Why Donald Trump resonates
Donald Trump has gone from political novice to presumptive Republican presidential nominee in 12 short months. It’s too early to tell if Trump’s story will end the same way as one-time political novice Barack Obama’s. But one thing is certain: Trump is the anti-Obama of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Where Obama promised to change Washington by bringing people together, Donald Trump promises to change Washington by blowing things up. And in this year’s presidential primary, a record 13.4 million Republicans decided to launch him on his way.
For all their differences, though, it is worth noting that Trump’s rise is being fueled by much of the same discontent that fueled Obama’s rise in 2008. The discontent is a product of the past decade of dysfunction in Washington, D.C. From Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the Great Recession of 2008 to the VA scandal of 2014 to the rise of ISIS today, the federal government has repeatedly been unable to ward off threats and deal with problems effectively after they arise.
What makes Americans even angrier is that the governing class in Washington appears to be profiting from this dysfunction. Between 2000 and 2012, the income of the typical household in our nation’s capital increased by 23.3 percent, while the median household income for the nation as a whole dropped by 6.6 percent. Washington was the only large metropolitan area in the country to make it through the recession virtually unscathed. Today, five of the 10 wealthiest counties in America are in the DC metropolitan area.
As a result of this disconnect and because of this dysfunction, voter trust in America’s government is now at or near an all-time low. And when voters are asked to identify the main problems facing the country, they increasingly rank government at or near the top of the list. This dissatisfaction is not surprising. The average American worker pays over $17,000 in payroll and income taxes each year. They want to know their money is being well spent. This is especially true in tough economic times, when budgets are tight and dollars are few.
Qualities like honesty and integrity are important in our elected leaders. But so is making sure that taxpayers get something back for the hard-earned tax dollars they send to D.C. In this election, it’s about value, not values. And therein lies the appeal of Donald Trump.
Despite questions about his record, concerns about his positions and misgivings about statements he has made that would put any other candidate to shame, many taxpayers are giving the billionaire businessman the benefit of the doubt because they believe he will bring an end to government dysfunction and make government work. Whether it’s building a wall along our border or rebuilding our crumbling bridges and roads, the taxpayers who are supporting Trump are doing so because they believe he will provide them with a return on their federal investment by putting their tax dollars to good use.
As for the criticism that Trump has not issued any position papers and has no interest in public policy, these same taxpayers would also point out that America has had a decade’s worth of position papers from presidential candidates. Where has it gotten the country? There is no silver bullet when it comes to public policy. The only silver bullet is political courage, and that has been in short supply in recent years.
Americans are ashamed of their government and ready to turn the tables on the governing class. Who better to shame Washington than someone who has no shame?
Lou Zickar is the editor of The Ripon Forum, from which this has been adapted.