The Trump Phenomenon

Donald Trump’s past forays into politics have left him rebuked, ridiculed and taken anything but seriously. At the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama reduced Trump to rubble, as the “birther” conspiracy theory met its demise at the hands of long-form evidence. Washington laughed, and I along with them. We laughed with derision last year when Trump declared his candidacy and in disbelief when he began to spew his

characteristic uncut vitriol against women, Muslims and Mexican immigrants.

Then he started leading in the polls. He came in second in Iowa. He won in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Donald Trump’s candidacy has ceased to be a laughing matter, and he has cultivated public image of his brazen personality. It has become painfully clear that he is no dark side Don Quixote, but rather represents some of the most troubling popular trends in American politics.

One such trend is the resurgence of nativism. Trump has proposed building a wall on the Mexican-American border, preventing Muslims from immigrating to the United States and hunting down and deporting every undocumented immigrant in our country, no matter the human or economic cost. Voices as diverse as The New York Times Editorial Board, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Pope Francis have condemned this aspect of Trump’s platform and the caustic rhetoric with which he has promoted it.

Yet Trump’s supporters remain undeterred. Nativism is nothing new within the GOP, its simmer kept low in past years only by the pragmatism of party leaders. Trump’s support has not materialized out of thin air, but rather oozed organically from the woodwork of America’s increasingly polar conservative electorate. The sentiment he has channeled flies in the face of New Colossus America, our history as a nation of heterogeneous immigrants and the American Dream itself, but that has not stopped it from appealing to the disgruntled Republican masses.

Another problematic wave Trump has ridden to its crest is that of anti-political sentiment. Again, he does not represent a novel phenomenon, but rather the culmination of years of increasingly extreme rhetoric that has condemned experience, intellectualism and even compromise. His demographic incomprehensibly rejects the premise that policy is the product of the political process of give and take. Such “my way or the highway” tactics have yielded the government shutdown of 2013, the downfall of House Speaker John Boehner and the current likelihood that the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia will remain empty for an unprecedented 11 months.

Fortunately, such practices are doomed to fail in the long run. The capacity of hard-nosed doctrines to wreak policy havoc is constrained by our structure of government: namely by the non-majoritarian character of the Senate, the Constitutional check of the Supreme Court and the tendency of American democracy to punish presidents for political stagnation. Even if Trump finds his way to the White House, he will be subject to the Senate’s filibuster, the Supreme Court’s authority to interpret the Constitution and the threat of electoral defeat in the face of inaction. In other words, there’s still hope.