He might be xenophobic, obnoxious, erratic, egotistical, loud and outspoken, but it’s easy to see why Republican Primary voters have caught Trump fever. He has dashed the typical politician rhetoric of saying a lot yet saying very little, all packaged into a speech of glittering platitudes designed to make people like what they hear, but not necessarily understand it. Voters know exactly where Trump stands when it comes to Mexicans, Muslims, women, war veterans that were captured and every other group of people he’s insulted, and he makes no apologies. He seemingly says what he means and means what he says.
Surprisingly, the giant of the Right-wing has a past of supporting liberal ideals, including, for a time, being for gun control, universal healthcare, pro-choice, tolerant of gays and taxing the wealthy. Despite his evolution of opinion in a range of different areas, he has always stood firmly on immigration and his demand for defence at the border has only become more impassioned and racist in the last few months. He addresses some baffling truths about America, including a landslide of illegal immigrants totalling 11.3 million by the 2014 count, the clogging up of 5.1% of the general workforce and the reluctance of the Obama Administration to deport them. But Trump does not do these troubling numbers justice – rather than making a reasonable call to enforce the law, he vilifies, stereotypes and attacks.
Strangely enough, whilst Trump receives a lot of criticism for his brazen speeches, he is also curiously celebrated. Unlike the immediate blacklisting that occurred after former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught making racist remarks, or when former senior director of communications at IAC, Justine Sacco, was fired after an offensive tweet about AIDS, Trump has been immune to social exile. Despite the initial souring of many of his business relationships, he has appeared as a well-received guest on popular American television talk show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and has hosted the long running sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live. Given the inconsistency in the mainstream reaction, Trump appears to be hovering somewhere between laughable social critic and harmful racist.
His pandering to America’s political conservatives, social traditionalists, evangelicals, and the overtly patriotic seems to have paid off. He is leading the polls for the Republican nominee largely by grandstanding on immigration policy, with support expected to grow for his platform amidst fears of terrorism. Trump’s latest comments about requiring American Muslims to wear identification resonate well with the early years of post-9/11 society. Figures gathered in 2006 show that 39% of people were in favour of such a policy, and an additional 39% admitted to being in some way prejudiced. Contemporarily, his remarks about illegal Mexican immigrants have clicked with proponents of Kate’s Law, legislation designed to prevent citizens being the victims of crime by illegal immigrants, who return to the country after being deported.
Although America appears to be gripped and divided by Trump mania, the mainstream reporting of his popularity has lacked the appropriate context to put his fan base in perspective. Approximately 24% of Americans identify as Republican and within that number Trump has managed to secure a fraction with rhetoric that will likely alienate the more moderate voters of the party. Moreover, there is a disassociation between polls that indicate people support him and the reality of who will actually vote in the primary. If he does manage to secure the Republican nomination, even though only 7% of Republicans believe he will, he is faced with a 59% unfavourable rating from the American populace, a statistic that is likely to serve up the Presidency to likely Democrat contender Hilary Clinton.
Donald Trump is the voice of angry America. He speaks for people who hate politicians, who fear cultural decline at the hands of immigrants and who are tired of political correctness. He mimics the discourse of the audacious and enraged, who, in turn, gravitate towards his xenophobia. He is representative of a faction of American society which is often dismissed and his campaign is illuminating just how large, and relevant, that faction is. With just under a year to go until the American general election, Trump faces inevitable failure in his bid to become the next incumbent, but he has successfully tapped a pocket of Americans who think exactly like him, and are unlikely to be silenced by his loss in the election.