After Super-Tuesday and Boiling Thursday, there have been heated attacks on Mr. Trump, indicating concerted efforts by Republican big shots to defame and derail him. Much to their dismay, Mr. Trump is still going strong and poised to take the crown of the Republican nomination. Many experts are predicting that Trump has a 50% or better chance to win the party’s nomination. What can this “Trump Phenomenon” tell us about American politics?
Careful observation and analysis tells us that the “Trump Phenomenon” is nothing but inevitable, revealing the deepening fault lines in both American political system and society such as systemic political decay, a widening gap between rich and poor, and dysfunctional government. In other words, populist sentiments are rising fast in American politics. “Occupy Wall Street”, which took place right after the 2008 financial crisis, was actually a precursor to what is happening in the American presidential election now.
Who is Mr. Trump? What is so special about him? To put it simply, he is the total opposite to Mrs. Clinton, who symbolizes an establishment that only cares for itself. They are the “privileged” or “protected” in American society. Mr. Trump by his fiery words in campaign so far represents the underdogs, the “unprivileged” or “unprotected” American people, especially those white male “blue collars”. Looking through that prism, “Trump Phenomenon” is by no means difficult to comprehend. American media has collectively coined a phrase, calling those Trump supporters “angry Republicans”. By some polls, this angry group counts for more than 80% of Republicans in some state primaries, an astounding number indeed!
As a rule of thumb, Democrats are assured of their victory should they take 80% of the non-white votes and 40% of the white votes. The first group will flock to voting stations and vote against Trump while the latter, especially the white male blue-collar workers, will likely stand behind Mr. Trump, because those people are the angriest in American society.
Why so? In reality the “angry Republicans” crystallizes the polarization of rich and poor in the United States over the past few decades. As illustrated by the French economist Thomas Piketty in his “Capital in Twenty First Century” with rich historical data, capital has achieved much greater gains than labor, thus creating and sustaining a widening gap between the rich and poor in capitalist countries. This has been engrained as sacrosanct in the capitalist system. Available data reveals that 1% on the top-income category controls over 40% of the total wealth in the US, and some reports show an even greater divide.
So his bankruptcies, when Mr. Trump has repeatedly outwitted the Wall Street, have become useful tools for him to lead the charge against the establishment including banks—something ordinary American people are itching to do. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton’s the fact that speech engagements to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley more often than not rake in about a quarter-million dollars each time is shocking to the man on the street.
The rising populist sentiments seen in this election year confirm that the “unprivileged” or “unprotected” people are standing up against the establishment that they no longer believe is working either for them or for their country. This polarization of American society, if left to fester, is quite serious stuff in American politics and the “Trump Phenomenon” is just an expression of such a division in a nation that takes pride in upholding such principles as democracy and liberty of the people and for the people. It could have long-term impacts on the US as the most powerful nation in the world today.
The other thing worth noting is the centrality of the issue of immigration in presidential campaigns. That has been the case in the last few general election, and it is only more divisive and acidic this time around. According to recent polls, it ranks second only to the terrorist threat. And the two issues are actually related. It is of bipartisan view that the issue of immigration can either make or break a candidate.
Currently there are at least 12 million and perhaps 20 million illegal immigrants residing in the US. In some states the shortage of seasonal labor is solvable only by imports of temporary labor from Mexico and a few other Latin American nations. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the European Union and its political landscape are also buffeted by the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Libya and other troubled countries in the Middle East. History will surely remember the embarrassing situation the US and EU members have found themselves wherein the long-held humanitarian compassion and principles of freedom from want and fear are so confusingly in conflict with the reality on the ground. Their own people simply do not want any more refugees or illegal immigrants no matter how they are categorized.
Immigration is so closely linked with racial tension, job opportunities for ordinary folks and a rising crime rate in urban areas that it can hardly be brushed aside during elections because there are plenty of votes behind the very issue, in particular those votes of Hispanics, African-Americans, Muslims and Asians. Again the European example is a lesson to be learned. In Germany the incident that tipped public opinion in disfavor of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open refugee policy was the sexual molestation of young German women in Cologne by packs of male migrants from the Middle East.
The question of immigration taking such an important place in American elections reflects the unsettling and difficult adjustments Americans have to make as fading “American Exceptionalism” becomes reality. Whatever the issue, the “Trump Phenomenon” is here to stay and it is imperative for any America watcher to observe attentively what will come out of it.