OpEd: Who's to Blame for Donald Trump?

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By Jason Johnson

With just about a month to go before the Iowa Caucuses the political pundit class has come to the painfully sobering reality that Donald Trump is actually a serious candidate. And now that everyone has realized that Trump won’t just disappear, and will likely live past Iowa, a plethora of ink has been spilled over the last month trying to explain “who’s responsible” for the rise and continued success of Donald Trump.

Jeb Bush (and a lot of Republicans) claim that Trump is Obama’s fault because the president has divided the country.

W. Kamau bell says that Trump is white America’s fault because white folks won’t take responsibility for bigots.

One analyst even said that Trump is the Buffalo Bills’ fault (no seriously).

Of course, none of these answers are right and we’re not even asking the right question. The whole “who’s responsible for Trump” discussion is actually more disturbing than Trump himself, because it reveals a degree of cowardice and dishonesty about our current political system.

The public discourse on American elections has become so degraded, so foolish, so downright divided and nonsensical that it’s extremely difficult for your average American to get a decent handle of what’s going on or why.

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Consider that for months, especially last summer, dozens of respected journalists and pundits swore up and down that Donald Trump wasn’t a serious candidate.

A serious candidate? This year we’ve had candidates for party nominations that didn’t bother to vote for almost a decade, don’t know the difference between a terrorist group and dipping sauce, and considered killing someone with their bare hands to be their crowning achievement.

He’s not some impossible trend like Crocs or men’s body spray that we’re just forced to accept no matter what. He’s just a political candidate.

The mere notion that Donald Trump was the biggest pair of floppy shoes in the clown car that is the 2016 campaign season requires an almost pathological insistence on ignoring the other red noses and powdered wigs dancing across our airwaves.

However the discussion of who is responsible for his rise to polling prominence and frontrunner status is even more ridiculous. Asking who is responsible for the rise of a particular candidate is implying that said candidate is this inevitable force that we all have to stare down in shock and awe with no idea how to stop it.

Donald Trump isn’t a meteor crashing towards earth. He’s not a plague of locusts. He’s not some impossible trend like Crocs or men’s body spray that we’re just forced to accept no matter what. He’s just a political candidate. No more. No less.

By speculating about his rise and trying to find a singular “reason” it gives political elites, journalists and yes, even regular people who are not fans of Trump a pass. They can pretend that his behavior, rhetoric and belief systems are somehow unique and confounding. If we find a reason we can isolate it and pretend that all the other factors that come into play in American campaigns didn’t play a role in his rise. We can pretend that we haven’t seen candidates like Donald Trump before.

Trump has been successful because we have a persistent myth in American society that business people are inherently good leaders. He is successful because Americans trust people who are on television. He is successful because our political system rewards people with a lot of money. He is successful because Americans are clueless about foreign policy. He is successful because lots of white Americans are racist. He is successful because candidates who play on racial fears often do well in American political primaries.

These are all bigger problems than Donald Trump, long ingrained problems with our democracy and economic system. Problems that will persist and erode any semblance of functionality in our government whether Donald Trump is in office or not. So how about we talk about those?

Perhaps let’s have discussions about the primary system, the Republican party, Citizen’s United and ISIS? Donald Trump is not the first, last or even most successful unqualified demagogue party candidate we’ve ever had in America (Pat Buchanan anyone?)

But the more he’s treated as an unstoppable force, the easier it is to not analyze the system, the entire system that he plays in. No one thing is RESPONSIBLE for Donald Trump any more than one thing was RESPONSIBLE for Barack Obama (a guy who actually won something….TWICE).

Hopefully these questions will be put to rest in the next 30 days. Or better yet, let’s leave them in 2015 entirely. No one has cast a vote yet, and there is enough to discuss, critique and explain about our political system as a whole that we call Donald Trump what he is: just another guy who wants to be president.