By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Donald Trump’s fortunes rise as the fortunes of the US seem dimmer, as the image of the US political establishment is deflating, and as the self-confidence of the US working and middle classes is eroding.
In 2008, the US electorate was driven by a sense of urgency to snatch America from its economic and social crises, and therefore approached the inexperienced presidential candidate, Barack Obama, as the “Light Worker,” possessing mythical capabilities to heal the country. In 2016, a growing segment of the US electorate has lost its confidence in the political establishment, looking for a strong man on a white horse to stop the slippery slope trend of recent years.
Trump reverberates the intensifying frustration of the general constituency with career politicians, and GOP voters’ disillusionment with the GOP party machine and GOP legislators on Capitol Hill, who have failed to stifle President Obama’s implementation of his goal to fundamentally transform the US landscape internationally and domestically, socially, educationally, medically, economically, legally, ethnically, diplomatically and even militarily.
Trump is leveraging the growing gap/rift between the working and middle classes and the economic-intellectual-media “elites;” between the growing number of state and federal-supported/employed people and the rest of the population; between voters in the major urban centers and the “flyover” Americans of Middle America (not only “Joe Six Pack” and “Lunch Pail Mabel”); and between Metropolitan (“Wall Street”) and Micro-politan (“Main Street”) America.
Trump capitalizes on the significant erosion – especially since the 2008 economic meltdown - of America’s self-confidence, optimism, patriotism and conviction in its moral, economic, scientific, social and military exceptionalism, compared to the rest of the world.
In 2008, the American voter elected a transformational President, Barack Obama, who committed himself, in a lucid and transparent manner, to “hope and change” the face of the US domestically and internationally, and to alter the definition of “American exceptionalism” in a more multinational, multicultural, less-assertive, less-unilateral manner. Obama proceeded to fulfill his pledge to the voter with the backing of the Democrat-controlled House and Senate.
In 2010, riding on a wave of public criticism of President Obama’s transformational drive, the GOP leadership promised its voters that regaining House majority would block Obama. The Democrats suffered an unprecedented defeat in the House, but the House Republicans did not stop Obama. In 2014, the GOP leadership leveraged anti-Obama public sentiments, ensuring Republican voters that regaining a majority in the Senate would render Obama a lame-duck president. However, controlling both Capitol Hill Chambers, Republicans still failed their constituents, who are therefore seeking non-establishment leadership to stop and rollback Obama’s “Change America” mission.
Trump responds to the growing anxiety of the working class, as well as of the middle class, that the wave of illegal, and legal, immigration will further erode their income, threaten their employment, aggravate crime, transform America’s identity – ethnically, culturally and religiously – and fuel Islamic terrorism on the mainland. Unlike the intellectual and media “elites” – which welcome multiculturalism – America’s working and middle classes, and Small Town America, are concerned about the declining stature of basic values, such as the traditional family, marriage, the church, the flag, the military, the English language and Judeo-Christian values in general.
Donald Trump’s campaign reflects the eagerness of many Americans to initiate a drastic change of direction, restore traditional US optimism, patriotism and assertive American exceptionalism, reviving the “American Dream,” individually and nationally, domestically and internationally.
A dramatic, public discontent at the end of President Carter’s (1980) and President Bush’s (2008) administrations yielded a dramatic political change. Will Donald Trump benefit from a similar, dramatic change in 2016?