Donald Trump won seven of the 11 Republican primaries and caucuses held on Tuesday, known as Super Tuesday, making him the presumptive Republican nominee.
The rise of Trump in the past year has been nothing short of extraordinary. He has achieved far more success and attracted much more support than most people would have predicted one year ago.
Yet this success is worrisome. Trump’s campaign has done great damage to the Republican Party specifically and to the American political system at large.
The passion for Trump has been spreading through segments of the American electorate like an aggressive cancer. He has attracted groups few thought possible. Perhaps most astonishing, he did best in the State of Massachusetts, picking up nearly half of Republican voters there. One would think his brash attitude, his offensive statements regarding Muslims and Mexicans, his reluctance to disavow the Ku Klux Klan and his advocacy of the deliberate killing of women and children in the war against terrorism would be sufficient to disqualify him anywhere in the country, and certainly in New England.
Should Trump be nominated, the Republican Party’s days are numbered. His emergence has exposed a deep and bitter rift within the Party, one that may be as deep or deeper than that between Republicans and Democrats. Trump has not appeared to be conservative within the accepted meaning of the term. He offers a great deal of disturbing nativist rhetoric, but has not expressed a firm commitment to either fiscal or social conservatism. There is no intellectual or ideological foundation for his campaign.
Refusing to play by the rules of traditional politics or firmly adhere to conservative ideals, Trump’s brand of unmoored, virulent populism increasingly seems to be the tail wagging the Republican dog. Trump’s nomination would likely split the Republican Party. What does party unity matter to Republicans who view Trump as equally bad, or perhaps worse, than Hillary Clinton? Advocacy of such unity is farcical and can only be motivated to save a Party that may no longer be worth saving.
The success of Trump should not only frighten anti-Trump conservatives. An increasingly large segment of the country appears intent on nominating an uncouth land baron who has presented no substantive policy positions save his “great wall.” Whether he is aware of it or not, Trump is exploiting the ignorance and frustration of many voters to gain political power. He tells us little but of how great he will make us and how we will “win.” This language sounds less like a candidate for the Presidency of the United States and rather more like the proclamations of a fascist dictator of a nation that had never known liberty.
In Trump’s America, the people are to have little role in the discussion of substantive policy, but are to trust their leader to make good deals. To those familiar with the political theory of the ancient Greeks, Trump’s demagoguery may seem eerily similar to Plato’s description of the first steps toward tyranny. It appears a large proportion of the American people are willing to support a man who refuses to engage the American people in policy discussions, who instead hopes to climb to power with vague emotional appeals. If these are the qualities Americans desire in a chief executive, perhaps it is time we end our pretense of cherishing free institutions and civic virtue.
A republican government can be no better than the people it rests upon. We are frighteningly close to placing our trust in a man who demeans the dignity of the office he is seeking with his disrespectful behavior.
Coverage of the presidential race increasingly looks more and more like American reality television, not the people’s sovereign choice regarding the administration of their government. Trump’s supporters care not that he has offered virtually no policy positions. They place their full faith in his good judgment as a successful businessman.
Should these trends continue in American politics, we would prove to be unworthy of the free institutions established by the Constitution and deserving of whatever ills that may follow. Trump’s campaign has already begun to drag his Republican opponents down to his level, and it may not be long before his style infects our entire political system. It is to be hoped that Americans will recognize the dangerous turn their politics is taking and avert the crisis before it is too late.
Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.