by James M. Wall
It is not difficult to explain Clinton’s success. Democrats have grown accustomed to her face in the White House, the Senate and on the international scene.
Voters who knew her face and wanted her to be president were not sufficient to enable her to defeat Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
After eight more years in the public arena, Clinton’s political identity is more fully formed, and her financial backing more firmly fixed by her favorability rating on Wall Street.
Clinton now appears poised to win the Democratic nomination. Trump’s victory at the Republican Convention, also appears almost certain.
Like Clinton, he is a familiar face. He gained familiarity as a (for real) billionaire television star who played an uncouth talk show bully. In the political arena, Trump has honed that same image to emerge as a successful (still for real) billionaire uncouth political bully.
One Israeli media commentator who has covered and analyzed his own local share of uncouth bullies in political office, has written a succinct and on-target explanation as to why and how, Donald Trump emerged.
Ari Shavit is a senior correspondent at Jerusalem-based Haaretz and a member of its editorial board.
In a recent column on the U.S. election, Shavit offers three reasons why a billionaire like Trump, with no political background, has risen so high and so fast in his race for the presidency.
To begin, Trump is a political demagogue in the American political tradition of demagogues who emerge to confront and over-simplify what a portion of the population has been taught to fear.
Shavit explains that Trump’s success is rooted in three fears:
The first reason for Trump’s success is fear for the nation’s identity. American demography is changing fast. White Christian America is becoming a minority. In the two election campaigns won by Barack Obama, American politics celebrated the change.
Now comes the reaction. Something dark and horrible is rising from parts of the conservative white population, which feels it’s losing its hegemony over the land it has built.
Shavit writes that Trump’s ability to tap into economic fear is the second reason for his political success. Shavit examines the history of that fear.
In the last 30 years American capitalism has become rapacious as it hasn’t been since the end of the 19th century. Massive concentration of capital, huge social gaps and an eroding middle class are breaking the American dream to bits. In the absence of real mobility and the lack of confidence in a better future, American stability and optimism have been undermined.
Shavit continues with a third reason to answer the questions, why and how Trump?
The third reason for Trump’s success is fear of decline. All those who will be voting in the November election are children of the American century. They grew up in a world dominated in one way or another by the United States.
But in the last 15 years these voters have seen America lose its place of leadership in the world. China’s rise, Russia’s provocation and the Middle East’s despair prove that Washington is no longer in command of the world as it was in the past. Thus was created the yearning for a new commander, an unrestrained one.
Shavit finds that these three deep fears–fear of the loss of identity, economic fear, and fear of decline–have coalesced in recent years to “become a quiet dread”.
While on the surface, the economy seemed to be more or less recovering, the world more or less peaceful, and life more or less reasonable – down below this dread gripped the heart of the American masses.
In the lack of job security, communal security and security in the future, the dread intensified.
Senator Bernie Sanders could still emerge as the Democratic nominee in November. His upset victory in Michigan Tuesday showed his potential.
For Sanders to overtake Hillary, however, would be as surprising as Trump’s sudden transformation from talk-show host to almost-certain presidential nominee.
Sanders’ supporters share with Trump supporters a passionate attachment to their candidates.
Those of us who fought in the 1972 Democratic convention to give Senator George McGovern the nomination, remember well how passion can go a long way in politics when there is a cause and an inspiring candidate to lead that cause.
We also remember how difficult it is to confront a fixed establishment invested in an establishment candidate who is also an incumbent president named Richard Nixon.
If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee she will run as the establishment candidate while Trump will run in the passion lane.
Given Sanders’ background as a revolutionary, a Trump-Sanders general election would have put two opposites in the ring, both of whom would appeal, from different directions, to the passions that emerged out of the 1960s U.S. cultural/political revolution.
As a college student and a confirmed radical, Bernie Sanders was a fighter in that revolution. He fought on its cultural front lines, specifically to undermine the hegemony of the white ruling class.
Sanders marched and protested. In 1963, he was arrested during a civil rights protest demonstration, (right) on Chicago’s South Side. He later became a successful politician, moving from mayor to U.S. Senator.
To be successful in a November general election, Sanders would need to address the fears of Trump supporters who, in Shavit’s terms are part of a “conservative white population, which feels it’s losing its hegemony over the land it has built”.
It is the establishment candidate’s task to persuade the voters that addressing their fears is best left to the establishment candidate.
Will a Clinton-Trump November race produce a winning establishment candidate named Clinton, or will passion provoked by fears produce a winner named Trump?
That is a question to ponder. There are still primaries and caucuses and two conventions ahead before we reach November 8.
On that date, voters must decide who best to lead this nation in a time when so many are gripped in a “quiet dread”.
The picture of Donald Trump at top is from Reuters.
The picture of Bernie Sanders being arrested as a young man in 1963 at a Chicago South Side protest demonstration, is from the Chicago Tribune archives. It was posted by www.democraticunderground.com.