No matter whom wins in November the voice of the populist and the concerns of the “average American” will be more central to public policy-making and laws going forward — Frank F. Islam
New Delhi / Washington DC, May 4, 2016: “One should not over-estimate the influence and importance of Donald Trump. There is no question that his excessive rhetoric and attacks on individuals and groups have tarnished the image of the U.S. internationally and with many Americans as well,” says Frank F. Islam, renowned entrepreneur, philanthropist, civic leader and writer, in an exclusive online interview with IndiaTomorrow.net.
Q: How is the present US presidential election different from the past elections?
Obviously, I can’t speak knowledgeably about all elections going back to the founding of the country. But, in terms of those for the past half a century or so, I believe there are two major differences that have emerged in the contests and the primaries to secure the party’s nomination to run for President– the nature of the participation and the tone.
In terms of participation, 2016 will always be known as the year of the uprising of the populists in both parties. Populism occurs in elections when outsiders combat the Party elite or establishment because they believe their voices and values are not being heard.
In this year, the populists in the Republican Party came out in droves for Donald Trump and those in the Democratic Party came out in droves for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
In terms of tone, because of the nastiness and name-calling on the Republican side driven primarily by Donald Trump this has definitely been the least civil and most personal in nature election contest that I have ever seen. By contrast, the tone on the Democratic side in the debates and disputes has tended to be more about policies and ideas and much more traditional and milder in nature.
Q: Why do you think the outcome will not keep the US where it stands today?
I don’t have a crystal ball and no-one can predict the future. But, I believe that the populist influence that I have just discussed will influence the platforms of each party.
I am confident that will be the case in the Democratic Party because while Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders differ on means they have both advocated much more progressive positions than the more centrist positions embraced by the Democratic Party over the past quarter of a century. I’m not quite as clear where the Republican Party will come out on its platform because of the huge differences between the Party elders and Donald Trump who after winning five primaries convincingly on April 16 now looks as if he will be the party’s nominee.
So, it now looks as if Trump and Clinton will be the nominees for President. No matter whom wins in November the voice of the populist and the concerns of the “average American” will be more central to public policy-making and laws going forward.
Q: How do you look at the phenomena of Donald Trump?
I actually don’t look at Trump as a phenomenon. I look at his emergence as the natural consequence of the transformation of the Republican Party over time.
The Republican Party used to be the party of the business establishment and moderate conservatives. Mitt Romney, as a member of the establishment and a moderate, managed to keep it that way by drifting far right in his race for President in order to get the nomination in 2012. In my opinion, on a national basis, those days are gone forever.
In 2016, Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz (by far the most conservative and anti-establishment candidate of the elected officials who were running in the Republican primaries), have dominated the primaries. Together Trump and Cruz have garnered a clear and convincing majority of the votes cast in Republican primaries.
That tells the story of the status of the Republican Party today. It is already in the hands of the right wing “populists”
Trump has recognized and tapped into that populism. He may have done so by appealing to its “darker, uglier and cruder” side. But, he would not have been able to accomplish what he has if there weren’t a considerable number of registered Republicans and independents who have voted in these primaries who did not agree with his positions and perception.
Q: How much have his rhetoric and hate campaigns tarnished the image and composite culture of the US?
One should not over-estimate the influence and importance of Trump. There is no question that his excessive rhetoric and attacks on individuals and groups have tarnished the image of the U.S. internationally and with many Americans as well.
But, the question is to and for whom does he speak. It is essential to understand that only a small percentage of registered voters turn out in party primaries. I don’t have the exact number on the top of my head – but I think it’s around 20 percent.
Early only it was thought that Trump had a ceiling of support of about 35 percent of that 20 percent because of his vote totals. In the five contests just held on April 26, he got 50 to 60 percent – so it appears that his appeal is increasing somewhat. But that appeal is still to a relatively small segment of the American public.
It doesn’t include Democrats who vote in the Democratic primary. And, it doesn’t include most independents who constitute about one-third of the electorate – and in most instances can’t vote in party primaries.
The more important number for Trump and the one that I believe is more representative of the attitudes and beliefs of the majority of the American is his “unfavorable” rating in national polls. Depending on which poll you look at it runs from a low of around 60 percent to a high of 70 percent and averages around 64 percent.
The American culture has and will always be a patchwork quilt. We should not confuse one of the patches – even if it is brighter and bolder than the others – with the quilt itself.
Q: As part of the Hillary Clinton Campaign, how do you assess the mood of the people?
Even though I am a Clinton supporter and on her national finance committee, I do not speak for the campaign in any way either officially or unofficially. With that disclaimer, my assessment is that there is no one mood of the American people today
America is a complex and diverse nation. I talked earlier in this interview about the populist influence in both parties and this complexity and diversity is playing out there.
The Republican Party group or what I would label the right wing populists are “angry” and “mad as hell.” The Democratic Party group, or what I would label the left wing populists are not nearly as much so.
In my opinion, the dominant characteristics of the right wing populists are: angry, authoritarian, fearful, judgmental, blaming, exclusive, and desperation-al. The dominant characteristics of the left wing populists are: anxious, tolerant, hopeful, open-minded, caring, inclusive and aspiration-al.
Then, there are the millions of Americans who don’t fall into the populist categories. I would imagine their mood ranges from content to concerned and from very satisfied to very dissatisfied.
As I said, there is no one mood. The United States is comprised of fifty states and hundreds of major metropolitan areas. As these primaries have shown, the dominant mood of the people varies from state to state and area to area and depending on where one lives in those states and areas from location to location. It also varies from individual to individual depending upon a variety of socio-economic and other factors.
I know that is not a simple answer. But, that’s America.
It is the patchwork quilt I referred to earlier. And, that quilt is comprised of many colors.
It is like no other in the world. And, that is why, in spite of what might be perceived as problematic and trying times by some, I think the fabric of that quilt is still strong and can be made stronger by what is going in the United States during this presidential election year.