The growth of Donald Trump may be a reaction to a larger, American malaise.

What led to the ascent of a monstrosity that is Donald Trump
Blog US Politics Friday, November 04, 2016 - 11:42

By Chetan Ahimsa

‘Make America Great Again’—the campaign battle cry that has propelled Republican nominee Donald Trump to the 2016 White House doorstep makes us wonder: What is ‘great’? And when was America ever ‘great’?

To be great is to be ‘markedly superior in quality or character’.

Trawling through the history of a half millennium of European incursions reveals a USA built on cheap land through genocide of the Native populations and free labour on the backs of African slaves—nothing ‘great’ there. 

Today’s Constitutional equality has not precluded the existence of insidious, institutional racism against black and brown Americans such as gross disparities in wealth, access to health, law enforcement protocol, criminal justice, and so on.  

So, when Trump—through violence, prejudice, and perversion – recalls an era of foregone American ‘greatness’, he is invoking the oppressive past of unchallenged white supremacy: One where property-owning white males ruled the roost and the rest obeyed Masters’ orders.

Now the important question: What are the political factors that have led to the gargantuan ascent of a monstrosity that is Donald Trump?

Six reasons top the list:

Failure of the political establishment:

Populism, an outcry of frustration against Washington elites, has gained traction among right-wing voters who feel Republican (and Democratic) representatives have failed the country through interventionary wars and corporate connections. 

Trump – with an anti-Iraq War stance, a repulsive relationship history, and an initial rhetoric to tax the rich – undermines the standard, three-part conservative strain of robust foreign policy, traditional family values, and free market economics. Hence, disillusioned Republicans feel a brash ‘outsider’ like Trump who refuses funds from billionaire sugar daddies can knock out the corrupt political culture of prioritizing donors over voters.

Xenophobia and Racism:

An April 2016 study by Pew Research found that issues of race, ethnicity, and religion, influence Trump voters most strongly. The study reveals how Trump’s white-Christian  - ‘nativist’ base views those from other countries as ‘threats to US values’- ironic considering America’s reality as a ‘nation of immigrants.’ 

Other major concerns for Trump supporters and those identifying as Republicans are the perceived influences of Islam and growing minority populations. A record 81% of Trump backers reveal high racial resentment – double that of any Democratic opponent. 

Trump has capitalized on such pervasive prejudice this campaign season by referring to Mexicans as ‘drug dealers, criminals, and rapists,’ vowing to build a wall at the US-Mexico border with Mexican funds, calling for a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the US, and retweeting messages from white supremacists. 

And if you think this is just a way of playing to the gallery, guess again. Trump’s racial discrimination is part and parcel of ‘Being Trump’. Here’s why: in a 1973 lawsuit, Trump refused to rent his apartments to black tenants; in a 1980s case, Trump relegated black employees to the back of his casino; in 2000, Trump led a slanderous ad campaign against Native American casino owners; and the list of racially-charged incidents continues.

A shattered ‘American Dream’:

For centuries, the American Dream – a national ethos that hard work leads to social and economic mobility – has existed in the hearts of many Americans, especially working-class whites. Today, however, with jobs beings shipped offshore, increased mechanization, stagnant wages, and underemployment, the belief that each generation will succeed economically more than the previous has been shaken. 

Since 2000, the US has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs many of which are the result of Bill Clinton’s financial deregulation and trade policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that flouted international labour and environmental standards for capitalistic profits. 

A weak economy is a petri dish for resentment, and Trump has gained political ground with frustrated working-class whites by railing against Democrat and Republican trade economics and promising to return American jobs. Ironically, the Donald J. Trump Collection shirts, suits, cuff links, perfumes, and eyeglasses are all manufactured in low-wage nations such as Bangladesh, Honduras, and China.      

Mainstream and Social Media:

Trump’s outrageous antics, vitriolic statements, and sex scandals sell. It’s no surprise that the mainstream media laps it up for its own revenue. By consistently hand-delivering controversies to the media, Trump has hogged the political limelight for a year, overshadowing his 16 Republican contenders. Factual accuracy and political correctness have been dismissed for marketable sound-bites from Trump. He has known to say things like ‘I actually saw a number of 42 percent unemployment. Forty-two percent,’ (actual US unemployment in 2016 is 4.9%) and how ‘It doesn’t matter what the media writes as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.’ 

Social media where citizens can access information privy only to the US government in the pre-internet days has also popularized Trump’s ‘shock and awe’ persona; in other words, the more extreme, the more views – and Trump has won that battle hands down.

Anti-Obama Sentiments:

In 2011, Trump led the ‘birther movement’ against Barack Obama, alleging the following in spite of Obama’s Hawaii, USA, birthplace: ‘[Obama] doesn’t have a birth certificate.  He may have one but there is something on that birth certificate – maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim…You are not allowed to be a president if you’re not born in this country. Right now, I have real doubts.’ 

Obama, the target of considerable Republican ire and negativity over the past eight years, is a black man occupying the country’s highest position. In the midst of changing social mores where same-sex marriages are legalized and unarmed black men are victims of police violence, ‘purity’ – where one party is primarily white (R) and another diverse (D) – has emerged as a politically-charged Republican anthem, one that has catapulted Trump to a leadership position.

Trump’s personality:

With a multi-billion-dollar brand name (an important chunk of which was passed down from his father Fred Trump) and a successful reality show to his credit, Donald Trump was a celebrity populist well before he entered the Republican foray.  Since then, Trump’s narcissistic, authoritarian, no-holds-barred spontaneity has captivated millions in spite of his fundraising for Democratic politicians (like the Clintons) in the past and never holding a government position. 

Amidst a large 17-member Republican field, Trump’s below-the-belt jabs and reductionist themes empowered the ignorant and made him the early front-runner, a ground he never gave up. Statistically, Trump won more votes in the Republican primary than anyone in US history. In the second Presidential debate, a vengeful Trump, in dictator-like fashion, threatened to put his opponent Hillary Clinton in jail – an insult to democracy where one candidate threatens to use violent, state machinery against another instead of elections and dialogue to resolve political disagreements. Recently, the straw that may have broken the camel’s back for the Republican nominee is an audio clip of Trump vulgarly bragging about sexual assault and the nearly dozen women who came forward against him for those acts.   

In conclusion, the growth of Donald Trump may be a reaction to a larger, American malaise; but all polls reveal he is doomed to lose on November 8th, 2016. The catastrophe for the Republican Party would not be the predicted Executive Branch defeat but an internal combustion of the entire Republican vote share in down-ticket races, giving the Legislature (Senate and House of Representatives) to the Democrats as well.

But keep in mind: in the current, two-party setup, a Republican loss would mean a Democratic victory. Unfortunately, (D) Hillary Clinton – with a brutal record of wars abroad, questionable Wall Street connections, flip-flopping domestic policies, large-scale corruption allegations with the Clinton foundation, and a devastating Wikileaks scandal – is only a marginally better option to occupy the Oval Office and ‘Make America Great Again’… but that is the subject of another article.


Chetan Ahimsa graduated from Yale University (2005) and came on a Fulbright Scholarship to India. He has been engaging in social service and activism in Karnataka for the past 11 years. Professionally, he is an actor and has worked in Kannada films such as Aa Dinagalu and Mynaa.

Note: These are the personal views of the author.

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.