Is Donald Trump a multicultural person

Right-wing populism

Heike Buchter

Heike Buchter has been working as a journalist in the USA for more than 15 years. She reported on the consequences of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the financial crisis and, most recently, the election of Donald Trump. Since 2008 she has been a correspondent for the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit".

The election of Donald Trump as 5th President of the United States of America was preceded by decades of crisis, especially among the white middle class. The right-wing populist tea party movement took advantage of this crisis - and was ultimately hijacked by Donald Trump.

US President-elect Donald Trump speaks to supporters at the Crown Coliseum in North Carolina in December 2016. (& copy picture-alliance, picture alliance / ZUMA Press)

When Donald Trump descended the golden escalator of New York's Trump Towers in June 2015 to officially announce his presidential application in the flurry of flashlights, it seemed like another idea of ​​the real estate marketer and reality TV star to get his name known. During his early campaign speeches, political observers were amused by the fact that Trump was promoting his steaks instead of reform plans. Until it overtook its apparently heavier competitor in the polls. Above all, it was one motive with which Trump excited the grassroots of the Republican Party: his promise to build a wall to Mexico. The idea seemed worthy of scorn and ridicule among party leaders and many media representatives. But Trump hit a nerve. The seasoned TV man, whose main source of income is his notoriety as a "brand", quickly realized how he could capitalize on open hostility towards immigrants and Muslims.

Trump promises what many voters of the "working class", the working-class middle class in the USA, have long wanted. For years they have been struggling with declining incomes and bleaker future prospects. According to the US census authority, the median income of the population in rural areas with a predominantly white population is four percent below that of city dwellers, and 13 percent live below the poverty line, which in the USA is officially an annual income of $ 22,000. [1] According to a post-election poll by the social research institute Pew Research Center, a third of those surveyed in rural areas expected their children to be financially worse off than themselves. A large proportion fear being overtaken and marginalized by immigrants . For example, 65 percent of the white people surveyed in rural areas said that American workers are suffering from the growing number of immigrants. [2]

Trump has made himself their mouthpiece. "We have to get our country back," he keeps saying. What he and his followers mean, the conservative essayist Joseph Epstein described in the Wall Street Journal in June 2016. They see an America that is increasingly alien to them. He describes a Trump voter, a "reasonable-looking middle-class woman" who can no longer be found in the media. There, according to Epstein, she is presented with a montage of scenes like "protesters from the Black Lives Matter black movement who intimidate the youngest target of their anger, a kissing lesbian couple at their wedding, a young mother mourning her daughter, the innocent victim an exchange of fire among gang members, discussions about toilet use by men who identify as women, and effeminate college students crying over alleged psychological wounds from fellow students or professors. " Epstein sees the rise of Trump as a consequence of the recent battle in the "Culture Wars".

Since the 1920s this conflict has erupted again and again between the representatives of rural-traditional values ​​and the advocates of liberal-urban ideas. Social change worries many Americans. In a study by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, the University of Virginia's cultural research center, published in October 2016, 58 percent of respondents said the American way of life is disappearing faster and faster. [3] In a survey by the liberal Brookings Institute, also in 2016, 50 percent agreed with the statement that American culture had largely deteriorated since the 1950s. [4]

An elderly couple in Iowa who religiously refused to rent a private chapel for a homosexual wedding were subsequently sued by them for discrimination. When the case became known, the couple were shunned by family and friends as "religious zealots" because of their refusal. Eventually they had to sell the building. Public opinion has turned so quickly, the woman told the New York Times: "Suddenly we were the minority. It scares us." From the point of view of Epstein and other conservatives, the liberals, with their ideal of a multicultural society and their political correctness, have clearly won the latest "culture war". And the "Trumpkins," as he calls them, represent the angry losers who are now demanding revenge.

