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Putting Trump Into Context

The candidacy of Donald Trump for the Presidency of the United States has been the center of the political universe ever since he announced in June. Millions have watched as Trump has meteorically risen to the top of nearly every poll, with thousands and thousands of supporters drawn to each of his rallies at various points across the country. Many are surprised to see that Trump is doing so well, and have attempted to write off his success to his celebrity, “fear mongering” or pandering. While there may be some truth to these theories, they ignore a key concept, which is all too often overlooked by cable news and political pundits. They miss the historical context of Trump’s rise.

“Marginalized group” is a term that is often used in our modern politically correct culture. Usually it refers to people who identify as a certain kind of historical minority, but over the past decade white conservatives have been subject to intense marginalization. Once the backbone and heart of this great nation, middle and working class white conservatives, those who once found gainful, productive employment in the auto or manufacturing industries in the Rust Belt of America have watched as their country, specifically their part of it, has transformed before their very eyes.

There were the vast migrations away from the Midwest to warmer Sun Belt cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, especially the Inland Empire region of California. As this happened, Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh all lost population in their metro areas, a trend which continues today. People weren’t the only thing leaving the Rust Belt though. Jobs were too. In droves, steel mills, automobile plants, and other key manufacturing jobs disappeared from America’s heartland and reappeared not in other states, but in other nations. More goods started arriving from other countries too. Toyotas and Hondas flooded the American market, but Chevys and Chryslers almost never found their way to Japan. As consumer electronics became one of the biggest businesses in the world, and even as the vast majority of the world’s great tech companies settled in California’s Silicon Valley, their products continued to be assembled in China and other nations, leaving a lack of manufacturing jobs in the US, and allowing only the founders and shareholders of such companies to profit from their success.

Indeed, each iPhone produced today reads “Designed by Apple in California” just above “Made in China.” As the Rust Belt was emptied, the American South was transformed. Ravaged by below average education and income rates, the South became fertile ground for Walmart, the giant of Arkansas, to rise to prominence. Extremely cheap goods and easy to get jobs requiring almost no education or experience proved the salvation of shoppers and workers in a region where little else seemed to provide reprieve. After Hurricane Katrina decimated large portions of the forgotten Gulf Coast and a major oil spill struck the region just a few years later, much of the Gulf-front property along Mississippi’s southern shore, especially in the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi, remains vacant. That state’s tallest building is a casino, a sad testament to the lack of commercial activity within its borders.

The residents of both these areas have noticed what’s going on. They’ve seen their regions lose prominence, jobs, and population to the increasingly dense and increasingly liberal coasts. But their cries for help have gone unanswered. The white conservatives in America have watched a beloved Olympic Athlete become a woman, they’ve watched the legalization of same sex marriage, the passage and upholding of the Affordable Care Act, the constant increase of EPA regulations, the steady influx of undocumented immigrants and the efforts to award them college educations, health care, and drivers licenses. Those who seek a better life through military service come home to find a broken Veterans Administration in a government that often seems to treat the poor and the undocumented better than those who have served. As all this has occurred, the US has witnessed a ballooning national debt, a loss of credibility abroad, and a hopeless gridlock in Congress. For anyone living as a white conservative in America today, these changes are hard to swallow, no question.

White conservatives have spoken out against these policies by electing Republican majorities to the US House and Senate and overwhelmingly turning state capitals nationwide red. Yet the conservatives elected to national legislative office, Tea Party, traditional or otherwise, have failed to take any meaningful action against the perceived spread of liberalism. Obamacare is the law of the land, the President’s Executive Order on immigration is winding its way through the courts (which haven’t been kind to conservatives either), and the national debt clock continues to tick ever upward, with Republicans in Congress agreeing to take on more debt just to keep the government open.
At the same time, in the media, white conservatives have been marginalized ruthlessly. Mainstream news outlets like the New York Times, CNN, and NPR hardly painted conservatives in a friendly manner. Every night on Comedy Central for many years, icons Stephen Colbert and John Stewart engaged in a brutal though quite humorous degradation of Republicans and conservatives. Fox News was made out to be hopelessly biased and incapable of dispensing accurate information, while Republican officials were constantly portrayed as clueless or stupid. It did not help the conservatives had only old white men like George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mitch McConnell to advance their cause. Appeals to minority and female voters with tokens like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and Herman Cain certainly couldn’t have helped. The Republicans are always the butt of the joke. In the Obama era, the Democrats are young, hip, compassionate, and aware. The Republicans are anything but, a party of hate and ignorance.
So where does Trump come in? Well, quite clearly. Tired of being constantly berated as the idiotic, ignorant outsiders, white conservatives are looking for a leader who is finally concerned with what they’re concerned with. The last thing they want is a Hillary Clinton presidency, especially as she tries to paint herself as an Obama successor, but the second to last thing they want is a candidate who claims to be on their side but then does nothing in Washington. The Republican Establishment has failed the white conservative base. They have done nothing to stall or reverse the liberal policies of the Obama years, they have failed to control government spending, and they have failed to make any progress on rebuilding the Rust Belt manufacturing sector or repairing American infrastructure. White conservatives are looking for a leader who is strong enough to stand up for them. A leader who can actually do what he says he wants to do. A leader that answers to no special interest, donor, or lobbyist.

Most importantly, white conservatives want a leader who acknowledges their experience, what they’ve been through, what’s wrong with this country, and how to fix it. That leader is Donald Trump. He’s been made fun of by the media for his conservative viewpoints more than almost anyone else. He’s had his ties manufactured in China and bought TVs for his hotels in South Korea because he can’t find anywhere in the US to have these things made. He’s visited other nations and he knows the US is falling behind. And he’s just and sick and tired of the incompetence of the Obama Administration as any white conservative you’ll find on the street. In short, Trump gets it.

Demographic trends tell us that white conservatives in the United States have only a few years left to “take their country back” before they are forever relegated to the land of the forgotten minority. Four more years of an Obama-esque liberal in the White House and an inactive Republican presence in Congress will push this country past the point of no return. To the Republican primary base, Trump is their last hope. So don’t write him off. Because Donald Trump is here to stay. And if he can’t win the country back for white conservatives, no one can.

The Lion is the only campus publication with an open-submissions policy. To respond to this op-ed or to submit your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

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