Based on the social media reactions to the final presidential debate, it’s safe to assume that most Americans are ready for this election to end. Yet, as we move towards November 8th, it is important to try to understand how Americans ended up with Donald Trump on the ticket of a major party.
Trump reminds many, such as Trevor Noah, of African authoritarian regimes. His love of authoritarian leaders and military generals echoes those of the late Qaddafi and Idi Amin, and his dislike of immigrants sounds eerily like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma. In a recent article in the Pacific Standard, research by Harvard Sociologist Bart Bonikowski and Princeton Sociologist Paul DiMaggio explain why the current state of American politics is not an aberration.
Bonikowski and DiMaggio argue that Americans can be divided into four nationalist camps, each with its own differing levels of patriotism and dislike of the “other”: Ardent Nationalists, Creedal Nationalist, Restrictive Nationalists, and The Disengaged. Trump disproportionately draws his support from the “restrictive nationalists.”
Even after taking into account their partisan affiliations, “ardent” and “restrictive” nationalists are both significantly more likely than other Americans to believe immigrants cause crime and take jobs away from Americans. Trump has exploited these beliefs, even as his anti-Muslim (and implicitly anti-semitic) statements have solidified his support with people who equate Americanness with Christianity. The researchers write,
“Trump’s campaign has used a particular vision of the nation that emphasizes the superiority of the American people, the moral corruption of elites, and dire threats posed by immigrants and ethnic, racial, and religious minorities.”
Trump’s rise is a result of his campaign tapping into a vision of nationalism that embraces white, heterosexual Americans’ manifest destiny and presupposed excellence.