But Trump primarily appeals to all those who feel insecure and left behind by globalization and digitization. In fact, Trump won with the most votes in the Rust Belt in the northeastern United States, such as Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The region was once the home of mass production - textiles, shoes, furniture and, most recently, electronics - which have migrated to low-wage countries over the past few decades. Many Rust Belt residents - mostly white - saw more and more products on the shelves at their local Wal-Mart coming from the Far East. At the same time, their jobs, which until then had offered good social security thanks to strong unions, disappeared. Since 1990, more than six million jobs have been cut in the manufacturing sector, according to the US Department of Commerce. In the regions and industries most affected, the decline began at the same time as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to a 2013 study by the US Economic Policy Institute, the agreement destroyed almost 700,000 jobs. According to the study, a total of 3.2 million jobs have been eliminated or relocated in the US since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, 2.4 million of them in industrial production alone, primarily in the US electronics and computer industries. [ 5] Company representatives, however, blame it less on free trade than on factors such as automation and technical change. They point out that US industrial production rose to 1.91 trillion dollars in 2015 (Commerce Department, adjusted for inflation in dollars in 2009), almost reaching the record of 2007, the year before the recession. A 2015 study by Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research concluded that only 13.4 percent of all jobs lost were due to relocation to low-wage countries. The vast majority can be attributed to higher productivity. [6] And yet: In the perception of those affected, the loss of their jobs was linked to the free trade agreements, which the trade unions opposed in vain, and the simultaneous increase in immigrants.

Many areas where Trump enjoys high approval are also areas where substance abuse is epidemic, depression is common, and suicide rates are rising. Contrary to the decade-long trend in industrialized countries, life expectancy in the US has fallen for the first time. [7] White women who live in rural areas have seen the death rate increase by 30 percent. A similar dramatic development was recently observed in Eastern Europe and Russia - after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A high school diploma used to be enough to get a decent job in industry. A job with an income that could finance a house and raise the children comfortably. Today, anyone who does not want to be permanently employed at the minimum wage in retail or in the fast food industry usually needs four years of college education. It is no coincidence that, according to an analysis by the New York Times, 63 percent of white men voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election (and 52 percent of white women) and 67 percent of white voters without college degrees. Trump gave direction to their anger: immigrants. "They take our jobs, our industrial jobs, our money, they make us all," he said in his speeches. Trump's critics see this as a search for a political scapegoat. But Michael Lind, co-founder of the Washington think tank New America, believes the position is understandable from the point of view of Trump and his supporters. "If I'm an American or European populist who doesn't believe that a well-meaning government will bring him a middle-class income - be it through tax subsidies or transfers - then immigration restrictions and protectionism make perfect sense."

In the fear of Trump supporters of foreign infiltration and especially of Muslim immigration, there are parallels to Pegida and the French Front National around Marine Le Pen. However, the attitude of "the" Americans towards immigration differs from the mood in many European countries. This is due to its historical origins, initially as a colony of British immigrants. "We are a nation of immigrants" is a phrase that can be found in political speeches, in school books and on the official website of the American embassies. With this sentence, President Obama justified his decision to give the children of immigrants who were smuggled across the border by their parents a right of residence. [8] In the course of US history, however, there have been phases in which new immigrant groups such as the Irish and Chinese were initially rejected and restricted. When asked about their views on immigration, Trump supporters often point out that illegal immigrants pose a threat to public safety. In a poll by the Pew Research Center, convinced Trump supporters stated that illegal immigrants were responsible for serious crimes. [9] Trump's tirades against alleged criminal Mexicans strengthen them in their opinion.

The media have also fueled resentment

This resentment was also fueled in the USA by reactionary talk radios. In 1987, the rule was lifted, according to which radio stations always had to give both political sides airtime. This made talk formats successful, which offered a mixture of entertainment and radically conservative commentary. Rush Limbaugh has around 13 million listeners a week; according to the industry journal Talkers Magazine, it is the most listened to program in the United States. Inspired by this, the newspaper tsar Rupert Murdoch and the television man Roger Ailes - the former media advisor to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush - decided to develop a similar format for television in the early 1990s. This is how Fox News came about: a mixture of current reports, mostly presented by attractive young women, and extremely conservative generalized comments. The ratings quickly agreed with Ailes and Murdoch: In 2002, Fox News overtook established competitor CNN.

