Two days ago, Donald Trump called for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the US. Predictably, this caused a storm of protest from leftists, liberals and mainstream conservatives. Will it hurt Trump’s popularity with his base? Probably not. Will he win the Republican nomination? Probably. Will be become president? Maybe.
I don’t agree with any of Trump’s off-the-cufflink proposals. I don’t think building a wall between the US and Mexico is necessary or practical as a way to stop illegal immigration. I don’t think that stopping all Muslims from entering the US is a practical way to deal with the problem of Islam. I don’t think that “parts of the internet should be closed off” (whatever that means). However, my views are not that different on the first two issues. In my opinion, the US should prevent illegal immigration and deport all illegal immigrants. The US should also drastically reduce legal immigration, and be more selective about it.
So, although I don’t agree with Trump’s specific proposals, I like the fact that he is bringing these issues into the Overton window, the window of acceptable public discourse. He is not doing this on his own, of course. Current events have brought those issues into the public consciousness. Trump is just seizing the moment by saying out loud what many people are quietly thinking.
Trump’s success in the Republican primaries is due to his outsider status and political incorrectness. It is partly a reaction to recent events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the riots in Baltimore, the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, and dozens of smaller incidents. It is an expression of the pent-up frustration and anger of white Americans, who are sick of being insulted by establishment elites. There is a growing backlash against political correctness, which is correctly viewed as anti-Western, anti-white and anti-male. Trump is riding this wave.
The frog that has been simmering in the pot for so long is starting to kick.
Trump violates the established norms of political discourse. Conventional politics is cautious, fake and boring. Most politicians just recite mundane sound bites, written by others. Trump’s approach is completely different. He speaks without a script. He rambles. He says politically incorrect things. He boasts about his success in life. He never apologizes or backs down. And he is winning.
There are two main reasons why his approach is working.
One is that the rules of the political game are changing. In the past, the big networks mattered. They had a captive audience. People sat in front of their TVs passively absorbing information. Today we have more options, and the audience is actively seeking information on the internet. People read blogs and interact on social media. Political debate is no longer controlled by the establishment media.
To win in this new environment, the most important thing is to get attention. In the past, establishment candidates would receive all the media attention, and the others would be ignored. Remember how Ron Paul was marginalized by the establishment media. They tried to push Trump off to the side too, but instead of allowing them to do that, he fought back. He insulted the mainstream media, and trolled them by saying politically incorrect things. The more the establishment media attacked him, the more he was in the spotlight. By making himself into a spectacle, Trump won the battle for attention, which is the most important battle in the current media environment.
The other reason for Trump’s success is that he focused the debate onto issues that his opponents cannot solve within their ideological frameworks.
Trump is not an ideological fascist or Nazi, as he is labeled by the left. He is not ideological at all. He just sees problems and proposes solutions to them. Illegal immigration is a problem, so we should build a wall to stop it. Unemployment is a problem, so we should force companies to keep jobs in America. Islamic terrorism is a problem, so we should ban Muslims from coming into our country until we figure out what is going on. These proposals are simplistic to the point of absurdity, but at least they acknowledge that the problems exist.
His opponents, both Republicans and Democrats, are trapped inside their political paradigms. They have to deny the existence of problems that they can’t solve within those paradigms, such as the problems created by mass immigration.
The Overton window is opening, due to current events and social media. This has created an opportunity for someone like Trump. Whether he wins or not, his candidacy is a sign that we are going through a political paradigm shift in the West.