The GOP is currently divided into two houses, hypothetically alike in dignity: The Republicans spearheading the “Stop Trump” movement vs. the former Trump adversaries turned Trump followers. Although the Republicans that lambast Trump might argue that there is no room in their party for a candidate so hateful, racist, and misogynistic, their party has actually been priming its audience for the ascendance of a Trump-like character for some time.
In this context, it’s easy to blame Republicans for allowing and even encouraging the rise of such a candidate—one which both citizens of the the United States and the entire world have been shocked and disgusted to witness. It’s also easy to blame Donald Trump for using his hateful rhetoric to inspire angry and frustrated people often into violent action. However, blaming Donald Trump for the groundswell of support he has garnered is misguided and detrimental—and frankly naive.
Do Trump’s hate-filled talking points inspire his audience? Sure. Is he charismatic? Maybe. Did he swoop in out of nowhere and hypnotize millions of people into casting their ballot for him? No.
The conditions for creating an audience susceptible to Trump’s demagogue tactics have been created and exacerbated by the very politicians who censure Donald Trump. Trump’s supporters tend to have “old economy” jobs, and are often poor or unemployed. Government policies have been the driving factors for the precarious financial situation of many of these individuals. Free-trade deals sent manufacturing abroad, massive Republican-supported subsidized farms have decreased the viability of small-scale farmers, and the financial crisis of 2008 left many, especially those in construction, unemployed. These Americans have been left behind; they are justifiably angry and frustrated.
Another one of the biggest indicators of whether or not a voter will support Trump is how likely they are to agree with the statement “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.” Not only have these individuals lost their jobs; their needs are not being met or even addressed by the politicians that they’ve elected. Politicians have become renowned for making promises that they never follow through on, so it’s no surprise that Trump’s outsider status is his main appeal. At long last, the people are asking the right question: Why should we trust an establishment Republican politician?
Anger, frustration and resentment are ideal background conditions that allow for the rise of a Trump-like character, but one final factor put the final nail in the Republican primary coffin: Lack of access to higher education. The single best predictor of Trump support is education—specifically the lack of a college degree. Again, this is a result of government policies. The government-issued Pell Grant is the single most important financial aid program for low-income students who seek a college education. In 1980, it covered 77 percent of the total cost of a public university; currently, it covers less than one third of that cost. Rising college costs and decreasing financial aid from the government has led to a decrease in the availability of higher education, specifically to those of a low-income background. Low-income individuals who can’t afford college also can’t gain employment through obtaining a degree. Moreover, they are often also isolated in the poor, rural communities that they grew up in, without any opportunity to immerse themselves in a new, diverse environment.
College is important in a myriad of ways, not least of which is the increased chances of acquiring a well-paying job. But if the angry, frustrated individuals profiled above had access to higher education, they would have more than a better-paying job—they’d have the opportunity to meet other people beyond the confines of their small communities.
How easy would it be to blame Mexicans as a whole for all of your problems when you’ve met and formed friendships with Mexican students who are both brilliant and hard-working? How easy would it be to lump them all into one group when you understand the nuances of individuals? How easy would it be to blame Muslims for religious extremism when you’ve met Muslim students and better understand their culture—when you see how critical they are of violence, and how much their religion means to many of them?
It’s easy for Trump to find scapegoats for America’s problems, because the people who believe him have not had the opportunity to truly know and befriend the people who they blame. The opportunity that students receive at college to meet other people, many of whom are different from them, is instrumental in helping them develop resistance to this hateful rhetoric and to oppose Trump’s fear-mongering tactics.
There are many opportunities to diffuse the situation that has been bubbling in the underbelly of America—the situation that allowed for the anger, resentment and frustration that paved the way for Trump’s successful primary race. Congress could pass legislation decreasing incentives for manufacturing to leave the United States, and therefore increasing employment opportunities. They could also create policies to educate individuals in vocations that help them find jobs in the new economy. But perhaps most importantly, the United States could help low-income individuals gain access to higher education, which would serve the dual purpose of helping them find employment and increase their understanding of the other people with whom they share the country.
Blaming Donald Trump doesn’t solve any of the problems that led to his rise, because the people who support him didn’t materialize from thin air. They have been left behind by the new economy, and are often ignored by their politicians. They’re angry—and justifiably so—even if their anger is misguided and highjacked by Trump’s hateful rhetoric. If it wasn’t Trump, it would’ve been someone else.
The fact that Trump, the angry, racist misogynist, can gain such support through racial hatred and violence is a failure on the part of the entire United States, especially the politicians who created the policies that allowed for the emergence of a large, uneducated, unemployed section of the US population. They exist, and they’re not going away. The solution to the rise of Donald Trump will have to be a slow process of political and policy reforms that create opportunities for everyone, including these people—the ones left behind.