Donald Trump trumpets the politics of exclusivity in Richmond, VA, the former capital of the Old Confederacy.
Donald Trump is a boorish, brash, braggadocious blowhard. He’s the kind of guy who’s richer than — and therefore better than — you, and if you don’t agree, then you’re an idiot. He’s tailor-made for the shame-drained slime bucket that is American politics. This fact ought to be a no-brainer at this point in the 2016 presidential campaign, but America’s over-paid beltway media fluffers still can’t comprehend why the GOP voting base laps up Trump’s uncouth stew of xenophobia, bigotry, sexism, and overt plutocrat sanctification like a St. Bernard who’s jowls-deep in a bowl of gravy-slathered kibble.
In an article for Reuters, for example, Bill Schneider claims that Trump is a new kind of candidate, an unholy, Frankensteinian daemon cross between “the political outsider and the fringe candidate.” This makes the blustery, ball-capped billionaire all the more perplexing to Schneider, who observes that, “Trump is a multibillionaire running against the establishment. He’s a candidate with no coherent political philosophy running as a conservative champion. It doesn’t make sense. But, so far, it’s working.” Trump’s conservative grass-roots appeal confuses the American punditocracy because they don’t want to admit that the secret to U.S. politics is exclusivity: that those with their grubby white maws already stuck in the national cookie jar will always vote to exclude other groups who are demanding some crumbs of their own.
This 1870 cartoon by Thomas Nast depicts the Pope and his minions eyeing America from Rome.
The United States is, in theory, a secular nation. Despite the occasional verbal hat tips to a supernatural watchmaker by some of the more deistic leaning founders, all of America’s founding documents are secular: they embrace no official state religion of any kind and maintain a strict separation between church and state. This political structure has, in turn, made the U.S. one of the most religiously pluralistic societies in the world. After all, having freedom of religion ensures that all religions can be practiced openly.
In practical terms, however, for much of its history the U.S. has been a majority Christian Protestant nation. The first European settlers (with the exception of some pesky Spanish Catholics in Florida and out west) to America were Protestants, and a Protestant religious tradition has shaped much of American history. And, of course, the violent, sectarian brouhaha that is Christian history ensured that a predominantly Protestant United States would also have its fair share of Anti-Catholic sentiment.
A 1904 Campaign Poster for candidate Tom Watson of the “People’s Party,” also know as the “Populists.” They didn’t last long, though some of their policies did. Also, Watson turned into a xenophobic, racist nutball.
Why can’t the United States muster the will to create a viable third-party to challenge the calcified, shame-immune, institutional bureaucrat incubation pits known respectively as the Democrats and the Republicans? Throughout American history many idealistic souls have longed for a third-party alternative to the ensconced two-party system, and, despite a few fleeting exceptions, they have been sorely disappointed.
The American tradition of mass democratic politics has historically combined with structural limitations within the country’s governing institutions to make third-party movements akin to knocking on Mordor’s gates and hoping to be let in with a wink and a smile. Yes, one does not simply start a third-party in America.
An 1850s era Boston Know Nothing Party newspaper, the American Patriot. The Know Nothings opposed taxes, immigrants, and feared American moral decline. Sound familiar?
In light of the 2013 shutdown of the federal government, much proverbial ink has been spilled trying to understand the lumbering, lily-white, unreasonably enraged, largely geriatric albatross known as the Tea Party that has taken the Republican Party into its paranoid talons and simply refuses to let go. Understanding what drives these Medicare-scootering reactionaries is key to understanding the mind of contemporary American conservatism. But these neck-vein bulging, spelling-challenged, addlepated political equivalent of howler monkeys are, in fact, only the most recent manifestation of a seemingly intractable American tradition: nativism.