As I watched the 2016 race ramp up this summer, Howard Beale’s word came to mind: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” To be precise, I don’t mean that I’m mad as hell–or any more mad than I usually am–but rather that the entire country is mad as hell, and that the country can’t take any more of the usual political cycle that it’s forced to experience every four years. And this kind of anger is becoming apparent as primary days approach–one needs only to look at the success of Donald Trump to realize this.
First and foremost, Donald Trump has experienced a resurgence like no other in the last few months. Emerging with a vitriolic, egotistical speech back in June, Trump made his thoughts very clear about the status quo. He criticized just about everything Obama has done since coming into office nearly seven years ago. He said that all the politicians were bought by the lobbyists who pay for their campaigns. Then Trump made absolutely clear one thing: He was going to be nothing like those other candidates running for President of the United States.
“I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich,” Trump reminded his audience during the June 16 announcement. He then proceeded to blame everything on migrant workers from Mexico, the need to secure the border and President Obama (Time, “Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech,” 06.16.15). All of this is meanwhile met with massive applause at Trump Tower, except of course back at the studios where political pundits everywhere watched with shock and awe. Trump was back, and this time he was as bombastic and offensive as ever. And of course, Trump paid for these words. Almost immediately after his comments about Mexico, Trump lost both his partnership with Univision for the Miss America Pageant, and also lost his branding and namesake for NBC’s reality show “The Apprentice”. Pundits immediately targeted him for his offensive acts, far from the other dozen more mild mannered people currently vying for the Republican ticket. It already seemed, to most political commentators, that Trump was setting himself on fire right at the starting gate. But whatever feelings you may have about Trump as a character, don’t be fooled that his racist, politically incorrect comments are going to prevent him from acquiring the GOP nomination. Trump is surging in the polls compared to his weak 2012 attempt at the presidency. One of the most recent, a Monmouth University poll, clocked him in at 30 percent among the plethora of other Republican candidates. Next was neuroscientist Ben Carson at 18 percent, and then former GOP favorites Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz at just 8 percent each. What’s clear as we enter September is that Trump has evolved from the laughing stock of 2012 into the front runner of 2016. Trump isn’t just a potential candidate, he is the new favorite. Now that Trump has signed the GOP pledge to stand behind the party, he is opening himself to an equal chance at winning the nomination, so long as he continues performing well through the primaries early next year (The Hill, “Trump hits 30 percent in new poll,” 09.03.15). Believe it or not, this is in fact history repeating itself, but I don’t mean when Trump last ran four years ago. I’m talking about how much this borrows from the anger and frustration millions of people expressed during the Tea Party movement in 2009 and 2010. The upheaval that ultimately removed the Democratic party from the House of Representatives (and ultimately even the Senate just last year) is now coming back to haunt both parties. The GOP conservative base is mad as hell, and they aren’t going to take it anymore.
They’re scared as hell too. With the baby boomer generation in full speed toward retirement age, all they can think about is the finite money left in Social Security, fears about tax increases and the perceived belief that America is under attack at all fronts, whether it’s ISIS, Mexico, China or some other international boogeyman. Americans can’t come to terms with the idea that a mid-20th Century America, ripe with manufacturing jobs and low on debt, is going away in favor of a high-debt, service-based economic realm. This may seem easy to observe under the Vassar bubble, and Trump may seem easy to criticize here, or even at home if you come from a staunchly liberal, anti-racist household. But fact are facts–the average conservative American is in love Donald Trump. The same people who identify as Anti-Tax, Pro-Business and pro-GOP are by far seeing Trump as this alternative to the status quo.
This anger is building a lot of steam for Trump to fuel himself through the winter. What matters after that is whether voters want more of the same, or more of the radical Trump. The Tea Party movement has gotten far in Congress, and now the very candidates who once identified closely with that movement, such as Ted Cruz, are finding themselves without a paddle against a flood of Trump support. For liberals like myself on campus, Trump is at first glance at an outright maniac bent on torpedoing the GOP out of a presidency Clinton or Sanders can easily beat out. But in reality, if the angry fuel doesn’t burn out, there are plenty of “mad as hell” people who may really want Trump in the Oval Office. Don’t forget–before becoming president Ronald Reagan was a movie actor turned governor. Barack Obama was a junior senator from Illinois just beginning his political career. Momentum is what makes presidents, not resumes, and Donald Trump has a ton of momentum. That is what makes me mad as hell.