By Ankita Gothwal*
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is building his political fortunes on growing schisms in American society through his sharply dividing claims on how he is going to make America “great again”, especially by walling the US borders to stop immigrants from entering the country. His political campaign has presented the threat to Americans at home and abroad from terrorism as a problem emanating solely from radical Islam; as a problem that is religious opposed to an ideological one. Even more surprisingly, a good proportion of the American population has emerged as a buyer of this divisive rhetoric, exposing the economic, social and political fault lines that exist in the US.
For the first time, terrorism, religion and ensuing divisiveness have churned such intense political bickering in any US election. The Trump and Hillary campaigns have divided America more sharply than ever before. There are various nuances in this overarching vote bank shift. The most visible have been the domestic considerations for supporting Donald Trump and the resultant respective internal dilemmas in both the Republican and the Democratic parties. This has, in turn, led to the change in the nature of voters and their criteria for casting the ballot.
Trump has unleashed a barrage of racial, anti-Islam, misogynistic and chauvinist slurs that anything but assure his credibility as a future President. Moreover, he has spelled out a confounding mix of opinions on the US’ future allies and the country’s economic and trade policies. His pandering to Russia has left foreign policy analysts, current establishment and practically most of the world wondering about the future of US-Russia relations. Speculations about the Trump-Putin rapport have further blurred the US’ foreign policy goals under Trump.
Recent numbers show that although Trump is trailing Hillary, his campaign is doing relatively well. However, sustaining Trump’s momentum is highly doubtful in the face of the sitting President’s criticism declaring him as ‘unfit’ to be the next President of the US; Hillary’s concerns about US’ nuclear future under a highly volatile and aggressive Trump as US President; and most surprisingly, in the face of the opposition that Trump faces from within the Republican Party. Trump’s campaign has weakened the Republican Party like never before, as probably this is the first time the Grand Old Party (GOP) is witnessing a prominent political shift to the Democratic Party’s candidate with open anti-Trump declarations coming from within the Party. Especially over the past few weeks, Trump’s divisive, anti-Islam political tone has been critically damaging for his campaign. His tirade against Captain Humayun Khan of the US army has fuelled a war of words with John McCain. Added to which, his disparaging comments about women, on race and the like have all managed to ensure that even the most conservative, staunch supporters of the GOP distance themselves from this Presidential hopeful and instead side the Democrat’s candidate.
Trump might end up on the losing side in the approaching November elections. However, many reckon that the damage is done. Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, America might not be as tolerant a nation when it comes to issues of immigration, extremism and terrorism. A post-election America might witness a conservative backlash, the possibilities of which emerge in two facets. If Trump wins, we could see an increasingly aggressive opposition to immigrants, especially against those from Asia. This backlash might manifest at the level of a changing American psyche not only in private but in public places too. If Trump loses, these actions from Trump’s conservative supporters might not see an open display but a cognitive shift to a more pronounced xenophobia would stay and for long!
In either case, Trump’s support base has brought to the fore a section of Americans that was waiting for someone like Trump to tap their growing frustration with immigration, religious fundamentalism and most importantly, political correctness of Washington DC. However, his supporters have failed to assess his flip-flops, lack of coherence and his political incorrectness. There is a danger in reading the aforementioned Trumpian attributes as his feats; rather these are symptomatic of what could become of America should this man be chosen as the President of this country.
The most unfortunate part about the Trump campaign is that the divisive and hateful rationales that have been evoked have affected the entire world. While Hillary Clinton might not be the best candidate given her possible scandalous past but she stands tall in comparison to Trump, especially with her open accommodating approach to work towards integrating the country’s citizens as well as its immigrants.
The question that begs an answer is: what will become of the American cadre that would vote for Trump in the 2016 elections? In case he wins, the political hubris could turn into open xenophobia, but the clear and present danger is that even if he loses, the latent, simmering hatred will wait to tapped into by another Trump clone in the future.
*Ankita Gothwal is a PhD Scholar at American Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She can be reached at: [email protected]