The glee was palpable. This past weekend, E.J. Dionne Jr., a liberal columnist at the Washington Post, exuberantly declared that Donald Trump’s candidacy is set to implode.
But such elation may be misplaced if Trump’s defeat allows the status quo politicians, power brokers and so-called thought leaders to claim victory and dismiss the concerns of many of his frustrated and embittered supporters.
Trump’s supporters reflect a lot of discontent that’s boiling up in this country. If it’s just dismissed as the complaints of a fringe and we return to politics as usual, that would be a tragedy.
It would mean ignoring millions of Americans like Sam W., a longtime friend from back East.
Sam called me the other day to shoot the breeze. We started talking about cycling tours and our children, but it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to politics.
And off he went, hardly pausing for a breath.
Sam’s a professional, has a graduate degree and is drawn to Donald Trump, partly because of his disgust with politics as usual. In an exasperated tone, he said he felt that the pundits, the media and political leaders in both parties are demonizing him and others like him as poorly educated, ill-informed, racist bumpkins who need to get with the program.
“It’s really discouraging,” Sam said, “to be labeled a nutcase and a low-knowledge voter because I think the leaders of both parties have utterly failed us in confronting America’s problems.”
His litany of frustrations was a long one.
When he argues that massive illegal immigration and sanctuary cities undermine the rule of law, sanctimonious liberals call him a bigot, he said.
When he lambastes Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s disastrous lead-from-behind foreign policy, the collapse of one Middle East country after another, Russia’s takeover of Crimea and ascendency in Syria and other international messes, he said he’s dismissed or ignored.
Sam also endorses the argument that some international defense agreements need to be reexamined. “Too many countries are only able to afford their cushy social welfare programs because the U.S. picks up the tab for their security,” Sam said. “That’s crap. When our own budget is strained, isn’t it legitimate to consider more sharing of the burden?”
When he expresses his frustration with the latest PC controversy, such as the complaints by Emory University students that somebody writing “Trump 2016” in chalk on a campus sidewalk makes them feel unsafe and in pain, he’s accused of being a narrow-minded old fogie.
Sam is also disheartened with the failure of both parties to honestly tackle the ever-expanding national debt. When George W. Bush left office in January 2009, the national debt was $10 trillion. Now in the eighth year of Obama’s presidency, it is over $19 trillion.
But neither party is talking seriously about the critical need to reduce federal spending and avoid a debt crisis. Democrats never seem to give a damn, Sam said, but the Republicans aren’t much better because they say they care, but the truth is they still vote for budget busting bills.
Sam also doesn’t think either party has really shown much real concern for the poor. The Democrats just want to expand the welfare state and generate thank-you votes, he said, and the Republicans seem insensitive to the legitimate concerns of struggling Americans.
For that matter, the establishment elite of both parties doesn’t seem to understand the legitimate worries of the middle class either, Sam said. A lot of Americans are really scared and struggling just to stay in place, he said, but politicians seem more focused on catering to big banks, corporations and the wealthy.
And think about what we may end up with if Trump is pushed out, Sam said. “On the Republican side we could be faced with Ted Cruz, a right-wing bible-thumping moralist who is a pariah in his own party. On the other side, Hillary Clinton is an uninspiring and widely distrusted candidate whose entire family stinks of greed and appears oblivious to common standards of conduct.”
“An awful lot of Americans are just completely disillusioned with U.S. politics as usual,” Sam said.
“Whether they are the academic, media, and entertainment elites of the Left or the political and business elites of the Right, America’s self-appointed best and brightest uniformly view the passions unleashed by Trump as the modern-day equivalent of a medieval peasants’ revolt. And, like their medieval forebears, they mean to crush it,” the National Review said earlier this year.
If they succeed, and then ignore the concerns of Sam and millions of Americans like him, the prognosis for stability and progress is not good.