What makes Donald Trump and his supporters tick? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 31, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 31, 2015


What makes Donald Trump and his supporters tick?

Ron Reagan, the youngest son of President Ronald Reagan, is so far Left that he is not a Republican; he is not even a Democrat. He said something revealing recently on MSNBC, “If the people knew what the Republican Party really stood for, nobody would vote for them.” According to Ronald Reagan, that is why Republican politicians communicated with their base through dog whistles and subliminal messages.

The problem for the Republican establishment now is that Donald Trump is shouting at the top of his voice publicly, what they used to whisper privately. Trump's xenophobic, misogynistic, racist and fascist utterances resonate perfectly with his base. The more outrageous his pronouncements, the higher are his poll numbers.  

The Trump phenomenon is rooted in Trump's history. Donald Trump's German immigrant father, Fred Trump, was a real estate developer in New York. According to his sister, Donald Trump was a “brat.”  He was so difficult that his father shipped him off to a military school where he stayed until graduation. After two years at Fordham University, Trump transferred to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School to study real estate development. Trump joined his father's firm in 1968, and took over the reins after his death in 1999.

“Ruthless,” and “without scruples” are words his business associates use to describe Trump.  No one should be surprised that Trump has brought the same malevolence to his politics.  

Trump responded to tough questioning by Fox News' Megan Kelly in the second Republican debate by suggesting that she was menstruating.  He described Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's face as "ugly." He made vulgar jokes about Hillary Clinton's bathroom break during the last Democratic presidential debate, and used a dirty Yiddish word for a male organ to describe Hillary's defeat at the hands of Obama in 2008.

Calling most of the 11 million illegal Mexican immigrants rapists, drug dealers and criminals, Trump advocated their deportation. “Black Lives Matter” protestors are regularly beaten up at Trump rallies. Although the media has found no evidence to corroborate his claim that “thousands and thousands of Muslims” cheered the collapse of the twin tower on 9/11, he continues to peddle the lie. He believes in collective punishment for Muslim Americans for acts of terror committed by Muslim terrorists, and wants to ban all Muslims from entering the US.  

Trump is not only against allowing Syrian refugees in, he promised to deport those already here. If Trump were in power in the 1950s, we would not have Apple computers, iPads or iPhones, because Steve Jobs' birth father was a Syrian Muslim, who fled persecution in Syria (“Jobs” is Steve's adoptive father's name). 

Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2011 by siring the “Birther” movement. 66 percent of Trump supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim while 61 percent believe that he was born in Kenya, thus claiming that this makes his presidency illegitimate. Donald Trump embodies white identity politics and is a hero for the KKK and other white supremacists.

Before Trump, there was a consensus among political pundits that to be acceptable to the public, an idea had to be within the “Overton window.” Joseph Overton theorised that “an idea's political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within the window, rather than on politicians' preferences.” Trump gives lie to the “Overton window” and thrives outside it.

Trump's supporters are angry, middle-aged whites who have lost the narrative of their lives. Life has changed dramatically for them since the 1970s. Even with a high school diploma, they could get well-paying jobs at steel mills and factories, and raise families back then.  Now the steel mills are in China and the factories are in countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. The new generations are worse off than their parents. 

With the loss of income came the loss of self respect. Their life's expectations have fallen apart. Because of the browning of America, demographically, they are becoming less dominant. The percentage of whites in America has dwindled from 80 percent in 1980 to under 70 percent now, whereas the Latino population has skyrocketed from 5 percent to close to 15 percent. A black family in the White House represents a change they loath.  With a black man in the White House, they feel unsafe.

A large segment of working class whites, aged 40 to 50, are dying at an alarming rate from substance abuse (oxycodone, heroine and alcohol), accidental overdose of medication, and suicides.  (This trend does not impact Latinos, blacks or other minorities.) For generations, they have been loyally voting for the establishment Republican Party, but received nothing in return. They do not want nuance; they want simple solutions. Donald Trump's rightwing populism offers them plenty of that. Trump offers them a moment of catharsis.

Americans vote for hope, not fear. Barack Obama's campaign was based on hope. Bill Clinton launched his campaign in 1992 from Hope, Arkansas, his hometown. Donald Trump's fear mongering may not work in the long term.

The instinct of the Trump supporters is right – they are losing the demographic war.  Latinos, blacks and other non-white minorities now constitute 33 percent of America's electorate. Trump has offended them all. If 85 percent of them vote against Trump, assuming he is the Republican nominee, that will give the presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, 28 percent of her total vote. Barack Obama won 40 percent of the white votes in 2012. If Hillary Clinton wins the same (she will certainly win more) support from the whites who constitutes 67 percent of the population, Hillary will receive another 27 percent of her votes from them, making a total of approximately 55 percent - far exceeding Obama's showing in 2008 and 2012.

If, God forbid, there is another terrorist attack of the magnitude of 9/11 or San Bernardino before the election, all bets are off!

The writer is a Rhodes Scholar. 

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