No one can quite figure out Donald Trump. He is popular when he should not be, he is racist, virulently anti- Muslim, and has openly favoured torture. He has insulted women who have questioned him on TV. Why has he caught the support of US voters when he should be a pariah ?
When people don’t like a politician intensely, they reach for the one cliche that they think is effective. The person is compared to Hitler. This insults the millions who were killed by Hitler — Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and citizens of Poland, Russia and many other European countries. Yet even Narendra Modi is compared to Hitler though never Rajiv or Indira Gandhi. Now it is the turn of Donald Trump.
The parallels between the two are quite remarkable. They defy expectations of people who thought they would be unelectable. Trump is like Modi since his party’s establishment wants him to fail.
This was very much the attitude of many BJP insiders who predicted, indeed wished, that Modi would not get more than 180 seats. They wanted him to fail. Alas, he disappointed them.
Trump is winning primaries in state after state and leads in national opinion polls. No one likes him; neither Republicans nor Democrats.
What Trump reflects is the deep dissatisfaction of the general public with the establishment politics. There is a lot of resentment about the decline of the middle class, relative to the rich, across all developed countries.
There is no doubt about the stagnation of incomes in the middle of the income distribution system, for those above the bottom 20 per cent but below the top 10 per cent.
The Republican Party has been captured by the very rich, the top 5 per cent, if not the top 1 per cent of the income distribution. Their policy attention is focused on more tax cuts for the rich, for shrinking the welfare state and less regulation for industries. The ordinary people also hate the State and regulations but they also dislike the very rich and their privileges.
The Left is often clueless about middle-class dissatisfaction. The classic Communist label for such people is lumpen proletariat or petit bourgeois. The labels are meant to be dismissive. The Right-wing politician knows how to galvanise this dissatisfaction. The demagogue on the Right arouses passions while the Left hopes to incite virtuous anger. The Right demagogue uses extreme language.
Even the most radical Left candidate, Bernie Sanders, cannot match such language.
There are some more things playing for Trump. The global economy sank in 2008 with banks having to be rescued by the taxpayer.
Following that, Obama was elected as the first black President. Unemployment rose and many people lost their houses in the slump. Crude racism combined with economic distress led to the formation of the Tea Party within the Republican Party. This political anger, which takes virulent forms, is most often expressed by people who are suffering genuine economic loss. They are not poor but constantly worried they would sink into poverty.
Donald Trump has now a good chance of winning nomination of the Republican Party. People have forgotten that previous Right-wing politicians like Ronald Reagan incited as much anger when they were running for President. Now Reagan is rated very highly. Could Donald Trump surprise us?