Donald Trump is not the problem; his voters are


By Gabriel Costello

Since the outset of his campaign in June, Donald Trump has been the subject of unceasing media attention. One establishment Republican after another has tried to dethrone Trump from the top of the polls and one after another has failed. The establishment’s inability to dethrone Trump is representative of a massive identity problem for the Republican party.

Trump, in and of himself, is not the problem. Yes, his rhetoric is often inflammatory and offensive, but it’s nothing new. The problem is that his calls have not fallen on deaf ears; the uncomfortable truth being that there is a distinct portion of electorate that fervently agrees with Trump.

This fact is rarely discussed and there is a reason for that. The dirty secret is that the voters who have put Trump where he is, in a position to almost certainly be the Republican nominee, are the same voters that the Republican establishment has depended upon for years. They’re the same voters that Richard Nixon welcomed into the party of Lincoln in 1968 when he carried out his “southern strategy” to bring the segregationist south into the GOP tent.

In the years since, the GOP has depended more and more upon this base as the country, and by extension the electorate, has become more diverse.

To put it simply, these voters are white, they are old, and they are angry. According to data collected by Civis Analysis, reported by The New York Times in late December, Trump is leading amongst all major demographic groups within the Republican electorate. Thirty-six percent of all voters 65 or older, 35 percent of all white, non-Latino, voters, and 36 percent of men support Trump. But the data also conveys Trump’s support is wide-ranging across other age, race and gender demographics. 

A 2014 report titled “States of Change” published jointly by the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, states the number of white voters who make up the actual electorate is declining sharply from 89 percent in 1976 to 74 percent in 2012, a loss of 15 percentage points.

By 2060, this number will have dropped to an estimated 46 percent. It’s not hard to imagine that this change in demographics brings an unyielding angst for many older, white Republicans. This angst can even manifest itself as xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia.

After looking at these numbers, it isn’t hard to imagine who slogans like “taking our country back” are being directed at. It is hard to believe that this slogan would have risen to popularity in 2010 if it was not two years after America elected its first black president.

This slogan has been a refrain for many GOP candidates other than Donald Trump. The analogy has been made before that for years the GOP has made use of a racial dog whistle. Segregation was framed not as a race issue by the GOP, but as a states’ rights issue. Anti-immigrant sentiment is no longer xenophobic; instead, it’s patriotic Americans wishing to see the laws enforced.

The difference between Trump and the rest of the GOP is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of cadence. Trump forgoes the dog whistle and replaces it with a bullhorn. He is unapologetically racist, sexist and Islamophobic. He is unfailingly unoriginal. He represents parts of American history that we, the public at large, do not want to talk about. The America that embraced the sedition acts of 1798, limiting the rights of immigrants, is the same America that clamored for the Bill of Rights.

This is a dichotomy that is hard to reconcile. The darkest truth of America, the reality of a country that, in many ways, has its roots in the notion of white supremacy, is a truth that the American public may never be able to accept. Trump seems to live by these prejudices and he has exploited the country’s divides for tremendous personal gain. By acknowledging the pain and incongruity of our history, we start to confront the consequences of it.

The University, with its most diverse student body in the Big Ten, presents a rare cross section for this dialogue to take place. The more engaged as a campus we are, not just politically, but on broader questions of race and the American identity, the further we push the dialogue. The refusal to accept the myth of an inherently “great” America allows for true progress to be made.

There’s a reason that Trump “loves the poorly educated.” With education comes the ability to think outside of oneself, and for those who would like a base of voters to act purely out racism and prejudice, this presents a problem. Those of us who can think beyond prejudice have an obligation to do so.

In the end, Trump is only one man. He will never carry with him the same weight as the questions that the reality of his campaign demands America ask of itself.

Without an audience, a demagogue is powerless. Trump is not the problem; he is symptomatic of much larger problems that have always existed in America, as is the portion of the electorate that supports him.

Gabriel is a sophomore in LAS.
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