Ideas

The Enright Files - The Donald Trump Phenomenon

For the first few months of Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination, much of the analysis of Trump’s campaign revolved around how unthinkable it was that he could actually win it. Now, the conversation has shifted to trying to figure out what made Trump’s ascendancy possible, or perhaps even inevitable. On this month's edition of The Enright Files, conversations about the Donald Trump phenomenon and what it says about the GOP and the American polity.
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, May 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California. ( ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

For the first few months of Donald Trump's bid for the Republican presidential nomination, much of the analysis of Trump's campaign revolved around how unthinkable it was that he could actually win it. Now, the conversation has shifted to trying to figure out what made Trump's ascendancy possible, or perhaps even inevitable. On this month's edition of The Enright Files, conversations about the Donald Trump phenomenon and what it says about the GOP and the American polity.


When Trump announced he was running for the Republican presidential nomination a year ago, he was largely dismissed as an unserious gadfly and implausible candidate.

The media gleefully lapped up and encouraged Trump's gift for outrageousness, but a Trump run for the Oval Office? It was unthinkable. 

There were his offensive comments about women and minorities. There was his plan to kick 11 million undocumented Hispanics out of the U.S. and run an illegal-alien-proof wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, at Mexico's expense.

There was his vow to close the border to Muslims and other pronouncements that verge on fascism. There was the fact that he condones torture and his supporters roughing up protesters at his rallies.  And there was the fact that he appears to have very little regard for facts. It can be awfully hard to tell whether he's deluded, lying or just making stuff up.

So far, at least, none of this is of any consequence to his supporters except perhaps as selling points. 

The Republican Party's elites now ponder Trump's candidacy with disbelief, horror and perhaps a sense of resignation, a disaster for the GOP. Others believe it would be an even bigger disaster for the country if Trump should be elected president. 

That, too, seems unlikely, but Trump has consistently defied conventional political wisdom, just as he's defied the facts, the pundits, logic, the Republican establishment, reality, decorum and the bounds of good taste. 

As it became clear that his campaign was no joke, analysis of the Trump phenomenon has shifted from explaining why he couldn't possibly win the Republican nomination, to trying to figure what it is in American political culture that made the ascendancy of a coarse demagogue possible, maybe even inevitable.



Guests in this episode:

  • David Frum, conservative commentator, senior editor of The Atlantic Monthly and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush

  • Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University and author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

  • Sarah Binder, political scientist at George Washington University and author of Stalemate: Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock




**The Enright Files is produced by Chris Wodskou

 

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