Reprinted from To The Point Analyses
The scenarios that are increasing popular fears reflect issues of economics and public safety. The economic policies that have prevailed in the West since the 2008 financial crisis have not been corrected and have allowed for an ever deepening divide between the wealthiest strata of society and everyone else. In the case of the United States, a Pew Research Center study, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on 10 December 2012, announced that the "middle class" has shrunk to the point where "most adults no longer fit into the category." The exalted "American Dream" is centered around a belief that all citizens can attain middle class or better economic status.
The Pew report calls that possibility into question for most Americans and, as this slowly dawns on the public, the resulting economic fear and anxiety becomes a politically and socially destabilizing factor. A similar scenario can be found in Europe's Euro Zone nations. Another Pew Research Center report on a poll conducted in this region the summer of 2015, and reported by the New York Times (NYT) on 11 December 2015, found "extraordinary gloom about the state of their economies."
Simultaneously, a second avenue of fear and anxiety has been created by an ongoing series of terrorist attacks, the latest in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California. These attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists and the media on both side of the Atlantic have exaggerated the threat they represent. This, in turn, has given rise to a growing Islamophobia. Indeed, we have gotten to the point where, in the mind of the public, the term "terrorism," now means the violent actions of extremist Muslims. Yet this is a dangerously restrictive definition. For instance, in the United States, similar and much more frequent violence carried on by non-Muslims is often not labeled terrorism. The truth is that throughout the West the violence carried on by a small number of fanatics identified with the Middle East has become an obsession with a growing number of citizens. According to the NYT article cited above, 19% of adult Americans define "Islamic terrorism" as the "top issue facing the country." Their number is sure to grow. Muslims have become the scapegoats of our age.
Part II -- The Role Model Demagogue
These two converging fears, over failing economic security and threatened public safety, have created the most unstable socio-political environment since the interwar years of the twentieth century. Historically, it is at such times that the political parties of the "center" -- the more moderate parties -- begin to appear weak and the capacity of their leaders to control and improve conditions becomes suspect. It is under these conditions that more and more people are attracted to the campaigning of demagogues, war-mongers, and authoritarian opportunists. Policy proposals which, in more settled times would never be taken seriously, now begin appear reasonable to increasing numbers of citizens. And, this is exactly the trend we now see in both the U.S. and Europe.
The role model "leader" here seems to be the American presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Trump is a billionaire real estate tycoon and "reality show" star. For Trump, who has no political experience, all problems have simple and direct answers which are to be presented to the public, not so much as policy suggestions, as orders. And, as befits a businessman with an authoritarian personality, Trump has displayed real talent for this sort of behavior. What is Trump's answer to the exaggerated problem of Islamic terrorism? Declaring that we are at war, Trump promises to defeat ISIS "big league" -- a non-answer which allows for anything from the invasion of Syria to the use of nuclear weapons. He would ban Muslims from coming into the country (while at the same time deporting millions of immigrants from South and Central America), and set up internment camps for those already here. He would also kill the families of identified Muslim terrorists.
That such policies, if actually implemented, would mire the nation in continuous war in the Middle East, spark a conflict with Russia, and leave constitutional law and protections in shreds, seems not to matter at all to Donald Trump. And, his supporters don't seem to mind such consequences either. According to the NYT article cited Trump currently has the support of "40% of Republican primary voters without a college degree and 26% of those who have a degree."When it comes to alleviating economic anxieties, Trump simply relies on the fact that he is a rich businessman to suggest that he can deal with such problems. This seems to suffice even though the problems come from the unregulated greed of big business people just like Trump. In times of trouble, image "trumps" reality (pun intended).