Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

By now, the rest of the world must be looking at the United States, baffled that the  Republican Party is most likely going to nominate Donald Trump as its presidential nominee. After his Super Tuesday wins,  Trump has the momentum, and he is ahead in the delegate count. It is possible that Cruz or Rubio could still stop him, but that would be very, very difficult. Part of the reason Trump has had so much success and has secured so many delegates is because SO many Republicans ran for president this year, and so many of them were considered establishment candidates. First, the establishment pumped money into Jeb Bush, and then John Kasich for a brief period, and then most recently, Marco Rubio. Because the votes have been so divided among the anti-Trump, establishment contenders, it has made it impossible for one anti-Trump candidate to emerge. They are all splitting the votes.

However, Trump’s rise goes deeper than that, at serious ills facing the country, exacerbated by the Republican Party’s rhetoric over the last several years. Essentially, in the age of Obama, the GOP has made itself the anti-immigrant, very, very white party. In a time of rising economic inequality, and both political parties’ refusal to do much about it, the GOP has successfully scapegoated another group of people, primarily immigrants, turning white, working-class, Reagan Democrats against them. This idea is nothing new. In fact, African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois talked about this very tactic in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, in which he analyzed the way Southern, one percenters pitted white, Southern, working-class Americans against African Americans in the Jim Crow South.

It is no surprise then that Donald Trump first made national headlines this campaign cycle by referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers” over the summer, while promising to build a wall along the border and have Mexico pay for it. This should have immediately ended his campaign, but it didn’t. The rhetoric only gained him more supporters, and since then, his hateful language continued, as he promised to ban all Muslims from entering the country and said that a Black Lives Matter protestor deserved to be “roughed up.” Meanwhile, in the last week, a Time magazine reporter was choke slammed at one of his rallies, black students were removed from a rally in GA, and on and on. His rhetoric is indeed inciting violence and worsening divisions in this country.

Only VERY recently have GOP leaders seriously started to speak out against Trump. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech denouncing Trump as a fraud and phony. Sen. John McCain said Trump would pose a danger to America’s national security, and House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized Trump’s refusal to distance himself from David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard who endorsed Trump.

Time ran one of the best editorials against Trump I have seen so far, focused on his bigotry. Perhaps the GOP bigwigs are FINALLY speaking out against Trump because his racism has become so old-fashioned and utterly apparent. The editorial states, “It’s easy to condemn Trump and Duke, and to be self-righteous in doing so. It allows us to point to the bad people over there while protecting our illusory innocence. We should have been outraged by Trump from the very beginning. But that would’ve required that we confront the ugliness in ourselves. Americans aren’t too keen on that. We prefer our illusions straight no chaser.”

Does Time magazine have a point there? Why was the David Duke incident what made GOP stalwarts like Joe Scarborough, Paul Ryan, and others finally denounce him? Why did they not do so over Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants or plans to ban Muslims from entering the country? Were those comments what much of the GOP base wanted to hear all along? Do they only condemn Trump now because he is on the verge of being racist in “the old, American way of being racist?”

Trump is  a result of the GOP’s increasing shift to the right over the years, its failure to diversify the party, and its willingness to coalesce around older, white, working-class voters. Yet, it’s important to note that these voters have legitimate gripes, namely that the system is rigged, politicians are bought, and working-class jobs are gone. However, immigrants are not to blame. Bad trade deals, like NAFTA, are to blame for shipping those working-class jobs overseas, and there, both parties are at fault. Citizens United is one of the main factors that created such an influx of corporate money into our political system.

So now, it seems, it will be up to establishment candidate Hillary Clinton to stop Trump. Clinton better think long and hard, however, about the direction of the Democratic Party. It can no longer be complicit in dealing with economic inequalities that deepen the country’s racial divides. Though she has high unfavorables, it is likely Clinton will mobilize the Latino vote and black vote in the fall,  thanks to Trump’s ascension. She will owe them if she wins the White House. A clear, progressive economic plan and a serious immigration reform bill would be a good start.  Trump’s rallies have given us a glimpse of how anyone different would be scapegoated and treated in his America. That indeed is a horrifying thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Brian Fanelli

I'm a poet, teacher, music junkie and much more. My first chapbook of poems, Front Man, was published in 2010 by Big Table Publishing. My full-length book of poems, All That Remains, was published in 2013 by Unbound Content. My latest book, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, was published in the fall of 2016 by NYQ Books. My work has also been published by The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Harpur Palate, Boston Literary Magazine, Kentucky Review, Verse Daily, Spillway, Portland Review, and several other publications. My poetry has also been featured on "The Writer's Almanac" with Garrison Keillor. Currently, I teach English full-time at Lackawanna College.
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