There’s an Ideological Reason for Trump’s Success

By Mark Krikorian on December 9, 2015
The New York Times Room for Debate

, December 9, 2015

How disgusted are Americans with our leaders?

So disgusted that a large number are seriously backing Donald Trump for president.

What was once a joke on "The Simpsons" may become reality because much of the public has lost confidence in our elites – leaders in business, labor, politics, journalism, academia, religion. Every society needs elites, but our elites have come to reject the basic worldview of the people they purport to lead. We have, as the late Samuel Huntington wrote, a patriotic public and a post-American, post-national elite that is mystified, at best – and disgusted, at worst – at the public's demand that our government put the interests of Americans first.

This disconnect is why immigration policy is at the core of Trump's success. Mass immigration is perhaps the most potent symbol of the elite's unconcern with America's sovereignty and the well-being of ordinary people. Many Americans – not just Republicans but also independents and some Democrats – want policies that promote America's sovereignty and self-determination.

Our elites are more out-of-step with the public on immigration than on any other issue. The Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs surveyed both the public and opinion leaders on a variety of issues broadly related to foreign policy and found the biggest gaps on immigration policy. Even questions like support for the United Nations or support for foreign aid didn't show as big a gap as immigration.

Surveys of specific constituencies found the same thing. Whether union leaders vs. union members, religious leaders vs. their members, or minority leaders vs. minority voters, the results were the same – huge gaps between the demands of ordinary people for tighter borders and commitment to American workers vs. elite preference for amnesty, loose borders and increased immigration.

The leadership class can get its way for a long time because of its money and organization and institutional savvy. But when a precipitating event shines a light on the elite's failure – like the murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by a repeatedly deported illegal alien criminal, or the San Bernardino terrorist attack – an opportunity opens up for an outsider to give voice to the public's concerns.

People will flock even to a carnival barker like Trump when their concerns are contemptuously dismissed by their leaders. The solution is not to screech denunciations of Trump but to co-opt him, by addressing the real fears people have, but in a responsible and informed fashion.

Topics: Politics