Opinion: The changing face of the USA | Opinion | DW | 05.03.2016
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Opinion: The changing face of the USA

Donald Trump's success says a lot about America. Indignation about the political elite is understandable, but it can't explain why aggression breeds success. It's a situation Gero Schließ says could end badly.

History is being written right now in America. That is always exciting. But in this case it is also dramatic. An entire country is changing before our eyes. Though he may not have started it, Donald Trump is the man who is now speeding up and steering this process in a very dangerous direction. Like a bulldozer on a rampage, he is destroying the foundations of this freedom-loving and once so self-assured nation.

And the country is letting him do it. Trump insults women - then gets more votes from them than his Republican rivals. He endorses liberal abortion policies, advertises for sex clubs in his casinos and stomps on Christian values - yet he has the support of ultra-conservative Evangelical Christians. Indeed, the list of those Trump has insulted goes on and on.

Has America given up?

The country seems rotten, like a once mighty tree that is leaning precariously. It remains to be seen if it can weather the gathering storm or will come crashing down.

In the eyes of a growing number of voters, the country's elite, which only thinks of itself, is also rotten. It is an elite that, despite the country's economic well-being, has starved the middle-class and robbed them of the fruits of their labor. The fact that more and more Americans are growing angry is understandable. But the conclusions that they are reaching are not.

Schliess Gero Kommentarbild App

Gero Schließ is a DW correspondent in Washington, DC

Searching for a tough guy

Trump is the tough guy many people feel could finally change things. Even if it seems stupefying: When he hammers away at the masses, repeating that he will "beat" the Chinese, the Mexicans and whoever else he has to in order to "make America great again," he is guaranteed thundering applause. Even though he has not provided a single workable political policy.

By "Super Tuesday" at the latest, it has been clear that Trump's message is reaching broad swaths of American voters in a way that no other Republican has been able to do, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan. Women and men, blacks and whites, young and old, rich and poor, in southern as well as northern states: everyone is getting the message.

Fear and aggression

Trump's success says a lot about Americans and about the state of the nation. But what can be inferred from these messages is not good. Not good for America and not good for Germany and America's other allies.

The country is changing. Decency and politeness are apparently on the decline, mean-spiritedness and ruthlessness are rewarded. Global responsibility is being replaced by nationalist egocentricity. Fear and aggression are now coming together in an unholy symbiosis. Trump is the champion of this paradigm shift. Many think he's great simply because he is so mean.

Since its founding, the United States has been a beacon for millions of people around the world because it offered them the chance of a better, more equitable life. Suddenly there are calls to build walls to keep them from coming, and the majority of Americans think that is just fine.

Right-wing populist counterrevolution

Perhaps it was inevitable that the election of the first black president would bring about a right-wing, populist counterrevolution. Barack Obama is a contentious figure in large portions of the population. He rode into office on a wave of hope, and in the end he disappointed many of his most ardent supporters - and that's despite the fact that things have actually got better during his presidency. Unemployment, for instance, is at an all-time low and the economy is growing steadily. Obama tried to make the country more liberal and more socially just. But many people do not seem to have picked up on that.

Now Trump's negativity is transfixing unbelievable numbers of people. What has become of the land of endless possibilities and its proud, optimistic citizens?


At the moment many people are asking "why?" But explanations so far are at best akin to tentative attempts to describe an unknown landscape. Even in Washington, with its corps of political professionals, erudite think tanks, well-traveled diplomats and seasoned journalists, even here there are no answers to be found - only silence.

America is certainly not yet lost. So far only half of the country has to engage in some serious soul searching - namely the half that votes Republican or is close to the "Grand Old Party."

But who is to say that this virus will stop at the party's borders? It is also not a forgone conclusion that Hillary Clinton, should she be her party's nominee, will be able to derail the increasingly likely Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump.

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