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On Monday 24th October, The Henry Jackson welcomed James Kirchick, a Washington-based journalist, to discuss Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, its supporters and what it means for the United States.
Kirchick began by attacking the argument that Trump’s rise is attributable to an economic downturn amongst poor, uneducated voters. He noted that the median income of those who voted Trump in the primaries was $72 000 per year. This is higher than both the national median household income, $56 000, and the $61 000 median income of Clinton and Sanders primary voters. Trump supporters are also caricatured as uneducated but, as Kirchick noted, 44 percent of Trump voters in the primaries had college degrees against a national incidence of 29 percent. Also of significance was the fact that, although Trump promulgates anti-immigration rhetoric, polling has found no correlation between support for him and an exposure to competition in the labour market. This, Kirchick argued, shows that Trump’s support has not been driven by any economic impact of illegal immigration.
Having discarded the most common argument put forward to explain Trump’s ascension, Kirchick then attacked him for his repudiation of traditional Republican values. Instead of advocating for a smaller government, Trump has argued for an expansion of it. Similarly, he has rejected a hawkish foreign policy and asserted that America should reduce its presence on the world stage. Most salient in relation to this point was Kirchick’s claim that Trump doesn’t believe in a set of values and, as a consequence, sees foreign policy as a collection of business deals. This explains his arguing against supporting Japan or NATO, traditionally American allies, as he believes they don’t ‘pay their fair share’.
Returning to the subject of Trump’s supporters, Kirchick then argued that the Republican nominee’s success has been driven by racism. The best determinant, Kirchick noted, as to whether someone will support Trump is if they believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Moreover, polling has demonstrated a correlation between anti-black attitudes and support for Trump. Kirchick attributes this brand of race-driven politics to the demographic trends in the United States that will soon see whites becoming a minority in the country. Indeed, he described Trump’s campaign as the “last gasp of a white America scared of becoming a minority”. Such a tribal manner of thinking, Kirchick added, offers an explanation as to why Evangelicals continue to support Trump, a thrice divorced narcissist who claims to have never asked God for forgiveness and claims his favourite Bible verse is “two Corinthians”.
To conclude his talk, Kirchick noted that, as the reasons for Trump’s ascent are not economic, the solutions to the problems he has created won’t be either. Kirchick stopped short, however, of offering any solutions himself. Finally, he briefly discussed Russia’s relationship with Trump. The extent of Russian interference in the US election has been, Kirchick claimed, unprecedented. He argued that, instead of Trump being interested in Russia, Russia is interested in Trump. This is because Trump’s claims that the US should pull back from the world stage suit the Russians. Moreover, as Russia no longer offers an ideological alternative, as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, the best they can do is try to undermine the West by claiming that they are even more corrupt and dysfunctional than the dictatorial regime Russia has to offer.