Despite the assertions of many pundits that Donald Trump has “defied political gravity” time and again during the present election cycle, some folks have taken it upon themselves to come up with an explanation for the irreverent candidate’s far-reaching appeal. While some are content to chalk Trump’s wave of popularity to the electorate’s collective anger and mistrust of government, noted linguist and theoretician Noam Chomsky has a more specific assessment of the GOP frontrunner’s burgeoning momentum.
In an interview with AlterNet, Chomsky attributed the success of Donald Trump to date to an ongoing climate of fear in American society. Although reporter Aaron Williams initially framed the question of Trump’s rise in the context of fear, Chomsky expounded on the concept in his response.
“Fear, along with the breakdown of society during the neoliberal period,” Noam Chomsky said as he noted the key factors in his assessment of Trump’s politics. “People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.”
“Neoliberalism” refers to an “approach to economics and social studies in which control of economic factors is shifted from the public sector to the private sector,” according to the educational site Investopedia. The term was first coined in the first half of the 20th century, but the practice and politics of neoliberalism are typically associated with the 1970s and the 1980s, as explained in an article published by the New Left Project.
Chomsky also offered some historical context to his observations, likening aspects of Donald Trump’s success to the socioeconomic climate following the Great Depression.
“It’s interesting to compare the situation in the ’30s, which I’m old enough to remember,” Chomsky said. “Objectively, poverty and suffering were far greater. But even among poor working people and the unemployed, there was a sense of hope that is lacking now, in large part because of the growth of a militant labor movement and also the existence of political organizations outside the mainstream.”
In a January interview with Meera Srinivasan for The Wire, Chomsky also expounded upon the importance of Donald Trump’s use of xenophobia in his efforts to induce feelings of terror and hopelessness on a broad scale. Chomsky asserted that political leaders like Trump appeal to “nativists” through the use of racist sentiments, explaining that subsequent fear that the country is under attack by foreigners incites feelings of fear and leads to social phenomena like America’s “gun culture.”
It’s a gloomy assessment of Donald Trump’s rather colorful crusade for high office, to be sure. But then again, much of the top Republican’s most popular rhetoric has involved looming threats from immigrants and terrorist along with Trump’s own threats of violence against his foes. The real estate mogul has advocated torture as well as the targeting of ostensibly innocent members of terrorists’ families as a means of securing the American homeland. Even at his own rallies, Donald Trump has punctuated his contempt with violent language, suggesting that one protester “deserved to be roughed up” and telling supporters on another occasion that he wanted to punch a protester in the face.
Noam Chomsky sidestepped a further question regarding the outcome of the November election, indicating that he could “express hopes and fears but not predictions.” Nevertheless, polling data and projections by organizations like CNN and Real Clear Politics appear to indicate that Donald Trump will at the very least secure an overwhelming lead on his GOP rivals following the Super Tuesday primaries in March. Provided that his own bluster or lingering scandals like the flap surrounding his failed “Trump University” do not derail his campaign, victory in the general election could be well within the reach of Donald Trump.
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