The Unsurprising Rise of Donald Trump

This was initially going to be a longer piece which focused on some salient features of Trump’s candidacy. It was expedited in light of his comments on banning the entry of all Muslims to the United States.

Recently, renowned economist and author of Capital in the 21st Century Thomas Piketty proffered a novel take on the rise of Daesh/ISIS by imputing the preponderance of the blame on economic inequality. Like most theories which ascribe monolithic causes to multifaceted phenomena, Piketty’s position understates the influence of other factors, such as ideology. But what is evident is that (relative) deprivation plays a role in creating conditions conducive to terrorist thought and practice. While not immediately apparent, the underlying principle shares a considerable commonality with waves of recurring right-wing sentiments throughout the world, ranging from a great polarization fissuring Europe to ideological extremes, to the great masses of unemployed youth rallying in large numbers during the so-called Arab Spring protests. This endemic is by no means peculiar to the Status Quo, but it rears its head with surprising potency in an era of extreme global inter-connectivity, transnational movements, and a cross-cultural emphasis on human rights, humanism, and, rudimentarily, humanity.

This is most recently evident with Donald Trump, who, according to recent polls, derives most of his support from less affluent and less educated voters. He has been compared to Bernie Sanders due to the populism and anti-establishment rhetoric they share, with both identifying the complex machinery of an abstracted State as serving the interests of a select group at the expense of the vast majority. His narrative is carefully framed around his putative success in the business domain, representing, among other things, his potential to ‘make America great again’ through his acumen, his ‘valor’ in speaking his mind, and his insurmountable resistance to being coopted in money politics.

To say that his appeal strikes a chord that Republicans traditionally target would be misguided – rather, Trump has his fingers on the throbbing pulse of a group that feels betrayed by the economic-political milieu of the United States, one that challenges our very conception and understanding of ‘mainstream politics’. When he commenced his campaign with the initial spate of hateful remarks, pundits derisively, with a remarkable nescience, predicted his impending implosion, amused at the apparent inanity he exuded. Their misfiring can be traced to a simple error in computation- Trump was never seeking to appeal to the traditional lobbies that ensnare Republican politicians. He sought a demographic that, as we shall turn to now, was ubiquitous in the grey area contiguous with polite politics.

In their own way, Trump supporters are as much ‘radical’ in American politics as the Occupy Movements of 2011, and similarly frame their political aspirations at the backdrop of economic displacement, disenfranchisement, and fundamentally, disillusionment. The next step would to be find a manner in which to articulate one’s discontent- For Occupy Wall Street, a vague characterization of the ‘1%’, which includes the eponymous street, became the dartboard. For supporters of Donald Trump, any cocktail of flavors fits the bill, including immigrants, Democrats, Republicans, Muslims, and people of colour, to name a few.

If this is reminiscent of scapegoating in the past, such as the horrific antisemitism that clouded European politics prior to World War 2, it is because they are fairly comparable. But make no mistake: Trump fans were not mysteriously conjured out of thin air immediately prior to the campaign. They have always been there, mostly lurking in the shadows of online fora. The most likely candidates for his support base are presumably the racist aunt who you meet for Thanksgiving, or the xenophobic boy you used to know in high school. Trump’s brazen declarations have unearthed them from the peripheries of our consciousness, galvanized them into roughly cohesive groups at his frightening rallies, and given them credence, legitimacy, and most importantly, networks through which they can air their grievances. They are not fazed by being deemed bigoted, or intimidated by what they consider to be weak liberals who cave to Islamic fascism.

The increasingly controversial statements made by Mr. Trump only energizes their hitherto latent political batteries by gradually making the ‘extreme’ more and more realizable. They have been at the losing end, not just economically, but also politically, as their views have been routinely satirized by mainstream media outlets, prominent public figures (even ‘mainstream’ Republican candidates). Today, with cracks appearing in both major parties in the United States, with a Middle East more muddled and befuddling than a 4-dimensional Rubik’s cube, and with a political terrain crevassing with perplexing intensity, Trump and his fans are poised to savor the fast-reaching fruits of their great win.

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