If you’re reading this, chances are that you are (i) intelligent, (ii) well-educated and (iii) bemused by what’s going with Donald Trump. If you’re at all into US politics, you have probably seen this video of John Oliver demolishing Trump. It sure feels good to ridicule this outrageous and dangerous public figure. One can also derive some righteous anger from blasting Trump’s supporters for their hypocrisy and short-sightedness.
I can’t help but think that these feelings—superiority, self-righteousness, smugness, and yes, schadenfreude—are just empty calories. The Trump phenomenon is real. Nobody took him seriously, and now he’s on the verge of becoming the Republican candidate for President of the United States. His supporters (albeit only 40-45% of Republican voters so far) are real people, with real grievances.
I think 2016 is a genuine turning point in US history, with monumental implications for at least one side of politics. Instead of ridiculing or dismissing Trump and his supporters, we need to understand what’s going on.
Below are some articles I’ve encountered over the last couple of months that shed light on the Trump phenomenon. Some of them made me feel uncomfortable. I hope you will be able to bear with some discomfort as well—if you’re a liberal reading about a conservative perspective; if you’re an atheist/agnostic reading about a Christian perspective; if you have a pro-immigration stance reading about anti-immigration sentiments; if you have grown up in prosperous, metropolitan environments reading about life on the ground in struggling towns and communities hollowed out by globalisation and outsourcing.
If you have the time, please take a look.
On the favourable environment created by broad changes in media and technology
- Clay Shirky’s tweetstorm about how social media facilitates the rise of third party candidates
- Timothy B. Lee on how the internet is disrupting politics
On the failure of the elites
- Jonathan Chait on how Trump exposes the brokenness of the GOP
- Josh Barro on how the GOP’s decades-long undermining of trusted institutions made the party susceptible to someone like Trump
- Matthew Yglesias on how Republican leaders actively contributed to the rise of Trump as a political figure
Among the angry, the voiceless, the dying
- Rod Dreher shares correspondence from two readers of his blog on the negative impacts of immigration and globalisation (both in reality and in the minds of people) where they are from
- RAND survey on public perception of Democratic and Republican candidates—in particular, this notable stat:
Among people likely to vote in the Republican primary, people are 86.5 percent more likely to prefer Donald Trump as the first-choice nominee relative to all the others if they “somewhat” or “strongly agree” that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”
- Jeff Guo uses statistical analysis to show that Trump support is highest in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest. (As background, this is a troubling occurrence that is at odds with other races in the US as well as with whites in other parts of the world. Many causes have been floated, a primary one being financial strain as globalisation has wiped out the manufacturing and construction jobs that lesser-educated people rely on: “Without jobs, they may lack the social networks and sense of purpose that have shown to reduce mortality.”)
- Thomas Frank on why millions of ordinary Americans support Trump, with an emphasis on the downsides of free trade for certain segments of the population.
- A life-long Republican and conservative writes an open letter explaining why he no longer considers himself part of the conservative movement, as the Trump phenomenon exposes the movement’s past failures and present delusions
- A Christian author and preacher makes the bad, awful, no good, terrible confession that he likes Trump—Trump is not honest, but he is honest about who he is, and he effectively channels something:
[T]he rage and desperation of a people who know they don’t matter anymore. Whose lives and wellbeing have become a blight, an embarrassment, who are now disposable. Yes, they have may been a privileged people once, knowing the order of the world arising from the great struggles of the first half of the 20th century was arranged for them, and may be struggling for privilege again, but they also know politics has told them — economically and socially — “lie down and die.” That they are white, and crude, and prone to brutality and violence, frequently not very compassionate or empathetic, all-too-often confused by the world, and that their religion is simplistic and mostly idolatrous, all that makes it hard to sympathize with them. (I find it hard.) But you leave people behind at your peril. You can tell them to “lie down and die,” and some will. But many won’t.
A lot of people in America are hurting right now. And rightfully so. Conventional politics have left them—more tax cuts for the rich on the one side, demonisation and dismissal as bigots on the other, and a consensus on more globalisation that, however great it is for humanity in the aggregate, makes their lives objectively worse. In their rage and desperation, they turned to a dangerous figure in Trump.
Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.