It Could Have Been Huge


With Bernie Sanders now dispatched by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party machine, Donald Trump has emerged as the unlikely populist standard-bearer. Not since the patrician Julius Caesar rallied the Roman plebeians, or the aristocratic Franklin Roosevelt spoke for the “forgotten man,” has someone so detached from everyday struggles won over such a large part of the working and middle classes.

Crass, superficial and materialistic to a fault, Trump, sadly, shares little of the virtues of either Caesar or Roosevelt, more resembling another creepy billionaire, the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Yet, like his wealthy political counterparts, Trump has crafted a message, however crude, that has demolished the Republican corporate establishment and turned conservative intellectuals into virtual irrelevancies.

The great tragedy for Trump is that the basis for a grass-roots-led Republican victory lay within his grasp. He could have been, like Ronald Reagan in 1980, the instrument of populist revolt had he shown the same wit, self-control and positive eloquence. Instead, his crudity, his barely disguised racial stereotyping and his obsession with himself has taken from the GOP, at least for this election cycle, the possibility of reaping an enormous windfall from the widespread alienation of the populace from the political and economic ruling class.

Race and Immigration

Racially tinged issues, notably immigration, propelled Trump’s rise. This reflects the sad reality that race relations in this country have been headed in the wrong direction the past several years. His opposition to illegal immigration – including his absurd, shock-jock-style advocacy of a southern border wall – resonates with a large part of the Anglo population, some African Americans and even some Latinos, a group whose mass desertion from the party may now seal its demise.

If negotiated with grace and some sensitivity, illegal immigration could have proven a winning issue this fall, as it was in the spring. The killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant felon, who was protected by that city’s “sanctuary” status, followed by terrorist massacres in Paris and San Bernardino, all played into this theme. Recent revelations about higher-than-reported criminal recidivism among undocumented felons aid the Trump cause.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons