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How America Got 'Trumped'

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Nina M. Lozano-Reich, Ph.D.
REPUBLICAN © Chris Clor via Getty Images REPUBLICAN

The "#DumpTrump" camp, and the soul of the GOP, may be in the process of having their worst nightmares come to fruition. As I write this piece, today, on March 8, 2016, Trump has garnered 384 delegates to Cruz's 300 and Rubio's 151. In a national poll, published by the Washington Times, Trump maintains a 9-point national lead over Ted Cruz. Republicans are sharking their heads. They are asking, where did we go wrong? How did this happen? They aren't the only ones. Numerous analysts have asked whether or not we are watching the demise of the Republican Party itself. Samantha Bee, in her biting satire, last night, issued a eulogy for the GOP's last rites. She argued that the Republican candidates have reduced the party to, "rambunctious man-children hollering about their pee-pees." In addition to eulogies, other folks are jumping ship.
As reported in the March 03 edition of the New York Times, "two top Republicans, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, said this week that they would not vote for Mr. Trump in November." William Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard, stated that he would not vote for Trump and, instead, work towards an "independent Republican" nominee. Similarly, Max Boot, a foreign policy adviser to Senator Marco Rubio declared, "I would sooner vote for Josef Stalin than I would vote for Donald Trump . . . there is no way in hell I would ever vote for him. I would far more readily support Hillary Clinton, or Bloomberg if he ran." But it is not just Republican faithfulls who are threatening defection, and perhaps heretic behavior. According to the March 07 edition of Global News, "An Ontario immigration lawyer reports that he has been flooded with calls from, inquiring Americans, off all party allegiances, as to how one migrate if Trump were to be elected President.
The Jimmy Kimmel show, this week, aired a satire sketch of the Broadway musical, The Producers called "Trumped." In this sketch, Mathew Broderick (Le Bloom) and Nathan Lane's (Max Bialystock) characters, rather than theatre producers, play corrupt political strategists. Same premise: instead of devising a musical play which flops, Broderick and Lane set forth to rig an election for monetary gain. Their scheme? Put forth a popular, yet sure-fire losing candidate, hype their candidacy on the front end to elicit campaign donations, and when their candidate loses the nomination, pocket the money. Their plan can't fail!
Like Broadway's musical, Broderick and Lane take their rhetoric to the absurd. In the musical's version, the sleazy producers put on a play--one that is absurd: a musical about Adolf Hitler. No, there is no irony lost here. The Washington Post, when reporting on this spoof, stated, "Jimmy Kimmel's Producers' sketch provides a hilarious explanation for the rise of Trump." While audience members, after watching this skit are splitting their sides with laughter, members of the Republican Party, along with anti-Trump opponents, are shaking their heads in disgust and bewilderment. Thus, while satirizing the "Producers" offers audience members a humorous understanding of Trump's (perhaps now) inevitable nomination for the Republican Party, the Washington Post describes Trump's ascent to power as "inexplicable." This claim is where my analysis begins. Trump's ascent is completely explicable.
Let's use the Kimmel skit, as an analogue, to explain Trump's rhetorical rise to the nomination. In the skit, Max states, " . . . your idea about building the wall across the Mexican border -brilliant! He won't last the week!" Le: "He's still in the lead, Max." Max: "But how could this happen? Where did we go right? Wait a minute; did he say we should forcibly kick out 11 million immigrants?" Le: "Yes." Max: "Did he propose banning all one billion Muslims from entering the U.S.?" Le: "Yes. Nothing is working Max, Nothing."
Let's now examine Trump's rhetoric, in conjunction with Kimmel's satire, in order to lay the foundation to garner some insight as to why Trump's rhetoric is, indeed, working. Trump on Mexicans: "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're sending people that have lots of problems. And they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists . . ." Trump on Muslims: "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown on Muslims Entering the United States." Trump on Isis: "We're fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists; you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families . . ." Trump on Women: "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever." Trump on the Pope: "Disgraceful." Trump on immigration: I will build a great wall. And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me--and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words." Trump's uses of social media extend these discourses, of hate, into digestible sound bites. For instance, Trump tweeted a quote from Benito Mussolini, founder of the fascist movement: "It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep." Trump also re-tweeted a quote from a well-known Nazi sympathizing white nationalist.
Rhetoric creates a reality. Taken together, the aforementioned examples demonstrate Trump's efficacious use of rhetorics of fear, hate and xenophobia, which have enabled his rise to the top. But, the explanation, is not that simple. We must go back a bit further in time. I suggest that the Republican Party's acceptance of the ideologies of right-wing religious extremists, coupled with the inclusion of tea party member ideological sensibilities, set the perfect stage, via a political climate, for Trump to rise as the frontrunner and the current face of the GOP. These discourses have been circulating and permeating the public sphere, by talk radio demigods, and the religious right, long before these 2016 presidential caucuses.
