As America has witnessed the political ascent of Donald Trump, I’ve heard lots of remarks: “How is this possible?” “The man is a nut!” “I thought we lived in 2016!”
However, despite all this depressing banter coming from both the left and the right, we must face the reality that Donald Trump is here in this race and he is here to stay.
Many people are outraged and upset about this populist fanatic’s rise. Understandably so-- he represents a rather detestable variant of American culture. Trump revels in old school greed, egomania, demagoguery, bigotry, and fear-mongering. We hear him suggesting there should exist religious restrictions on entering the United States, proposing to “bomb the hell” out of the Middle East, and, as has been cited by innumerous people before me, that people entering the United States from Mexico are “rapists.”
So what does this say about our country as a whole?
After recently attending a North Korea-style propagandistic Donald Trump rally, I’ve taken away a few things.
Firstly, our political class has drastically failed. We can point to all sorts of reasons for why this might be, but the fact of the matter is that Congress’s approval rating is abysmally low, leaving voters more disenchanted than ever with “politics-as-usual.” Our current politics just aren’t working, and the lives of average people are getting harder. For example, it is well known that median income in America has significantly dropped over the last 40 years. This fact is exemplified by many of the people I speak with here in New Hampshire-- bills are simply getting tougher to pay.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve read all about our experiences going door to door, talking to voters and so on. To be sure, it’s a privilege and honor to speak with these people, and reflecting upon these interactions with reverence is important. But what isn’t being articulated, and needs to be articulated, is that a lot of people are just damn angry. In the sometimes lengthy conversations I have, people express immense frustration with national political discourse. Additionally, people feel left out of the political process. They don’t think the government is working for their best interest. Instead, they feel pushed aside and powerless over their lives..
Enter the Donald, heralded businessman outsider with a solution for everything. No manufacturing jobs? We’ll take ‘em back from China. “Rapist” immigrants? We’ll build a wall (Mind you, that’s exactly what people do when they are frightened, metaphorically and, apparently, literally: they build a wall). Terrorists? We’ll just bomb the hell out of ‘em. No details necessary, we’ll get it done.
It’s no surprise people buy this garbage. Our national politicians have been claiming to possess the indisputable solutions to everything, just like the Donald. The only difference is that Mr. Trump hasn’t been tested yet, as status-quo politics have (and failed).
If we need any proof that our national politics have failed the American people, we need only look to the mass support of a demagogue like Donald Trump across this country.
Secondly, the American people are frightened, as they should be. We are currently witnessing in this country the disappearance of middle-class society. So, instead of embracing multi-culturalism and diversity, people like Donald Trump can blame our economic woes on immigrants fleeing horrifying violence in countries such as Honduras. Or it must be the Chinese taking our jobs. Or it must be Muslims challenging our American “values.” It doesn’t matter who it is (any scapegoat will do), as long as we don’t blame the economic system itself that produces bombastic billionaires such as Donald Trump. America idealizes that economic system, and no one plays into that mythology better than the Donald himself.
Yes, you better believe it, this is 2016.
And in 2016, we should be asking ourselves-- “What in the hell went wrong?” Instead of simply labeling Trump supporters as “idiots” and “nuts” (I, however, support the labeling of Mr. Trump himself with such titles), and throwing one’s hands up to the heavens, we should be proposing to them an alternative for the future of America. We know what is going on in this country. The political class has failed and people are scared for their own economic security. If our country is going to grow and prosper, it is absolutely pivotal that we address these potentially democracy-eroding issues.
Nonetheless, we can be certain of one thing. What we know from history is that fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric have never solved much of anything. They only encourage disunity and conflict. The fact of the matter is that as American citizens we all have skin in the game. We should be upset with our national politics. We do need serious change.
But in order to achieve these ends we don’t need Mr. Donald Trump.
-- Alex Betley is a junior from O'Fallon, MO studying Politics, Economics, and Social Thought. He is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the nominating process of presidential candidates.