Why Americans, not just the GOP, have an inclination towards Strong-Men
I have been troubled recently, not by the efforts and words of some men, but by the reaction of many of my fellow Americans to the existence of the candidacies of those men. I am sure that while many Americans may feel that certain candidates are an ‘anomaly’ or ‘oddity’ in the political cycle the reality is, they are not. So I figured I would try to give some brief arguments for why Americans, not just “old, white Republicans who are angry and hatemongers” are finding themselves supporting Trump, or anyone else of similar ‘ill-quality.’
Fear of Foreign Nations
The beginning of our context as a country obviously begins before we were a nation, when we were still colonies of the North American portion of the British Empire. During the not-so-often discussed French and Indian War, the French paid for Native American tribes to make raids on the American colonies. From this beginning, we feared foreign nations would fund those who would seek our destruction.
Eventually the boogey-man became the British who not only fought us in the Revolution, but also attacked us in the War of 1812 and provided antagonism in the nation’s history all the way through the Civil War, when they contemplated recognition of the Confederacy.
The next State enemy came in the form of Spain, who during the lead up to the Spanish-American War of 1898, had been antagonizing Latin American states, particularly in South America. When things got heated in Cuba, and we assumed they attacked our ship, the USS Maine, Americans were immediately ready for the warpath, fearful and ready to fight an enemy they thought sought their destruction.
While Germany and Japan occupy the same threatening portion in history, that of World War II, the German and Japanese fear translated into a persecution of American citizens, something that wasn’t new for the period, but when examined from the present, seems an outlier in behavior. I will discuss the fear of Immigrants later, but the Japanese internment was not an ‘isolated incident.’
The most recent span of Enemy State fears comes from the Cold War, the animosity Americans have for the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese. The Soviet Union/Russian Federation is pretty easy to explain, given the fact that we know the Soviet Union aided Vietnam War protestors, and today the Russian Federation aids Nationalist organizations in Europe, and Conspiracy groups in America. The Iranians play to our fear of death and nuclear destruction. As for the Chinese, they occupy the threat to our economy, and while the threat isn’t quite loud yet, I would argue it is building and will continue to build as the years go on.
Fear of Dis-similar Immigrants
The story of American animosity towards immigrants begins with the post-Revolution fear that Papists would betray the country. Almost immediately after the Founders won the war of Independence, fears of Catholic immigrants from France and Spain, and the Catholic citizens, primarily in Maryland, were going to betray the nation, took heart. This created the animosity towards “different” immigrants that we often see towards Mexicans and Muslims today.
In the 1800s, fear of the Catholic European exacerbated when poorer Catholic migrants began coming over, predominantly from Ireland, Germany, and Italian, these immigrants were not only perceived as eminent threats because of their religion, but because of the fact many were poor. Later, when the Chinese and Koreans began immigrating, hostility to them occurred because they looked different, spoke unknown tongues, and weren’t Christian.
At the turn of the century, as Russian began its decline, the flight of Eastern Europeans saw similar amounts of ethnic and religious hatred because Russian or Greek Orthodoxy, in either form seemed at all similar to at least Catholicism or Protestantism.
Today that fear of Immigrants is placed on two groups, Mexicans and Muslims. Muslim immigrants are feared because they speak differently, appear and dress differently, and believe in Islam. Mexicans are viewed less hostile nationally, but still economically threatening because they “undercut the American citizen’s ability to hold a job.” Whether the arguments are real or not, the fears are real. Which is why our Economy is vital to this problem.
Weak Economies Drive Social Policy
Despite Political Elite and their best efforts to deny reality outside of Washington DC and New York City, most of the nation suffers from a rather weak and frustrating economic situation. In many locations, jobs are at lows still compared to years before the Great Recession. Whether the President has fault in the trigger and immediate aftermath of the Recession, he is seen as having blame, along with the GOP and Democrat establishment in the lack of recovery in the seven years since.
When people are frustrated, as they were in months after the Revolutionary War, during the Great Depression in Germany and America, people seek to alleviate their struggle economically by blaming someone. It’s a bread and circuses effect, when the people can eat and enjoy their lives, no one has to suffer to appease the population.
Law and Order as Social Policies
As it was with Reagan’s Drug War, when there are perceived threats to safety, in hard economic times, the people usually turn to government for it to punish behavior they feel wrong. The rise in the desire to vet our refugees, like those demanding we vet gun owners, comes from the same territory that saw us want to punish drug dealers for putting kids in hospital beds. The rise in reducing and eliminating illegal immigration comes from the same place that saw us demand the Patriot Act to eliminate terrorists before they commit another 9/11.
We, as a population, demand leaders and policies from those leaders that will reinforce our strength when we are in times of hardship because we believe the hardship has come from our lenience for social grievances and abuses. I would accuse those who seek to punish bakeries for denying services are the same as those who want to punish businesses who employ illegal immigrants.
Why Trump Appeals to Americans is Simple
Americans aren’t willing to trade all of their civil liberties, and they want to protect themselves because they know government won’t be able to, but Americans have a history of showing themselves acceptable with domestic violations of the Constitution if the man in power is doing the right thing. And this is why Trump is popular to Americans, he says the right thing, he suggests doing the right thing, and he has people around him and supporting him saying he will do the right thing. Whether you think he will do the right thing doesn’t matter, what matters is that Americans believe he will do the right thing.
When you look at history, it’s clear to see why the GOP and Democrat leadership has lost control of the nation. Who would put faith in men and women who cannot make the population feel safe? Trump is rising because he talks about restoring America. He does not pretend it is doing well as some have. He says what the population is thinking.
Who Am I to Say These Things?
I live and work in DC, and I have had jobs where most would say the elite reside. However, I am from a small town in Illinois, a place of under 5000 people, where I know most people’s names and their families. And I know a handful of Trump supporters. Those folks are not the personified “Racist Redneck” that many would label as Trump supporters, they are financially reasonable, good folks who are genuinely scared of the current economic and political situation of America, and feel that their only choice to protect what they love is to give power to a man, who while appealing to the base instinct, appeals to their interest in restoring America’s position and power, and also their prosperity and safe homes.
Obviously, there are bad eggs in the Trump supporter basket, but just as we demand as Christians that people not let the Westboro Baptist Church define us, we should not let those who assault protesters, and commit violent crimes define the base supporter for Trump. We should pressure them when they wave off bad behavior of a candidate as acceptable, but my intention is not to castigate anyone, but to showcase that it is more culture than the cult of Trump that drives his support.
*I Submitted this to the Op-Ed Section of the New York Times, the 3-day ban on this content being posted has ended*