MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
This slogan, along with the divisive rhetoric presidential candidate Donald Trump has sparked in the United States, has caught many Americans by surprise and has left many in the Republican Party scrambling to prevent him from obtaining its nomination. Sixty percent of Republican registered voters say the presidential campaign has made them feel mostly embarrassed by their party. Trump’s unforeseen mobilization of a large group of impassioned voters, “The Trump Effect,” has left Republicans struggling to understand the source of the evident dissatisfaction within their party. Trump’s effect is neither limited in geographic scope to the United States nor based solely on racism; political agendas similar to Trump’s are also driving politics in countries across the Atlantic Ocean.
Trump’s support comes predominantly from male, less educated, and lower-income voters, and is strongest among those who earn less than $50,000 a year. The “Make America Great Again” campaign has proven to be the perfect outlet for economically disadvantaged citizens to streamline their frustration. Whether it is because Trump’s personal success convinces voters of his legitimacy, or his politically incorrect diction appeals to their frustration, he is obviously doing something right.
The United States is not the only country facing consequences of “The Trump Effect.” The rise of the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), for instance, has left many Britons with a mixture of awe and a realization of widespread unhappiness—similar to how many Republicans in the United States currently feel about the rise of Trump. Supported by right-leaning voters who feel “left behind” by Britain’s changing social and economic structures, UKIP’s base comprises mainly older, working-class, white voters with few educational qualifications.
UKIP supporters even claim that their views align with Trump’s. A poll conducted by YouGov in December 2015 found that UKIP supporters believe Trump’s position on banning Muslim immigrants from entering the United States is appropriate. The rhetoric of Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, is undoubtedly similar to Trump’s as well.
In the May 2014 European Parliament elections, Nigel Farage and UKIP finished in first place, with over 4.3 million votes and 26.6 percent of the national vote.
Both UKIP and Trump have capitalized on anti-immigrant sentiment in their own regions of the world. UKIP’s political beliefs—anti-immigrant, Euroskeptical, and unaccepting of abortion or homosexuality—are strikingly similar to Trump’s agenda in the United States.
Another “Trump Effect” case study is Germany. The right-wing, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) has seen major success in recent elections. In three different regions, AfD outperformed expectations. AfD’s tough populist talk has attracted voters angered by the influx of migrants. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policies, which have been sympathetic toward immigrants, have espoused fear among many Germans. This fear has led to extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and exacerbated racial tensions, which have been keys to the success of AfD.
We should not be surprised by what is happening in the United States, given its widespread appeal in other developed, democratic countries. Populist leaders like Trump have often capitalized on the dissatisfaction of particular groups, fueled by changing culture, society, and economic norms. The disenfranchisement felt by these groups leads them to become fearful of change and outsiders. Comments from Trump that Mexicans are “rapists and criminals,” which would regularly be regarded as blatant racism, are instead perceived as righteous resistance to a culture of political correctness. Fear legitimizes racism—doubly so when a populist leader like Trump voices it openly and without reprisal. The rise of UKIP in the UK, AfD in Germany, and Donald Trump in the United States have all, in their own ways, normalized racism.
“Comments from Trump that Mexicans are ‘rapists and criminals,’ which would regularly be regarded as blatant racism, are instead perceived as righteous resistance to a culture of political correctness. Fear legitimizes racism—doubly so when a populist leader like Trump voices it openly and without reprisal.”
What could have been done to prevent such widespread dissatisfaction? How have such disingenuous politicians been so successful? What does this mean for the future of countries afflicted by “The Trump Effect”? Many like-minded individuals in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States cannot fathom their own Trump epidemics going any further. Maybe it is time we take a step back and try to understand the source of the dissatisfaction instead of dubbing the supporters of these movements as racists, “crazies,” or uneducated conservatives.
Image: Nigel Farage speaking at CPAC 2015 (Michael Vadon, Creative Commons)
Sammy Ginsberg is a junior at Cherry Creek High School outside of Denver, Colorado. She plans on studying foreign policy and international relations in the near future. She is also passionate about Asian studies and is currently learning Mandarin Chinese. You can follow her on Twitter.