One of the most perplexing phenomena in American politics is the lasting popularity of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. Certainly a presidential candidate such as Trump is unthinkable for the Democratic Party, but he is still highly unusual as a Republican candidate – even though there had been a number of non-egalitarian and bigoted presidential candidates from the Republican Party in the past. Trump is indeed singular in having been able to sustain his popularity among the Republican voters in spite of the outrageous remarks he constantly offers to the media and American public. His outrageous remarks and the rather flippant manner with which he expresses them are generally crass, vulgar, anti-intellectual, and seemingly impulsive. And then, how can American voters continue to support him as a presidential candidate? Wouldn’t they feel embarrassed if he should become to represent our country? Don’t we want a head of our state, still the most powerful nation in the world today, to be intelligent, thoughtful, and calmly rational?
I thought about the puzzling popularity of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. Why is this happening? It seems there are several possible reasons for Mr. Trump’s popularity as a politician.
First of all, Donald Trump in his careless remarks impresses people as “anti-politician.” People are fed up with politicians who do not hesitate to lie. “At least Donald is not like that,” people seem to think, “Nobody lies to make oneself look that thoughtless and unkind. He is ‘honest.’” And people seem to conclude, “We can trust him.” In truth, this logic does not help us elect the best possible leader since it unilaterally place the highest value on “honesty,” which does not address the issue of the deeper human moral character, such as fairness, kindness and sympathy. The problem is that honesty is often confused with integrity. But there is a fundamental difference: integrity comes with concomitant moral qualities such us fairness and decency, whereas honesty does not. For instance, let us imagine a person A who kills another person B because B provokes A’s murderous hatred. Would we ever be able to consider A a trust-worthy person because A translated his honest feeling into action? It is hard to imagine many people who can answer “yes,” to this question. I would venture to say that “honesty” is good if it has some educational value or if it benefits majority of people in a tangible manner. Thus, I think that the popularity of Donald Trump is a symptom of the malaise of the current political situation in the United States – nothing more.
Secondly, I think Donald Trump appeals to many people precisely because he sounds crass and vulgar. Those people, who have been conditioned by the deluge of crass and vulgar cultural products, consider him as just one of them because he talks like them. “There is no intellectual pretention, no politically correct façade, in what Donald Trump says. He is real,” people seem to say. Donald Trump is the embodiment of the current American popular culture.
Thirdly, Donald Trump is entertaining. Compared with other candidates, Trump’s very impulsiveness makes his appear more energetic, genuine and funny. Since in our popular media politics are often discussed in the same breath as other entertainment issues, people are somewhat conditioned to expect entertainment value from our politicians. Thus, Mr. Trump appears more attractive to many people because he is more entertaining.
Personally, I think it would be a disaster if Mr. Trump should be elected to be our president. But, I also believe that American people will exercise their intelligence and decency when things get “real.”