The Republican Presidential front-runner Donald Trump is an unusual candidate. He is a billionaire, real estate, casino and golf course magnate, popular TV personality and a one-time Democrat. He has broken all rules of behaviour, speech and all ideas of ‘political correctness’. What’s more, he is gaining Democrat and Independent voters. His support comes from all sections of the majority population across the country but it is suspected that the minority vote banks — Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and Muslims — may not vote in great numbers for him. Of the 19 Republican state primaries, he has won 12. He has knocked out Jeb Bush (son and brother of Presidents). His main competitors are now two Cuban-American senators with no chance of matching his score.
The entire US and international liberal and conservative opinion is uniformly hostile to Trump and has hysterically derided him for nine months. It is said that he is a joker, liar, con artist and, worse, racist, sexist, anti-Muslim etc. He said Hispanic illegal migrants increase crime, rape, drug traffic and take jobs away from natives and get state benefits. He says the Muslim world hates the US and, therefore, he would ban all Muslims from entering the US till he figures out why and what to do about it. He said the Iraq War was a horrible mistake, it was known that there were no WMDs and that President George Bush had not kept the country safe.
He routinely says the media were ‘terribly dishonest’. After the Pope said Trump was not a Christian for wanting to build a wall on the Mexican border, Trump counter attacked. And every time he was attacked, Trump counter-attacked or made a harsh comment and the subsequent polls showed increased approval for him.
At his rallies, he speaks for over an hour, without notes, written speeches or teleprompters — from his ‘heart and mind’. He says he borrowed US $ 1 million from his father and made a US $ 10 billion business. That he is a fantastic deal maker, that he knows politicians well as he funded them in the past. Also that politicians are ‘all-talk no-work’. His rallies are drawing tens of thousands while his competitors’ crowds are in the hundreds. This popular resonance seems to indicate that what he expressed on the public stage are feelings which Americans have long kept hidden due to ‘political correctness’. In fact, Trump says proudly that he is not ‘politically correct’.
So what does Trump say that is not ‘politically correct’ but which American voters appreciate? After listening to him for months, this is what I gather. First, he would deport 11-12 million Mexican illegal immigrants from the US (‘Mexico is killing us’). He will end further illegal immigration by building a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. This would also stop the huge inflow of illegal drugs. Second, Trump considers Islamic fundamentalist terrorism a threat to the US and a global challenge (‘Europe is in big trouble’). He would not take Syrian refugees (‘strong, young males’) but would create a ‘safe zone’ in Syria funded by oil-rich Gulf States. He says the Iran nuclear deal is disastrous and that he would scrap it.
But he does not believe in US ‘changing regimes’ as in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Third, Trump would vastly increase funding for the ‘depleted’ US military (‘I’m the most militarist person here’). His logic is that if US military is all-powerful, then ‘no one will mess with us’. He would take full care of the armed forces veterans who are ‘horribly, horribly treated’ by a corrupt Veterans Administration which cannot even service their urgent health needs in time – ‘every day 21 Veterans commit suicide’.
Fourth, he would reduce the national debt (at US $ 21 trillion) by eliminating the huge government waste and scams, charging allies to pay for US forces protecting their countries. US firms hold more than US $ 2500 billion outside the US; Trump says he can get that back (‘in half an hour’) by fixing a tax break!
Fifth, Trump would make China, South Korea, Japan and Mexico reduce their huge trade deficits with the US or else he would impose 35-45% tariff on their imports to US. US firms, like Apple, producing overseas and exporting to US, would return and create domestic jobs. This would apply to any US business like Ford, Caterpillar, etc — wanting to shift operations from the US. He is particularly violent about China — ‘stolen’, ‘robbed’, ‘theft’ are the terms used — which makes US$ 505 billion annually from trade with the US. He thinks China’s spectacular projects are funded by this ‘biggest theft in history’.
Sixth, unlike other Republicans, Trump would protect the middle and working class, social security entitlements and medicare/medicaid services. He would provide medical help for those who cannot afford insurance and clean up the whole medical insurance scam. He says the US government is the largest buyer of medicines but buys them at manufacturer’s prices. He would make US drug companies bid competitively thus saving US$ 300 billion a year. He would even buy low-cost medicines from abroad.
Seventh, he would make US universities cut costs and reduce their huge fees which is forcing students to incur unsupportable debt. Eighth, Trump is proud of the police and thanks them for keeping law and order (‘keeping America safe’). He would protect fully and strictly the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms. He thinks if people carried weapons with them, terrorists would not be able to kill so many people as when a Pakistani-American couple killed 13 of their workmates at a party in California.
Ninth, he thinks Wall Street (bankers etc) is running the country by paying for politician’s elections and that the people have lost control over their elected representatives. He says every politician is funded by donors and business (‘special interests’) . This ensures that special interests (huge bank bail outs) are taken care of — even ignoring people’s interest (12 million homes seized by banks). He is funding his own election and has refused millions of dollars offered by business friends. That allows him to serve the people’s and nation’s interest only.
Tenth, Trump says the US government is run by a set of “incompetent hacks”. He would appoint experts and business leaders who would know how to get the job done. He would return much of Federal government activity and funds to the States. He would invest in the ‘decaying’ US infrastructure — roads, airport, ports etc — all at under-budget cost and ahead-of-schedule like Trump projects.
Trump thinks that preserving the US (‘we are losing the country, folks’) needs: 1) a strong border, (2) a powerful military, (3) a buoyant economy and (4) a leader (like him) who will ‘Make America Great Again”. He is almost certain to be the Republican nominee. Then he has to beat the prospective Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. She is a hardened, business-as-usual politician and is well-funded, supported by her husband former President Clinton, the Democrat Party machine and the US elite establishment. Trump too has funded her and her husband in the past!
It seems clear to me that the Trump phenomenon indicates the breakdown of a democratic system where people vote once in 4 or 5 years to elect a political elite. This elite also coordinates the other major sectors such as academia, TV and newspaper and other media, armed force leaders, judges, bureaucrats, diplomats, bankers, financial operators, insurance companies, businesses etc. Together they form the ruling elite which mainly protects its own interests.
When this ruling elite fails to keep the people and the country safe and happy, a revolution takes place which throws up new leaders promising to ‘take the country back’ from the corrupt and incompetent elite and restore it to the old position. This revolt of the masses (“Springs”) against their ruling elites is happening in many countries with new leaders vying for popular support. Trump represents the American Spring.
The author is former Dean of Research and Consultancy, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad.