Donald Trump's first television ad for New Hampshire and Iowa is now airing and it exemplifies all that we should probably expect going forward as he seeks to win the Republican presidential nomination (and then Presidency itself; should his current lead hold up throughout the primary season). What does “the Donald” stand for? If this ad is any indication, then Xenophobia, Islamaphobia, racism and fear mongering, apparently. The ad has nothing to say about healthcare, the environment, the economy, poverty, income inequality or any of the other problems currently plaguing the country. Instead it focuses on the two issues at the heart of his campaign -- fear of difference and fear of violence. And then, in a rather bold jump of logic, Trump claims that addressing these fears alone will ultimately make the “country great again.”
Trump is essentially running a campaign that mirrors the radical ultra-nationalistic parties of Europe, based simply on fear of, and hatred towards, those who are different. It is based, at a deeper psychological level, on fear that what it means to be German, or Swedish, or Greek, or American, is irrevocably changing. This is clearly the case, as immigrant populations alter the cultural, political and economic landscape of advanced democratic countries across the globe. The reality, however, is it is unlikely that any of these politicians can change this trend or restore the nativist monocultures they hold in such vaunted regard. In the U.S., the mythology has been challenged for much of our history, even as conservatives have consistently used nativist and racist discourses to win elections in the past. Unlike the “Southern Strategy” of the past, however, blacks might be happy to hear they are not at the center of his plan – which instead invokes the two “M”s, Muslims and Mexicans, as the dual threats that must be extinguished to save America.
After informing viewers he supports this message, the ad commences with an image of Obama and Clinton, followed by the two San Bernardino terrorists (conveniently set up to draw visual parallels to the two Democrats) telling us that “politicians” (aka Obama and Clinton) are pretending the terrorist attack was not “radical Islamic terrorism.” Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Republican ads post-Willie Horton, facts are silly things that can be disposed of when they get in the way of an otherwise compelling argument. Obama and Clinton never said this was not a radical Islamic terror attack and, one assumes, Trump is instead feeding on the conspiracy theories that continue to persist around the 2012 Benghazi attack and Clinton’s complicity in those tragic deaths.
It thus appears Trump has apparently decided that he can reignite the shock and awe that struck the country in 2001, using it as a springboard to victory. That he is essentially alienating a billion people worldwide, serving as an excellent one-man recruitment vehicle for radical Islamic terrorists and seeking to undermine the constitution if elected are, it seems, a small price to pay for a populist billionaire with a God complex to save us from, well, other billionaires with God complexes; though rarely of the populist variety, to be fair.
The second fear the ad highlights is immigrants coming to America to take our jobs. The fact that undocumented immigrant populations have actually marginally declined under Obama's leadership (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/19/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/), particularly those coming from Mexico, is an inconvenient truth that Trump and his people don't seem too interested in considering. In fact, the video of people charging the walls isn't even along the Mexican border, but of migrants trying to get into a Spanish enclave in Morocco. Trump and his xenophobic acolytes, in fact, also ignore another inconvenient truth – that illegal immigration is good for the economy and the vast majority of Americans (http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/203984-illegal-immigrants-benefit-the-us-economy, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2014/12/02/How-Immigrants-Boost-US-Economic-Growth, http://business.time.com/2012/06/14/the-fiscal-fallout-of-state-immigration-laws/).
And so the primary season begins in earnest, with substantive issues that affect our daily lives far removed from the center of the Republican platform. Should we be surprised?