August 20, 2019

2016 Election Blog #17: Donald Trump and his War with America: The New Political Mindset

Something is happening within American society where the political climate in this nation is changing. What we are observing among some of our citizens seems to involve a totally new and different perception about what America may represent. This transformation is redefining our politics.

In the process of selling his message, Donald Trump has declared war on the values, personalities and institutions of American society. And in the process Trump appears to have tapped into a subculture of America that represents a different stratum of this nation’s politics.

Four characteristics comprise this new political behavior:

  • A basic distrust of and loss in confidence in institutions and individual leaders that have historically defined American politics.
  • Race and ethnicity define the political mindset of Trump’s supporters. This phenomenon represents a culture that is built around tribe, family and gender!
  • If rationality describes the political behavior of mainstream America, this constituency might best be described as anti-rational.
  • Fear has replaced reason in describing the political condition that drives this campaign.

Many of the political assumptions that drive mainstream conservatives and progressives, no longer resonate with this segment of our society. Even as these establishment constituencies hold opposing views, they argue from an established base of agreed upon values and assumptions about this nation. That is not the case with the supporters of Donald Trump. This outlier group operates from a fundamentally different perspective in connection with the American story. These folks have a totally different take on the American political scenario and its meaning.

Trump’s appeal to these disconnected voters is that he resonates to their nativism, anger, and disaffection, just as his authoritarian style is responsive to their desire for an affirmative leader. Their world in all of its aspects appears to be coming undone. For them, the order of things is particularly important, as they observe “their social networks” being torn a part by political elites who emphasize equality, racial justice, and sexual diversity. White males feel threatened by the new economic picture, the unfolding cultural changes and the troubling demographic realities that will ultimately reshape America. Homogeneity is celebrated over diversity. Hierarchy and the preservation of the old order take precedence over social change. This is nostalgia being turned into political rhetoric, i.e. “Making America Great Again!”

In this emerging alternative political culture, one finds elements drawn from the far right with its particular hostility toward the federal government and the established norms of this society. The political climate created by Donald Trump has attracted those who preach the politics of hate, including Klan, Neo-Nazi, and Skinhead supporters, just as it has touched others who have given up on the established political norms and practices of American democracy.

The Trump motif is to marginalize “the other,” be it his opponents and those individuals, groups or nations that he describes as America’s problem. His simplistic messaging, his bombastic attacks, and his overt rejection of the status quo place him as the “outsider” waging war against all that is understood to be “establishment”.

As I have written elsewhere: His message has been described as bigoted, hateful, and destructive. Anti-immigrant bashing, dismissal of women, and the marginalization of religious groups are positions that for most Jews are viewed as outside the norm of responsible politics. For some, the very essence of American democracy is undermined by the Trump message. His rise to political stardom has struck a nervous and unsettling cord for many, while for others his “out of the box” candidacy has captured their passions. … The significant appeal of Donald Trump’s message has touched a raw political nerve within this nation.

The rise of Donald Trump must be seen as a major American social phenomenon, signaling to the political establishment that the level of disaffection, distrust, and anger amongst a significant segment of Americans represents a fundamental challenge to the institutions, values and ideals of this democracy. How responsive will the political parties and institutions of this society be in regaining the civic confidence and support of these citizens?

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website: