We can begin with Trump as a flagrant piece of a much bigger picture.
Consider what it means that the British parliament lately debated the question of whether Donald Trump should be banned from Great Britain. Britain-- perhaps the United States' greatest friend, our "special relationship" for the better part of a century. And Donald Trump-- the front-runner of one of America's two major political parties.
That such a debate would occur sends an inescapable message: Something has gone seriously wrong with the Republican Party.
How should we understand what's gone wrong?
That Trump is the frontrunner tells us we must look past Trump as an individual, for if he weren't getting massive support from the Republican base, his candidacy -- however distasteful -- would be of no importance.
The support Trump gets from the base demonstrates that he is expressing what they feel and how they think. So, in excavating what's gone wrong, the next level down lies in the thoughts and feelings of the base.
Trump's basic message is, "Let's beat our enemies." And they applaud his belligerence because they feel besieged and filled with rage. That Trump's pronouncements are detached from reality reflects that this base doesn't think hard to distinguish what's true from what's false, or what makes sense from what's nonsense.
But the answer can't stop at the base. The question, "How did the base get that way?" takes us to a bigger picture in which many of the components of the political right play a major role.
We can go back to Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich who demonized
"librels" and taught that defeating "enemies" -- and not finding ways of working
together to achieve a common purpose -- is what the political drama is all about.
We can go back to the emergence of Fox News and the rise of the GW Bush presidency, both of which cultivated fear in their followers, and worked assiduously to detach their followers from reality. With phony issues like "the war against Christmas" -- right-wing media taught their people to perceive the world as filled with forces hostile to their basic values. With the denial of climate change, they rendered even scientific knowledge impotent to challenge a political orthodoxy based on lies.
We can look to the continuous Republican effort to stir up resentments and fears directed against undocumented immigrants -- even while the influx of such people stopped and even reversed -- and to inflame old racial hostilities by peddling an image of President Obama as a Kenya-born "food stamp president."
We can look to the Republicans in Congress whose across-the-board obstructionism led their followers to care only about the struggle for dominance, and not about achieving results to improve the nation.
So if Trump is a mirror of the base, and the base has been shaped over decades by a whole network of forces comprising the political right, what's gone wrong in the Republican Party is something much larger and deeper than the man our best friends have found so offensive to basic values of democratic civilization.
It is bigger not just because almost the entire rest of the
Republican field has vied with each other to tap into the same rage and
resentment and fear and lack of constructive orientation as Trump. And not just
because the other candidate now seriously in the running -- Ted Cruz -- is a man (disliked,
it seems, by most everyone he works with) who has shown no loyalty to anything
but his own quest for power.