Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with a 45-minute speech at his Trump Tower headquarters on an otherwise uneventful day in June 2015.
There wasn’t a lot of substance to his speech. The business-mogul-turned-Republican-candidate promised that as president, he would pursue a select few policies: crush the Islamic State, beat China at trade, make America “win” again and build a giant wall along the southern border with Mexico, on their dime.
He justified this final proposal with the choice words: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
*Somewhere in the background, you should hear a needle being pulled up from a vinyl as the record comes to an abrupt stop.*
… Because that should have happened! The Trump campaign should have died then and there! We should have moved on with our lives!
But history, and Trump, and everyone willing to take him seriously, we’re all in on some cruel, twisted joke at our expense.
I still cannot comprehend the context in which it’s acceptable to issue remarks like the ones Trump shot out during his campaign announcement. But let’s address it, because that’s my job here.
It is factually untrue that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at any more prevalent rates than anyone else in this country. Data from the Center for Immigration Studies notes that in 2007, out of a total institutionalized population of 4.1 million, there were 172,000 Hispanic immigrants in prisons—that equates to less than five percent. Information from the Congressional Research Service likewise notes that only a small fraction of undocumented immigrants fit Trump’s rapist and drug-trafficker narrative.
OK, so it was a funny joke.
Donald Trump couldn’t really be serious about this kind of presidential campaign. And even if he were, nobody would support him, right? *Laughs nervously.*
That’s what the political pundits, in their boundless sagacity, projected for Trump’s campaign. I agreed with them, in no small part because I desperately wanted to believe this was a doomed campaign. I wanted to think these tactics, in this day and age, could not work on our electorate.
But I was wrong, and risibly so.
Somehow, June stretched out into the so-called “Summer of Trump.” Using his xenophobic, authoritarian rhetoric, Trump shot to the top of Republican polls, outpacing stalwarts like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Most of his support came from voters on the far right, who were upset with a perceived ineptitude in Washington and believed Trump could destabilize the federal government into operation. (Try not to think about that logically.)
Political winds during this election cycle are the strangest they’ve been during my lifetime, and they’ve coalesced into a perfect storm for Hurricane Trump.
As Evan Osnos reported for The New Yorker: “To inhabit Trump’s landscape for a while, to chase his jet or stay behind with his fans in a half-dozen states, is to encounter a confederacy of the frustrated—less a constituency than a loose alliance of Americans who say they are betrayed by politicians, victimized by a changing world, and enticed by Trump’s insurgency.”
Perhaps more than anything else, the success of the Trump campaign is proof that many Americans remain disaffected and anxious about the future some seven years after the end of the Great Recession.
Maybe it’s a bit telling that one of the best analyses I’ve heard thus far on how Trump’s campaign has done so well came from his ideological foil in this race, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In an MSNBC interview with Rachel Maddow, Sanders noted “… you have an enormous amount of fear and uncertainty in this country. … And then you have demagogues like Trump coming along, and he says, ‘I know what the cause of your problems is.’ Remember, a few months ago, the cause of the problem was that Mexicans were coming into this country who are criminals and rapists. Today, it is Muslims.
You all remember several years ago, when we were younger, it was… uppity women who were trying to take our jobs as men. It was those gay people who wanted to make everyone homosexual in our school system. It was blacks who want to take white jobs. That’s what demagoguery is about. It is to obfuscate the real problems facing our society, and find somebody you can blame.”
Yes. Sanders’ observations hit the nail squarely on the head.
Trump’s campaign has proven itself to be a potent manifestation of animus. Since its inception, the Trump strategy has called for resentment, marginalization and vendetta. It has actively sought to frame discussions in the context of “us vs. them,” where “them” is essentially anyone who’s not a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, heterosexual man. “They” are ruining the country and must be punished accordingly.
I’m aware that my characterization of the voter to whom Trump panders most strongly excludes women. And, well, about that …
The debate was hosted by Fox News, and moderated by prominent news anchor, Megyn Kelly.
I think you all remember what happened next.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr user DonkeyHotey.
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.