The ascendency of Donald Trump to be the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party invites analysis, if not sackcloth, ashes, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Trump exhibits numerous qualities of concern.
Trump is a bigot. He denigrates Mexicans, whether undocumented farm workers that our agricultural industry welcomes into the country, or federal judges of Mexican heritage. He denigrates women. He denigrates Muslims. He makes fun of the handicapped. The list is long. He was at the center of the “birther” movement, a movement that charged that President Obama was not born in Hawaii but Kenya, thus making him an alien ineligible to be President. This charge was based on no evidence whatsoever. It ignored the fact that the President has a valid birth certificate from Hawaii and that his mother is a native born American citizen, which has traditionally been accepted as conferring “native born” status on babies wherever they are born in the world. Mr. Trump has refused to accept this evidence. One can only conclude that Mr. Trump made this charge to sully the name of the President and to appeal to racial bigots that he would subsequently depend on as his base voters.
Although Mr. Trump says many stupid things, he is not as dumb as he sounds. He is a shrewd judge of audiences. The Republican base gained a new set of voters in 1968 as a result of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” Since the Civil War and emancipation of the slaves in the South, most white southerners would have nothing to do with the Republicans, the “party of Lincoln.” They registered as Democrats and soon became known as “Dixiecrats,” for their persistent attempts to keep Negroes as second-class citizens. Racial segregation of schools and service industries such as restaurants and movie houses and denial of the right to vote were the result of so-called Jim Crow laws throughout the South. The Dixiecrats were also rather hostile to trade unions, in complete opposition to the position taken by northern Democrats. Southern blacks, on the other hand, would have joined the Republican Party if they were allowed to vote. Condoleeza Rice is an example of such a holdover of this tradition.
When civil rights legislation, including voting rights, was passed by Congress and signed by President Johnson, after defeating Dixiecrat filibusters in 1964 and 1965, the Dixiecrats were fed up with the Democrats. Senator Strom Thurmond from South Carolina resigned from the Democratic Party. In 1968, Richard Nixon saw an opportunity to welcome more disaffected southern voters into the Republican Party. He invited and they accepted. The Civil War and President Lincoln were 100 years in the past, so the pain of joining the Party of Lincoln had lessened sufficiently for them to reregister. Other Dixiecrat office holders followed Senator Thurmond’s lead and the Republican Party soon controlled the Solid South, as it does today. Blacks, when allowed to register to vote, joined the Democrats.
Many northern Republican politicians were not comfortable with advocating the racism and unyielding state’s rights positions of their new, southern comrades in arms but they winked at these problems for 50 years, hinting that they were all on the same side. Ronald Reagan was a master at this. Then came Trump. He recognized that the base Republicans in the South and rural Red States were tired of being winked at as they saw immigrants, Jews, Asians, women, and all manner of non-Christian, non-white males studying hard in desegrated public schools and colleges and bypassing them in society. Having black athletes on college football and basketball teams was OK but actually accepting blacks as equal citizens was just too much. Additionally, undocumented Mexican farm workers were being hired by agribusiness, “stealing” jobs (that others would not do for the wages being paid.) The Republican base was also infuriated by welfare programs that they felt disproportionately benefitted the Negroes that they had suppressed for so long. And they saw no benefits to themselves from “Trickle-down” economics. Instead, rich Republicans (and Jews and Asians) just got richer. Women rose to positions of responsibility in business and elective office and actually became bosses.
The election and re-election of a black (really beige) President was the last straw. Mr. Trump understood all of this discontent and could see no reason not to just openly play to the substantially white, male, poorly educated, bigot wing of the party. He demolished 16 other candidates in the Republican primaries of 2016 with a campaign based on self-aggrandizement, domination of the news cycle, and naked bigotry. The Republican intelligentsia and apologists did not anticipate, then could not believe what had happened. The base they had so successfully cultivated and hoodwinked for decades rose in full throated cry, “Throw the bums out!” Mr. Trump directed the chorus.
Donald Trump has no principles other than self-promotion. The diagnosis of pathological narcissist seems appropriate. Accordingly he has no regard for the truth, saying one thing today and the very opposite tomorrow. So far he has succeeded in ignoring Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Facts don’t matter to Mr. Trump. Perhaps this comes from his negotiating strategy: just throw up as many statements and positions as you can to befuddle your opponent. He has said that the United States doesn’t know how to make deals and that we are getting snookered repeatedly on trade by the Chinese, the Mexicans, and everybody else because we haven’t read his, “The Art of the Deal,” the greatest book since the Bible, if he does say so himself. In fact, he does say so himself. He tells us that he is really smart and really rich although we haven’t seen his SAT scores, his grades at the Wharton School of Finance, or his tax returns. He says that Obama is stupid although the President has a Harvard Law degree and was president of the Harvard Law Review, a very prestigious achievement. From all of the absolutely unsupported things he says, one cannot help but wonder if Donald Trump’s campaign is an elaborate psychology experiment testing just how gullible and uninformed the American electorate is. Check the Psychology journals after November 9, 2016.
Objectively, no one really knows how much money Donald Trump has. He tells us that he is worth about 10 billion dollars. Forbes Magazine estimates about 4 billion. Other estimates range below one billion. He has declined to release his current income tax returns. One article notes that Mr. Trump inherited about 40-50 million dollars and an established real estate business and, if he had put all his inheritance into an index fund and done nothing else, he would have at least as much as he seems to have now. Mr. Trump has been involved in 3500 lawsuits, an astonishing number that may reflect that his business relationships are not all considered mutually beneficial by all parties. He has a reputation for not paying subcontractors. He has also filed for bankruptcy for various business ventures four times. So his vaunted business acumen may not be so terrific, believe me.
If one googles Mr. Trump’s statements during the current campaign, one cannot help but question how much he actually understands about history and how the United States government and our foreign relations, diplomatic and military, actually work. He says he will build a wall across our southern border with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it. He says he will eliminate ISIS but he won’t say how. He calls his political opponents, Republican and Democrat, names just like an elementary school child would. He repeatedly says he is going to “fix” something but declines to give specifics. He even said that he would not take the use of nuclear weapons off the table when dealing with problems in Europe. It is apparently good to keep one’s negotiating opponents off-balance and continuously wondering what you might or might not do. Sometimes when people behave like this, others conclude that they are not trustworthy and reliable allies, or even sane.
Nonetheless Trump has fairly broad and committed support among the Republican base and many, if not most Republican politicians. What is most disturbing to me about this state of affairs is what it says, not only about the Republican Party but the American electorate in general. Medically, Trump’s ascendency would be considered a symptom of a serious, underlying disease in the body politic, at least in the Republican Party. This is a disease that they brought on themselves much as heart disease and Type II diabetes are significantly worsened by life style choices. The Republican establishment accepted and even encouraged bigotry and ignorance in a significant portion of their electorate for decades and Donald Trump is now reaping what they sowed. It may be fatal.
Is Hilary Clinton really so bad that any moral, intelligent person would seriously consider voting for Donald Trump? If so, what are her proven, not alleged, faults and why are they worse than Mr. Trump’s? Her resume’ is better than that of anyone who has run for President in a long, long time. What her husband did with other women is not what she did; it is what he did.
In my opinion, support for Donald Trump for President is morally and intellectually indefensible. But his rise is easily understandable. The Republican Party is reaping what it sowed. They need their bigot vote but can they survive it?