The station also changed the political discussion. In response to Fox, the cable broadcaster MSNBC positioned itself on the left wing of the spectrum. Politicians increasingly appeared in media that were friendly to them. This contributed to hardening the fronts between the parties. Any compromise in Washington has been castigated as defeat by Fox and the other opinion pollers. Fox became the kingmaker for Republican Party politicians.

It was the financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama that finally led to an open right-wing populist revolt in 2009. Obama represented everything that the losers of the new America despise: A black Harvard professor, son of an African who believes in the creative and redistributive role of the government. Obama was faced with attacks early on that were intended to disqualify him as "un-American". A political rival in Chicago publicly doubted in 2004 that Obama was actually born in the United States. Obama tried to dispel the rumor by publishing his birth certificate. Trump, who even before he took office in 2015 repeatedly claimed that he had toyed with the idea of ​​running for president, took up the allegation before Obama's re-election in 2012. Since the President of the United States must have been born in the country, doubts about Obama's place of birth equaled doubts about his legitimacy.

The founding of the tea party

All that was missing was a spark to turn the pent-up frustration into a new movement. On February 19, 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, the stock market reporter Rick Santelli called for a new "tea party" during his broadcast - just as the American rebels once denied taxes and allegiance to the British colonial power, so should "patriots" themselves now refuse the Obama administration. The occasion was the government's announcement that low-income homeowners who could no longer pay their mortgages would be forgiven their debts. The program confirmed the fears of many members of the white middle class, already unsettled by the recession, that the new president was planning a large-scale redistribution. Many Americans blamed minority home ownership subsidies for the burst credit bubble. For reasons of political correctness, the state had given black and Latinos loans that they would not or could not service - and now precisely these homeowners should be helped at the expense of the general public, according to Santelli. Tea party campaigns across the country followed his call, and groups were formed in many places. It was the beginning of the tea party movement.

Obama fueled the revolt with his health care reform. Tea Party supporters saw in Obamacare, as they contemptuously called it (Obama only later adopted the term himself), a repetition of debt relief - only in an unprecedented dimension. Obama's health care reform aimed to give millions of previously uninsured people access to health insurance. A large proportion of the uninsured are immigrants or belong to minorities. A frequent point of criticism was the violation of the principle of the free market, as well as the degree of state control, for example also the punishment for uninsured persons, which was often denigrated as "socialist". What also bothered parts of the "working class" is their assumption that their contributions serve to pay the security for people who - from their point of view - contribute nothing or too little. Thus, the solidarity to which the - black - President Obama pledged them with his reform raised both the republican base and many Democrats against Obamacare. Sociologists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson wrote a book about the rise of the tea party in 2011. They found that their supporters, despite the criticism of Obamacare, often benefited several times from state programs themselves - such as the state pension Social Security and Medicare, the state health insurance for retirees. "They are absolutely convinced that they have earned these achievements with hard work," Skocpol describes their arguments.

