Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Donald Trump’s candidacy has shifted from side-show spectacle to front and center of the Republican presidential primary race in time for the first debates. It’s been exciting and terrifying to see his poll numbers rise despite some of the least politic statements of any recent candidate (21%, hold the number one spot in a crowded early field):
On Immigration: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best . . . They’re sending people that have a lot of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
On China: “Oh would China be in trouble. The poor Chinese.”
On the Middle East (Saudi Arabia): “I’m going to look ’em in the eye and say, ‘Fellas, you’d have your fun. Your fun is over.’
On Climate: It’s freezing and snowing in New York – We need global warming!”
None in the political class believe we’ll be seeing “The Donald” at the end of the race, but the possibility of a third-party candidate who can easily keep up with the spending necessary to keep up with “real” candidates does have many in the Republican party worried. And, at least early in the spectacle that federal politics has become, his antics are driving the early questions. Is the country so fed up with politics as usual that his candidacy, however toxic and improbable, is enough to shake the political system, including the electorate, into change? Irwin Kula (Wisdom Daily co-founder) and Craig Hatkoff recently asked this question:
“While the benefits to Donald of running are self-evident—enormous, invaluable promotion of the Trump brand along with basking in the limelight of hyper-celebritydom—what if the real job is simply to highlight the absurdity of the existing system?… [I]t certainly looks like the Trump candidacy qualifies as a disruptive political innovation. The classic definition of a disruptive innovation (admittedly oversimplified) is: a simpler, cheaper, more accessible product or service that is good enough to get the job done that enters at the low end of the market.
If Trump’s real job is not to become President, but to bring about fundamental change to the political marketplace by scaring the bejesus out of the political incumbents and the majority of Americans as well, he has certainly taken an innovative approach and is doing quite well.” – Forbes.com
Is Trump’s candidacy a disruptive innovation? Hardly. Trump is not a disruptive innovation — what he is peddling is hardly new. Scapegoating others based on racism during times when the populace is hurting economically is an old tactic. His anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Chinese racist invectives are reminiscent of anti-Semitism and Fascism in Europe in the 1940s, which seems to have been rekindled in pockets of Europe again.
Because people are in a world of financial pain, their ability to recognize old-fashioned, hardline ideologies is impaired. Quick fixes to entrenched and thorny issues are always popular in troubled times. Trump’s views do in fact call attention to the fact that our political system is broken, but he suggests no innovative path of systemic repair. In the larger pattern of politics, in the Middle East, in Latin America, in Europe, and over the course of human history, when a sizable number of the population is worried enough, loud, provocative overly simplistic demagoguery has found a voice. It’s part of the larger ebb and flow and swings of political systems. In American politics we’ve seen this before: Millard Fillmore’s Know-Nothing party open only to Protestant white males opposed immigration, especially of Catholics (1840-50). The Dixiecrats of 1948 wanted to keep segregation in place. Trump’s candidacy is indeed a disruption, but hardly a game-changing innovation.
Trump’s early success should be seen for what it really points to — people in this country are hurting so acutely that they want to believe, even against their better judgement, in too-simple answers, divorced from real-world implications. We should recognize this political theater for what it is: not a disruptive innovation to politics as usual, but rather, a familiar and dangerous spasm which is part and parcel of the usual politics.