Donald Trump: Problem or Symptom?

First and foremost, it really pains me to be wasting more of your time with Donald Trump. He’s a great orange-haired buffoon of a man, a dangerous demagogue bringing out the very worst in America, a shameless opportunist taking full advantage of the corporate media’s relentless push for ratings, and a walking stereotype, proudly presenting to the world what they hate about Americans. His surge in the polls has surprised everyone, as has that surge’s longevity. He’s currently polling at literally three times what Jeb Bush, long considered the leading “legitimate” candidate, has, and show’s no signs of slowing down. The Republican Party, meanwhile, has tried its very best to maintain a respectful distance: far enough away to steer clear of his ridiculous ideas but not so far as to alienate his fervent supporters. And it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked, because Trump is the culmination of the party’s swing towards batshit insanity, because he says openly what other candidates only dare think in private, because he is a creation of the post-Tea-Party era of right-wing politics, finally loosed upon the world by a movement caught in crisis.

Let’s set the record straight. Trump is saying some pretty crazy shit. His repeated calls for a Great Wall of Mexico, his McCarthy-esque slandering of anyone who dares oppose him, and his shameless harkening back to an era when rich white American men could safely spit on everyone else and get away with it, all seem a little too out there to be true. However, in the last couple months, we’ve seen a surge towards the crazy across the Republican board. Scott Walker recently called for a wall on the border with Canada, a border so unsafe it is renowned the world over for precisely nothing save longish wait times to get through on weekends. Mike Huckabee likened the Iran deal to the Holocaust. Rick Santorum (though he’s polling around 1%, he is still running, I’ll have you know) has made a habit out of mocking claims that diversity makes America a better place. Now, I don’t doubt that a lot of this can be attributed to the Trump effect, which is to say, saying incredibly offensive, poorly-thought-out things in order to take airtime from a frontrunner who is hard to beat in that department. And more still can be chalked up to trying to stand out in a crowded field of equally desperate candidates. Nevertheless, what Trump is saying (minus that bit about raising taxes, which a lot of people seem to be forgetting about) is in line with popular Republican rhetoric of the past half-decade and beyond. Racialized calls to strengthen the border to protect American jobs and neighborhoods from damn dirty immigrants? Equally racialized calls to crack down on crime and for black neighborhoods to clean themselves up? Nostalgia trips against “political correctness” that seem the very definition of privilege? Demonization of the poor for not working hard enough? All of these are staples of what the Republican Party stands for, and has for quite a while now. The only difference between Trump and the rest of the pack is that he’s saying these things in a way that’s just as offensive as the ideas themselves.

Trump’s use as a diagnostic tool, however, does not end there. In one of the more underrated moments of the first Republican presidential debate, Trump stood in the center, shrugging as is his wont, and talked about how he’d given money to almost everyone on the stage (minus Rand Paul, who loudly objected), and how he, like other businessmen, routinely gives money to politicians in exchange for favors, like getting Hillary Clinton to come to his wedding. And no one flinched. The debate moderators, the other candidates, even the audience. The legal definition of bribery is “the offering, giving, soliciting, or receiving of any item of value as a means of influencing the actions of an individual holding a public or legal duty.” If someone would like to explain to me the difference between giving money to a public official in order to influence their actions and donating money to a politician’s campaign in order to later get favors from said politician, I’m all ears. In the meantime, no one said anything, at the time, since they all, save Trump, benefit from the system in place. That’s the real reason there are so many contenders this time around: thanks to Citizens United, billionaires get to prop up their very own presidential candidate to do their bidding in the White House. Trump, by virtue of being a billionaire himself, is not subject to such external influences, and as a result is gaining supporters for not being beholden to any large donors, and he deserves a certain amount of respect for that. His rising poll numbers, while terrifying in a way, indicate that people on both sides of the aisle are sick of money in politics, and that even the most diehard, bordering-on-racist or flat-out racist conservatives think that it’s gone too far, so there’s something we can all agree on there. Personally, I think Trump will be around a while longer, as his supporters will tolerate what would be career-endingly embarrassing gaffes for anyone else on a near-daily basis as part of his normal campaign rhetoric. What remains to be seen is whether the Republicans stay with the same ideology that birthed both Trump and the unspecified mammal that resides on his head, or if they realize that he’s the final red flag, and that their support is dying out with Nixon’s silent majority.

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