"Infiltration" of the Republicans

Unlike comparable right-wing populist movements in Europe, the Tea Party quickly became one of the most influential political forces in the country. The price, however, was their collection by wealthy conservative sponsors. Above all, it was the brothers Charles and David Koch, the combined $ 84 billion heirs to an oil and chemical empire, who helped tea party supporters begin the march through the institutions. The brothers have been pursuing their political goals - a radically libertarian America, largely free from state influence and regulation - for more than three decades. They built a network of institutions to spread their ideology. These included, for example, the Cato Institute, the most prominent business-liberal think tank that Charles Koch co-founded. The arch-conservative Heritage Foundation has also enjoyed the generous support of the family. In the 1980s, the Kochs donated millions as start-up aid for the Mercatus Center, which, according to its own statements, is intended to bridge the gap between academic ideas of the free market economy and real application. The Kochs' most sweeping initiative, however, was the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, whose sister organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) helped the early leaders of the Tea Party to build their movement. For the Kochs, the tea party movement initiated by Santelli offered a welcome opportunity to combine their activities, which had hitherto been primarily aimed at the Washington establishment, with a popular movement.David Koch initially denied financing the tea party directly. But at an Americans for Prosperity event, he stated, "Five years ago, my brother Charles and I gave seed money to Americans for Prosperity, and it has exceeded my wildest dreams as AFP has grown into this enormous organization - hundreds of thousands of Americans from all walks of life, who stand up and fight for the economic freedom that has made our society one of the richest in history. " His speech was captured by a documentary filmmaker who snuck in at the event.

The unique pincer movement of tea party activists who could influence local elections and tea party sponsors who funded election campaigns for preferred candidates, according to Harvard sociology professor Skocpol, set the movement apart from previous populist revolts of the party base. What separates the Tea Party from comparable groups in Europe: Instead of founding a new party, they saw their chance in the two-party system of the USA in "infiltrating" the Republican Party. The Tea Party MPs - officially part of the Republicans - were primarily the ones who made Obama's later initiatives, such as immigration reform, fail. Their radical stance of refusal led to the 2013 budget freeze, which paralyzed Washington for two weeks and shook the previously excellent credit rating of the USA.

But the financiers miscalculated when they took over the Tea Party. That became clear at the latest when the majority of Tea Party supporters began to support Trump's candidacy in 2015. One thesis is: They were probably not interested in the free market economy and reducing the role of the state. For them it was about jobs and opportunities for themselves and, last but not least, about making themselves heard in Washington. The Kochs were openly disappointed with the rise of Trump. "It's all about personality cult, according to the motto: Your mother ate bad eggs", Charles Koch complained to reporters for the Wall Street Journal in October 2015. In the TV show "Morning Joe", in which he and his first When Brother David gave an interview, he said he had "been disappointed for some time" with the Republican Party. Their patient preparatory work, with which they had pushed the party into their preferred direction, had instead prepared the ground for a candidate they have no control over. Worse still, having opposing interests. Donald Trump has promised a protectionist policy. The Kochs and their international corporation cannot be interested in isolating America. While the Kochs are keen to win over more Latinos to their cause, Trump labeled Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. And while the Kochs ideal is the night watchman state, most tea party supporters and Trump voters oppose a cut or even abolition of state pension and health insurance. The difference is that most Tea Party supporters and Trump voters themselves have made contributions to the state social security systems. Of course, they expect the state to provide benefits in return for their payments - for example, security in old age. However, they consider Obamacare to be unjust because the system is financed from taxpayers' money and people who do not contribute financially to the services also benefit from it.

America has seen waves of populism time and again, from both the left and the right political spectrum. Around the end of the nineteenth century, farmers rebelled. The uprising, which was particularly directed against Wall Street bankers and immigrants, had mostly economic reasons - the rural population felt left behind by industrialization. But it was also a cultural defense against the growing influence of the metropolises and a longing for the supposedly more socially equal era of the founding fathers, the early days of the republic. The Democrat Huey Long, governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, also agitated against the bankers and capitalists and demanded a redistribution of wealth in favor of the poor. George Wallace, Alabama Governor for the Democrats, fought against the civil rights movement of the 1960s on behalf of the white majority. Pat Buchanan, presidential candidate in 1992, comes closest to Trump with his rejection of immigrants and isolationist tendencies, with Trump showing no consistently conservative ideology. That is probably why he was able to attract a far broader base of supporters with his promises than the Tea Party ever could. Donald Trump, who always proudly praises his successes, can count on another one. He has achieved what no American politician has achieved before him: A broad, majority, right-wing populist movement in the USA. She elected him President in November 2016. And she won't be leaving Washington anytime soon.