement no matter how outrageous. Polls show that many Trump supporters admire him because he ‘speaks his mind,’ unlike a lot of the people in Washington.

There’s a lot of truth to these claims. It’s true that the GOP pushes racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism and is echoed (and egged on) by conservative media like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. It’s true that the GOP botched its attempt to harness the anger of the Tea Party by co-opting the movement without much intention of addressing the grievances they aired. It’s true that Trump says explicitly what no establishment candidate would ever dream of. But here’s the thing: if we imagine Trump had never run, I don’t think such radical rhetoric would have propelled any of the current (or past) candidates, even if they adopted the loud, brash, and no-apologies attitude Trump embodies. Chris Christie’s tough-guy persona was undermined by Trump since Trump was even tougher, but I doubt Christie’s campaign could have been salvaged by ridiculous statements. Same with Rubio, or Bush, or even the diabolical Cruz. They could say stupid stuff, or crazy stuff, but none of them would have been aided by the outlandish statements Trump regularly gets away with.

And there’s a reason for that. A big part is that, yes, Trump is an entertaining television personality widely known in American culture as being an outspoken tool and seen by many as a successful businessman. That helps, and it helps a lot. But there’s more.

While it’s easy to dismiss the average American voter as uninformed, that’s too easy a dismissal of a large part of what’s happening in this election cycle. Americans know that real wages are stagnant, that corporate profits are soaring, that the job market is shifting faster than they can adjust. They know that a large reason not much gets done in congress is because so many politicians take money from millionaire and billionaire donors who expect favors in return. The extent to which any of this is true is debatable (unemployment, for example, is at an impressive 5%), but it’s not a complete fantasy. Recall that one of the major reasons the Tea Party sprung into existence was its opposition to the bank bailouts—agree or disagree with their stance, you can at least understand the premise of their argument: why should taxpayers give money to banks that completely failed and give them more power than they had before?

In the eyes of voters, Trump is not part of the bought and paid for political community. To them, he is outside of it, immune to it because of the billions (they think) he made himself. It doesn’t matter that he was a Democrat for a while and gave money to Hillary Clinton. What matters is that he’s not Jeb Bush collecting millions from donors they don’t know much about, parading as if he’s an everyday guy when he clearly isn’t. Neither is Trump, but again, it doesn’t matter. He’s not integrated into the system many right-wing voters have come to despise for reasons that are not entirely ridiculous.

An undercurrent exists in America that is not reacting impulsively to the ‘America is broken’ talking point—they wouldn’t rally around it if they didn’t really feel it in their bones. Right wing media and congresspeople have done their fair share to sell nonexistent threats, but there’s always a grain of truth beneath the pile of lies. It’s the only way people will buy it. Are atheists raging a war on Christmas? No, but Christmas gets more and more commercialized, and the country becomes incrementally less Christian and more religiously diverse, so if it’s something important to you, it might feel like there’s a ‘war’ on, even if the cause they’re pitching you is nonsense. Same deal with how Limbaugh and Hannity and O’Reilly and Beck told the right the reason they lost their house in ’08 and ’09 was because of liberals and Obama—real problem, terrible answer.

And so Trump is the terrible answer to real problems. Sure, he’s tapped into the bigot market big time and delivered exactly what they wanted, but there are a lot of people who think the collusion of moneyed interests and our highest offices is crippling our country, and that it’s a lot more important than being ‘politically correct,’ so even if they find the racist rhetoric abhorrent or even slightly unpleasant, they don’t care. They feel bigger problems pulsing through their neighborhood. And unless lawmakers can at least make it appear like they’re doing something about the problems these people profess to have, the attitude of Trumpites that the government is essentially a foreign entity betraying them every day is not going to dissipate. It may not be as strong after Trump (hopefully) disappears from the limelight, but it’ll be there bubbling under the surface, as it had been before his arrival.

Trump is not a legitimate candidate. He’s not a smart choice or an informed choice or a rational choice. He’s at best a clever actor exploiting the fears of common people and at worst a lying megalomaniac bent on destroying the world. But as much as I hate to say it, I understand why people go for it. I’d never encourage it, and I’d beg anyone considering it to do a 180 and walk away, but I understand it.

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