Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Peter Espeut | Trump did not nominate himself

Published:Friday | August 12, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Robert Matt of Roanoke (right), a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, talks to Susan Pyne, who plans to vote for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, on Wells Avenue in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 25.

I feel the frustration of the mainstream US media during this present election campaign. What is supposed to happen is that when the foibles and foolishness of a candidate are exposed to the public, the popularity of the candidate is supposed to fall in the opinion polls. In the past, the US mass media have had the muscle to promote or discredit political candidates, and they have used their power in their best interests.

This has not been happening with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Over the last many months on the campaign trail, Trump has made outrageous and bigoted statements ridiculing women, ethnic minorities, the handicapped and Muslims, yet his favourability ratings in the polls continued to increase. He has insulted journalists, threatened press freedom, stated an intention to pull out of NATO and cancel free-trade agreements.

Trump has characterised illegal immigrants travelling over the Mexican border into the USA as "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.", and has made outlandish proposals to build a "great wall" between the USA and Mexico - which, he claims he will make Mexico pay for. Yet his numbers continued to improve. He has contradicted himself, backtracked on earlier statements, and been caught in lies. In December 2015, Politifact named "the many campaign misstatements of Donald Trump" as its "2015 Lie of the Year", noting at the time that 76 per cent of Trump statements rated by the fact-checking website were rated 'Mostly False', 'False' or 'Pants on Fire', more than any other politician. Yet his numbers have increased all the more.

This is not how it is supposed to be. When an egotistical buffoon is exposed as an ignoramus, he is not supposed to become the darling of the electorate. Yet in the primaries, he beat out 11 other candidates to become the Republican nominee.

Donald Trump did not nominate himself; in fact, Trump has received the most primary votes of any Republican candidate in history: 13.4 million, beating George W. Bush by 1.4 million votes. I think the focus of the analysts is wholly misplaced. It should be on the behaviour of Republican voters and not on the behaviour of Trump himself.

Clearly, the millions who faithfully support Donald Trump for president - despite his obvious deficiencies and dangerous personality flaws - feel seriously threatened by something. Their unrelenting support of Trump - flying in the face of what the media and the intelligentsia and mainstream Republicans are telling them - seems almost pathological. What could they be so angry about?

 

WASHINGTON IS 'BROKEN'

 

Trump support is high among working- and middle-class white male voters with annual incomes of less than US$50,000 and no college degree. This group, particularly those with less than a high-school education, has suffered a decline in its income in recent years, and rising unemployment. They have observed their jobs going to lower-paid immigrants (their salaries declining in response), or disappearing overseas.

Trump's nativist (anti-immigration), protectionist (anti-free trade), and semi-isolationist policies differ in many ways from traditional Republican conservatism; he opposes many free-trade deals and military interventionist policies that conservatives support. He opposes cuts in Medicare and Social Security benefits (on which many poor people depend). And he insists that Washington is "broken" and can only be fixed by an outsider like himself. No wonder Washington insiders feel marginalised. Effectively, Trump has captured the Republican Party.

In a sense, Trump has a lot in common with Senator Bernie Sanders, who tapped into much the same spirit within the Democratic Party. Really an independent, Sanders might have captured the Democratic Party if his campaign had not been sabotaged by Hillary supporters.

Clearly, there is strong anti-globalisation, anti-Washington Consensus sentiment coming from the lower classes in the USA, who have declined to support the traditional American political establishment. Hillary might win this one, but what is going to happen in 2020?

I said at the beginning that I feel the frustration of the US media who have exposed Trump's foibles and foolishness but yet have seen his popularity increase. Here in Jamaica, over the 25 years or so that I have been writing this column, I have continually pointed out the corruption and venality of both major political parties, yet they both continue to receive substantial, if declining, public support, and hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

It is clear that the majority of Jamaicans have abandoned the traditional Jamaican political establishment. Crowds now have to be paid to turn out in their thousands.

We now await some Jamaican Sanders/Trump figure to emerge to capture the Jamaican political imagination.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.