It's easy to call out Donald Trump for his proposed banning of all Muslims from entering the United States — including American Muslims traveling abroad — for the unconstitutional racist demagogy that proposed prohibition represents.
Even though he attempted to amend his remarks by saying later that such a ban would buy our elected leaders time to figure out what's going on, and also reversed his stance on preventing American Muslims from returning home, Trump's position here is the opposite of the values this nation was built upon and that so many citizens hold dear.
But dismissing Trump's rhetoric as naked prejudice, should not mask that his presidential campaign, complete with outrageous statements and bullying attitude, has tapped into an undercurrent of America. This undercurrent is fueled by combination of fear, anger, frustration and isolation — one that Trump, as a showman in knowing his audience, is able to manipulate.
Trump gives voice to anti-immigrant and religious scapegoating because of the times we live in. Even before the birth of our republic, similar anger and fears were directed at people seen as somehow different, because of their looks, language, religion, dress or other factors that make them seem "foreign": from German immigrants in the mid-1700s to what we're seeing with Mexican migrants and our reaction to Syrian asylum-seekers and so many other groups in between. The newcomers who look, talk or act differently easily become the "them" and are viewed as even more of a threat when jobs are scarce or when families find themselves already engulfed in economic turmoil and when their way of life is deteriorating.
"It is difficult to talk about Trump and his appeal to frightened white voters without either dismissing him as a crazy fascist or using deeply rooted — and forgotten — concepts in the American experience," Susan Moir, the director of the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, says in published reports, explained. "He is a classic nativist, a direct descendant of the Know-Nothings, who feared Catholic immigrants in the 1840s."
It should come as no surprise, then, that among groups strongly supporting Trump are white men with no college degree. And they often live in towns and cities that have seen all kinds of factories move or shrink their workforce and nothing coming in to replace them other than boarded-up buildings and vacant lots.
Trump the billionaire doesn't have anything in common with men and women who have seen their American dream vanish. He sees, however, the anger and fear over their plight and dissatisfaction with government's inability to do anything but tax and regulate and uses such feelings to his advantage. Trump appears sympathetic to those whose grasp on a job, home, a way of life is tenuous while offering them his vision of making America great again. His message resonates and continues to gain traction. Trump continues to lead the Republican pack — with 35 percent of voters polled in a new national CBS News/New York Times poll released Thursday. Those numbers reflect a 13-point jump since mid-October.
Trump becoming the Republican nominee or president remains an uphill climb. But if Trump does fade as a candidate, the anger and fears that gave rise to his candidacy aren't going away any time soon. This is something that the next president and nation have to address.