5 Reasons Trump Is Dominating American Politics

Image:Donald Trump. Flickr/Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Everyone missed the signs of what was coming.

One remarkable element of American politics is the extent to which unthinkable developments become commonplace once they happen. Consider simply the men who have become president by defying the conventional wisdom that said they could never reach that office, because they weren’t right for the times and the times weren’t right for them. They include Abraham Lincoln, considered a western bumpkin with only a single congressional term under his belt and no discernible sophistication about him. Or Ronald Reagan, considered a failed actor, a man whose detractors felt he was simply too dumb to be president. And let’s not forget Barack Obama, clearly an accomplished and polished politician whose race, it was believed by many, would constitute a barrier because the country wasn’t yet ready for a black president. But when these men actually reached the White House it seemed entirely natural. The country casually absorbed the reality of something that previously had seemed impossible.

Now we have Donald Trump emerging as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, a development utterly unthinkable until it happened. When he first announced his candidacy, it was considered a joke. When he emerged as the leader in polls, it was said he would falter as soon as actual voting commenced. When he began winning primaries, we were assured it wouldn’t last. When he kept winning, the party elites mounted plans to outmaneuver him through convention manipulations, because this simply couldn’t happen.

And yet here he is, occupying a position once thought unthinkable. And now it seems possible that he actually could become president. How did this happen? How did the unthinkable become commonplace? Herewith a stab at identifying the five greatest reasons for the Trump emergence, offered with a proviso that whenever the unthinkable becomes reality, there are always understandable and compelling reasons that simply weren’t perceived beforehand.

Political Correctness

The disciplines of this powerful movement had become so entrenched in the American culture that we didn’t really perceive just how much seething anger it was generating among Americans who didn’t view the world as the enforcement legions of political correctness demanded. Of course, everyone now knows how this bludgeon of right thinking has practically destroyed free speech and free thought on American campuses, as spineless administrators have stood by or joined in. That clearly disturbs many Americans, particularly those who want their children to seek an education in an environment that is at least open to political thinking consonant with their own views and principles. But it wasn’t clear until Trump’s emergence just how much ordinary citizens chafed at this cultural phenomenon in terms of the impact on their own everyday lives. Political correctness has sought, with much success, to narrow the range of political discourse by labeling as illegitimate certain views and thoughts that, just a few years ago, were considered entirely acceptable.

Thus, if you believed in secure borders for America, you ran the risk of being labeled a racist or a xenophobe. Same thing if you wondered aloud whether, given the historical antagonism between the West and Islam and the anti-Western fervor of Islamist fundamentalism, it might be best to curb the Muslim inflow into the West. If you harbored traditional views about marriage that, a generation ago, were considered entirely normal by the vast majority of Americans, suddenly you found yourself labeled an extremist or a bigot. If you believed that a civilized society requires a certain respect for law enforcement, you watched in disgust as an assault on the nation’s police generated diffidence among officers and their leaders, and contributed to a sudden rise in crime.

A stark reflection of this could be heard in a radio news report in Seattle recently about a high school youth there who put up a sign saying, “Build the Wall.” He was ordered to take it down, which was appropriate enough if the school had a policy against overt political expression on campus. But the principal had another rationale for the action. “We don’t tolerate racism at this school,” she told the radio station. The student was forced into a groveling apology. Thus did we have a student expressing the views of a politician who had collected nearly 11 million votes in the GOP primaries—yet was forced to recant upon pain of being cast out of polite society as a racist.

Donald Trump stood up to all of that, and he did so with pugilistic resolve. No presidential politician had done that before, and now it’s clear that many Americans were waiting for someone to express their frustrations over the zealous cadres of political correctness. The most stark example was Trump’s call for a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the country, pending a better understanding of the domestic terrorism threat. His suggestion was considered outlandish, if not utterly outrageous, and he was roundly attacked from both left and right. But exit polls during the primary season revealed that significant numbers of Americans agreed. Political correctness may have silenced many of those people, but it couldn’t convert them.