I am terrified of Donald Trump. If he wins the Republican nomination, which he looks likely to do, he will no longer be able to be sidelined as the ‘joke’ candidate, as someone not representative of mainstream views. So what does Trump’s rise tell us about modern American values? How has a country who used to hold themselves up as the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ fallen so ashamedly to their knees, exposing the bigotry, racism, fear, hatred and misery of average Americans?
There is no shortage of analysis of this type being contributed by writers across the globe. Many blame the Republicans for harvesting the hate and fear that Trump is now exploiting, whereas others say Trump has just tapped into the hate and fear that lay dormant, waiting for a voice, through the marginalisation and undermining of poor Americans. I would like to look at two sides to this argument which could roughly be coined the ‘chicken and egg’ question: what came first; do millions of white Americans really hate people who don’t look like them so much that they yearned for a President who would give them permission to say out loud what they’ve always thought, who promises to not-just-figuratively-but-literally build a wall to keep ‘others’ out? Or did Trump put these ideas in the heads of the poor, the repressed, the under-appreciated, the resentful by blaming the ‘others’ for everything that has gone wrong in these peoples’ lives?
Bernie Sanders will always draw his argument back to income inequality because that is his very successful platform, and I applaud him to sticking like glue to his narrative. As he explained to Rachel Maddow, he thinks Trump has tapped into the anger felt by the hollowed out middle class, the anger at feeling completely powerless in the face of growing inequality, where the pie keeps getting greedily consumed by the richest of the rich, leaving nothing but crumbs for everyone else and has diverted this everyone-one-else anger from its real enemy – the system that caused this inequality in the first place. Trump has instead pointed the finger of blame at the easiest of soft targets – non-white Americans. Sanders argues the solution to this problem is to educate the masses about not only the real reason for their simmering anger, which he sees at completely justified, but also to show them that their insecurity is caused by a problem they are powerful enough to solve. But the only way they can solve it is together in a big group hug, rather than behaving like spiteful, divisive haters. This big group hug translates to voting for Bernie Sanders.
I like Sanders’s argument. The Republicans, in fact the right side of politics the world over, have always used fear and loathing as their favourite election-winning tactic. They know scared people don’t think straight. Scared people are easy to manipulate. Scared people are easy to convince to vote against their best interests. Like the screaming person in a horror movie being chased by the knife-wielding-psychopath, who chooses to be cornered by running up the stairs rather than choosing the obvious path to safety – the open front door. Sanders is the one out on the street, through that open door, ready to embrace the scared-out-of-their-wits electorate, to give them a way to solve their problems. Trump is the knife-wielding-psychopath who just so happens to be a member of the richest 1% of the richest 1% who would coincidentally find it very inconvenient if the frightened voters saw past his ‘look over there, it’s a coloured person’ scare-tactic and instead bore their anger down on his entrenched privilege. The fact that many Trump supporters respect Trump for no other reason than because he is rich is head-exploding dark irony at its best.
Then there’s the other argument which is far less sanitary. The other argument is that racism is alive and well in America, and that it’s always been alive and well, and that there is absolutely no surprise that Trump is able to use racism to win votes because the country may have had a black President and the world might have thought this represented a moment where America could no longer be perceived as a racist country, but that we then find we were wrong and that not only do the KKK still exist, but the Republican front-runner nominee refuses to criticise a clan leader through fear that this will lose him votes and that this culture is the real secret to Trump’s success. From this perspective, no matter how many good Americans there are who are absolutely mortified by Trump’s popularity, this popularity reveals undeniably that there is widespread racism in a country who have previously held themselves up as the welcoming home of immigrants looking for a better life; for opportunity, hope and optimism. In this argument, there is no excuse for the bad-behaviour of Trump supporters because there is no excuse for hatred and racism, with a big serving of sexism sprinkled throughout, and pardon my language but they can all go to hell, a place most of them claim to believe in, but also seem not to fear.
I don’t think there is a simple chicken and egg solution to this debate, and rather, as is often the case in politics the problem is caused by ‘a little from column A and a little from column B’. All I know is that whatever the underlying reasons for Trump’s rise, the world is watching on hoping and urging America will wake up to their better angels before it’s too late.