BY: RAGIP SOYLU*
His blonde hair puffing, he paces back and forth, while his supporters cheer what he said about the Democratic Party’s candidate; he waits until the shouting ends and stares at people with a stiff face. Every turn, he finds a way to come up with a bolder statement and, of course, clapping follows. Sometimes he calls his opponent nasty, sometimes liar and most of the time stupid. His colorful outbursts, his inappropriate past sexual advances or gaffes, his shady tax records or insults to minorities or Muslims have not shaken his core group of supporters: Hardline Republicans who demand change.
The latest polls show he has the backing of over 40 percent of the population and even though people believe his fate has been sealed with his scandalous behavior, I believe all the research proves he has already won. Donald Trump, the epitome of all populist politicians, has succeeded in transforming Republican Party rhetoric and its politics. Once, we had Senator John McCain confronting his own voters to be more respectful of President-elect Barack Obama, now we have a candidate who has no respect for anyone other than himself. His rigid Tea Party-like fringe ideas and superficial policy proposals have become the new mainstream Republicanism.
Worse, his daily slurs, racism and heated rhetoric have been transmitted nationwide, his politically incorrect posture now is the new normal for many Americans. After all, a number of Republican heavyweights, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, pulled their support but Trump succeeded in continuing his campaign, and Republicans still seem to love him.
How did we get here? A lot of analysts and commentators tend to focus on Trump’s personality even though everyone knows that Republicans have had enough of Obama’s policies. Not just his fiscal policies, foreign ventures, Obamacare or his arrogant style of governance when it comes to issues where he faces severe opposition, but Obama is also very apologetic for his American identity. As Politico pointed out last March, he has an apology complex, whenever he visits a foreign country he comes up with some sort of speech of regret due to past American actions.
No doubt an American president apologizing may look like a good gesture and honorable act, but for Republicans it’s an obvious sign that he’s ashamed of being American. These apologies, in essence, were going to wreak havoc against the very American identity that Republicans would like to protect. When Obama first came to office in 2009, his middle name became an issue, not just because we have a lot of bigots in the United States but also he was the candidate who shored up his support with the idea of “change.”
It was the very idea of change, the collapse of the “American Dream” that brought us here. While the economy was slowing down, the deteriorating situations mainly hit the white-dominated middle class. Disappointment in the system, the rise of social media, which eased the boost of right-wing hysteria, and the rapidly changing American perception of a world run amok against immigrants has alienated regular Americans. This is how the Tea Party Movement was born. And this is why Obama’s change seemed for many as a change in the wrong direction, which can destroy the very foundations of the imagined American identity these people deeply care for.
We should be aware of the fact that Trump is not a unique phenomenon. In many respects, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders had similar features with Trump. It is not just that he is angry, anti-establishment and populist, but he, too, talked about a deep change, a socialist revolution – something similar to Trump’s “great America.”
I believe Trump will lose in the upcoming election, but his legacy, the new Republican Party will need to do a lot of soul searching. If you remember, in 2008 Obama was running against the Democratic Party’s establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton. His victory and moderately progressive presidency opened more ways for Sanders. He lost the nomination, but Clinton had to change her agenda, re-adjust her rhetoric. The same goes for the Republicans.
Trump has already won, but it may take a while for everyone to see his success.
*Ragip Soylu is a Turkish journalist and columnist. He writes for Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper.
(Published in Daily Sabah on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016)