I will refer you to all the moderate conservatives who said that Donald Trump will never be the Republican candidate for president. At the time of writing Trump is the frontrunner in the Republican race; it is still mathematically possible for Ted Cruz to win the nomination but it would require an unusual reversal of fortune.
Trump's campaign has been characterised by the rhetoric of the extreme right and has horrified both liberals and moderate conservatives. We were told that he would never get this far. We were told wrong. The success of Trump requires everyone to rethink how they see American politics. The reasons for Trump's success are complicated, but I believe that the rise of Trump shows a failure of American politics to tackle two critical issues: the decline in living standards of white working class Americans and the Islamophobia of American politics.
Trump’s rise as a political force is a result of his ability to exploit the rhetoric of Islamophobia. He is not the first politician to be Islamophobic, but his popularity is a result of the collective failure to stand up to Islamophobia. What was once a dog-whistle of Islamophobic political rhetoric has become just a whistle. We have had 14 years of blaming every Muslim for the actions of the few that have committed acts of terrorism and this has brought us to a point where a politician can be openly hostile to all Muslims. Trump is not new in being an openly Islamophobic, he is just better at it than everyone else.
It was inevitable that we would reach a point where a politician can call for a complete ban on Muslim immigration and imply that all Muslims should be made to identify wear badges that public identify them. It was inevitable when liberals and moderate conservatives failed to stand up to Islamophobia. We all act surprised when Trump says these awful things but he is only following an established narrative.
Liberals are to blame for the rise of Trump as much as moderate conservatives. Liberals in America have failed to stand up to Islamophobia and have been paying lip service to it whenever we talk about "criticising Islam". This is the dog whistle for being hostile to people who follow a minority religion and (usually) belong to a minority ethnic group. By not standing up to the dog whistle, or using it themselves, liberal Americans have aided Trump in turning it into an actual whistle.
Lack of moderate conservative opposition to Islamophobia, as well as exploiting this view, has allowed the conversation to be dictated by the far right. In many ways the the different candidates in the primary stage of the American presidential race are the different parties that would exist in any other country. Like in France, America has rounds of elections to narrow the field to two candidates who represent two political ideologies. Usually this ends up as being the moderate left and the moderate right, but occasionally (as in 2002 in France) a candidate from the far right makes it to the final round.
Trump represented the far right in this race and currently he is winning. Anyone who is a moderate conservative needs to think about how they have allowed this climate of Islamophobia to grow and how they have exploited it for their own ends until it was used by Trump to make moderate conservative voices irrelevant in this election. Moderates have no decent response to Trump's Islamophobia so they have been swept away by it.
A climate of Islamophobia has helped Trump get as far as he has, but this is not the only thing contributing to his success. Trump's followers are mainly white and working class, a demographic with problems that American politics has failed to tackle.
Liberal middle class Americans do not care about the loss of living standards of poor white people. Liberal Americans have other political objectives, such as defending Obama's healthcare program and tackling the massive racism in America. These are noble aims, but there is a real lack of interest in dealing with the problems of the white working class.
This failure to engage with the white working class is because the left does not want to ignore problems of race at this critical time for race relations and there are concerns about undercurrents of racism in poor white people’s politics. If liberal middle class America were willing to engage with the problems of white working class America then they might find that their political complaints are not rooted in racism but in the way they have been marginalised.
The moderate conservatives are also to blame for ignoring the problems faced by white class Americans. The moderate right has not tackled the problem of poor white people because it involves criticising capitalism, which they are not prepared to do. Conservative support for neo-liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic has created a ticking time bomb of ground down white working class people whose lives have been destroyed by prevailing economic thought. Poor white people were hit hard by the financial crash, de-industrialisation and globalisation. They have lost jobs and income. In Britain, poor white people are the lowest performing ethnic group in educational attainment. Now the white working class want answers that the moderate right do not have for them.
Bernie Sanders does appeal to some of the white working class in America, but the Hillary Clinton campaign does not fully appreciate how bad the fall in living standards of poor whites is. In many ways Clinton's politics is as bad as the moderate conservatives, she is not willing to criticise neo-liberalism and prefers platitudes about making America whole again. The left is generally focused on Clinton and their hopes that she will be the figure that unites America. She maybe that person that can span the growing left/right divide to win the presidential election, but she will not help poor white people. A vote for Clinton is a vote to kick this can down the road and hope that the problem will be dealt with in the future. It is a vote for the vague hope that the far right cannot mobilise this anger for electoral success.
Let me be clear here: I do not think that Trump cares about or will help white working class Americans. However he is willing to engage with these victims, which liberals and moderate conservatives are ignoring. Trump is a used car salesman, he will tell you everything you want to hear until he has his hand in your wallet and you drive off his lot with an overpriced, terrible car that you cannot claim a refund on. To help white working class America we must first stop Trump and to stop Trump we must understand his success, even if it involves asking painful question about how the American left has conducted itself.
It is very hard to say that would happen if Trump were actually elected president, partly because Trump has not mentioned many actual policies he intends to intact. I can imagine that it will be worse than George W. Bush's time in office, which is frightening enough. Liberals and moderate conservatives need to act together to defeat Trump, but as I said, this can only be done by understanding what has brought us to this juncture.
Trump will probably lose to Clinton because he frightens people too much, which is the only hope to cling to right now. Although we were told that he would never win the nomination and that looks likely. America needs to tackle the problems of Islamophobia and the loss of living standards by the white working class before someone comes along who is even more awful than Trump. If you think this will never happen then, I will refer you to all the moderate conservatives who said that Donald Trump will never be the Republican candidate for president.