For instance, Senator Fred Thompson, during the 2008 presidential race: "Twelve million illegal immigrants later, we are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs and want to kill countless innocent men, women, and children around the world." Reverend John Hagee, in 2006: "How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen . . . because God said, 'my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.'" Rush Limbaugh: "Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do -- let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work."
Similar to arguments put forth from feminist scholars about how rhetorics of the acceptability and encouragement of violence against women create a rape culture--a culture where violence against women is accepted and even celebrated, I contend that the rhetoric of the Republican Party, coupled with its talk radio spokespeople, and tea party members, have functioned to create a political climate where Trump's discourse, much to the dismay of the characters Le Bloom and Max Bialystock, is not viewed as absurd, immoral or wrong but, instead, as the rational new norm--a norm where these ideologies will "make America great again."
These bodies of rhetoric, which has been circulating, and now centered with Trump, are not without impact. At the Nevada caucus, the Ku Klux Klan came out, sheets and all. In addition, the KKK, only a few weeks back, held a public rally in Orange County, CA. According to 2016 statistics published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, 892 hate groups are currently operating in the United States--a 14% increase since 2014. Mark Potok, Senior Fellow of the same organization, last month, reported: "the number of hate and anti-government 'patriot' groups grew last year, and terrorist attacks and radical plots proliferated . . . the armed violence was accompanied by rabid and often racist denunciations of Muslims, LGBT activists and others--incendiary rhetoric led by a number of mainstream political figures and amplified by a lowing herd of their enablers in the right-wing media. Reacting to demographic changes in the U.S., immigration, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Islamist atrocities, these people fostered a sense of polarization and anger in this country that may be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968."
Ignorance and fear bread hate and extremism. While, typically, the radical right, talk show hosts and fringe groups are at the margins of the GOP, this time, Trump's rhetoric mainstreams and capitalizes on it: "I love the uneducated." His rhetoric is a lightening rod. The centering of of these bodies of rhetorics can be marked by their maturation, perhaps best, by the straightforward question of Jack Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union" program. When asked by Tapper whether or not he would disavow David Duke and other white supremacist groups that support his campaign, he replied: "I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists . . . so I don't know. I don't know. Did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists."
So while, as previously demonstrated, Republicans are currently the harshest and most outspoken critics of Trump it is, paradoxically, the Republican Party's own rhetoric, over time, which has created the conditions for Trump to emerge as the party's leader. As such, Trump's popularity should come as no surprise. One week prior to Super Tuesday, Rubio and Cruz saw the writing on the wall. But it was too late. Rubio, attempting to reel the party base back in, stated, "When I hear the Ku Klux Klan, I say racist." Cruz: "The KKK is always bad. Bad, bad, bad . . . he didn't seem to get the memo on that."
In an interesting moment, which most pundits missed, during a recent Rubio press conference, Rubio hinted at the hood of hate that Trump has been symbolically wearing: "It's time to pull his mask off so that people can see what we're dealing with . . . we cannot allow the conservative movement to be taken over by a con artist, because the stakes are too high . . . friends do not let friends vote for con artists."
However, pulling off a mask connotes pulling the wool over the American public's eyes--that Americans have been somehow duped. But let us examine several polls. According to a recent poll conducted by the Economist, close to 20% of Trump supporters do not feel that ending slavery was the right thing to do. According to a CNN poll, 54% of Trump supporters believe that Obama is Muslim. Given these statistical realities of Trump supporters, along with the documented rise in hate and extremist groups across our Country, coinciding with the dominant circulation of xenophobic and hate speech, Trump is not a conman. He is a reflection of our populous. Trump's demonizing statements about Latinos and Muslims, for instance, have electrified the radical right, and put a spotlight on the ugly ideologies that already existed. Trump is merely the signifier. As the Kimmel skit stated, " It's a story that starts off funny, then gets really, really depressing . . . what have we done." When Trump is gone (yes, I do not think that he will become our next President, for the record) the ideological discourses of xenophobia and hate will still remain, along with the individuals who support them. These are the stakes that we should be focused on, so that we do not again get "Trumped."

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