The success of Trump the candidate seems to have confused liberals and conservatives alike. But it’s really not that difficult to understand if you look at the underlying causes.
First, there is great dissatisfaction among many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. Both sides see growing poverty and a struggling middle class while, at the same time, a privileged few are thriving. Both see a dysfunctional Congress that now represents only a fraction of its constituents – those with the money and power to call in political favors.
As a highly accomplished con man, Trump has tapped into the voters’ smoldering anger toward government, fueled by Fox News Channel and virtually the entire radio spectrum of rightwing, hate radio. Using a tactic perfected by unsavory dictators, he has successfully focused the blame for our problems on outsiders and those on the fringes of our society. He has convinced a substantial portion of our population that the nation is struggling as the result of Mexican immigrants, Muslims, China and “political correctness” – an oversensitivity for minorities, Muslims, immigrants, women and the disabled. That has invited angry white men to dig out their Klan sheets and to say whatever racist, sexist things that cross their degenerate minds.
Far from being the successful business leader his supporters believe him to be (he is one of the few to ever lose money as the owner of a casino), Trump is really only accomplished at the arts of persuasion and branding. He refuses to deal in specifics, understanding that emotions matter more than facts or even truth.
Capitalizing on what I would call the Kardashian effect, Trump understood that his celebrity and outrageous statements are good for media. As a result, he has been able to manipulate the media’s greed to the point that CNN and even the so-called liberal cable network, MSNBC, were willing to spend airtime focused on an empty Trump podium waiting for Trump’s latest rant than to cover a policy speech by Hillary or a large rally for Bernie.
Trump has benefited from the chronically short attention spans of the public – a public unwilling, or unable, to research or to comprehend the issues. A public that disdains nuance and complicated answers for complex subject matter. An impatient public that views the world as black or white; good or bad; right or wrong. He has also benefited from a political environment based on tribalism – knowing that even those members of his party who despise him and everything he stands for will eventually fall in line to support him. And he has seemingly embraced the strategy of former GOP strategist, Paul Weyrich, who correctly posited that suppressing the vote – even if it means alienating a majority of potential voters – benefits Republicans.
Finally, he has benefited from a chronically disorganized and divided Democratic Party – a Party that lacks clear, decisive leadership; a Party that, without control of the media, has struggled to articulate its accomplishments and its message; a Party that has made it easy for people like Trump, Cruz, Ryan, McConnell, et al to promise everything, but deliver nothing.