INDIANAPOLIS – While the pundits, the intelligentsia and the establishment as we’ve known it for years are grappling with the rise of Donald Trump, trying to make sense of it all, a significant swath of the people know.
They see a world changing, where the Caucasian race steadily slips into minority status. Where people of different sexual persuasions unite and seek mainstream treatment. Where mixed race marriages are increasing. Where a troubled world full of jihadists and suicide bombers, hackers and cyber thieves invade their public spaces and their personal bank accounts, creating a world they perceive as increasingly unstable and inherently risky.
So when Gov. Mike Pence decides to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in his state, the pundits like myself and the intelligentsia object, but there are few cries from the public. The issue, Democratic sources tell me, polls well for the ban. It prompted 7th Circuit Appellate Judge Richard Posner to write in his decision maintaining a lower court injunction on the Pence order, “The governor of Indiana believes, though without evidence, that some of these persons were sent to Syria by ISIS to engage in terrorism and now wish to infiltrate the United States in order to commit terrorist acts here. No evidence of this belief has been presented, however; it is nightmare speculation.”
When Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination on July 21, he gave the antithesis of President Reagan’s “Morning in America.” He told a rattled nation, “Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country. Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims.”
Trump then said, “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored. The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens.”
While most of the Hoosier RNC delegation only came around to Trump after Pence was selected for the ticket, many with more internationalist Lugar roots, they’ve been swept up in a movement against globalism and integration. They find their constituents chanting, “Build that wall.” Look no further than Europe to find a nationalist, rightward movement fueling on similar fears.
Last spring, British voters stunned the pollsters by supporting the “Brexit” with 52% of the vote, setting the stage for Great Britain to the leave the European Union, a turn of events that has President Putin grinning. In Austria the Freedom Party founded and led by two former Nazi SS officers a generation ago, has positioned Norbert Hofer to win a December runoff election after coming within 31,000 votes of the mainstream contender earlier this year.
The Alternative for Germany Party, founded in 2013 as an anti-EU organization, has gained footholds in 10 of 16 state parliaments. The Sweden Democrats went from 6% to 13% between 2010 (the year the U.S. Tea Party rose) and 2014. Denmark’s ultra conservative parties taking aim at liberal refugee immigration policies have gained strength. In the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom stands to take dozens of seats in the nation’s 150-seat parliament. The right wing Hungarian government is building a wall to keep Syrian immigrants out, with wide public support. The governments of Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria want to accept only Christian refugees.
And in France, Marine LePen’s National Front won a record 6.8 million votes out of 25 million cast in regional elections, making him the presidential frontrunner in 2017, while drawing former President Sarkozy out of retirement in an attempt to fend off the movement.
As TIME magazine observed, “All the rising rightist parties are aligned with Trump in what they encourage voters to fear: Migrants taking your jobs, Muslims threatening your culture and security, political correctness threatening your ability to speak your mind and, above all, entrenched elites selling you out in the service of the wealthy and well-connected.”
In Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, polling shows that people believe about a quarter of their populations are foreign born, when the actual number is 12%, TIME reported.
In the United States in August, Fox News reported that “1,992,219 checks were conducted through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The number represents an increase of nearly 200,000 checks, or more than 10 percent, over September 2015.” Americans are rapidly arming themselves.
Austrian Social Democratic Party leader Michael Häupl told TIME, “We come from the tradition of European Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. So we find it extremely hard to face down the emotional force of right-wing populism using rational arguments. It lives off the emotion of fear, and it’s a lot harder to take these fears away than to create them.”
“People are pouring into our country; we have no idea who they are,” Trump said at a rally in Maine earlier this summer. “This could be the great Trojan horse of our time.” That’s why during the vice presidential debate, Pence noted that Hillary Clinton backs a “550% increase” in Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S., technically an accurate statistic. In reality, Clinton wants the U.S. to accept 65,000 Syrians, up from President Obama’s goal of 10,000 this year, still a drop in the 324 million U.S. population bucket.
This Trumpian populism in the U.S. prompted NBC Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd to observe that whether Trump somehow wins on Nov. 8 or not, the Republican Party and the broader American establishment will be left to grapple with why more than 40% of the voters have rejected mainstream politics. The Bushes, the Romneys, the Foreign Service, the military establishment, mainstream Protestants and a significant portion of the Republican Party have warned about this populism, which flies in the face of Chairman Reince Priebus’s “Growth Opportunity Project” autopsy of March 2013, which advocated the party be more inclusive.
The reality of 2016 is that Trump and Pence are headed in the opposite direction. It is why Pence can call Trump’s Muslim ban proposal of December 2015 “unconstitutional and offensive,” yet switch his position in July on a “60 Minutes” broadcast.
It’s why in the face of Judge Posner’s searing rebuke of Pence’s terrorism fears, the governor’s office reacted to the ruling, saying, “The safety and security of the people of Indiana is Gov. Pence’s highest priority. The state of Indiana took decisive action last year to suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees after the terrorist attack in Paris and because the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged security gaps with regard to screening refugees from Syria.”
And that’s why Pence responded to Tim Kaine when attacked on the refugee question during Tuesday’s debate, saying, “I have no higher priority than the safety and security of the people of my state. So you bet I suspended that program. And I stand by that decision. And if I’m vice president of the United States or Donald Trump is president, we’re going to put the safety and security of the American people first. Donald Trump has called for extreme vetting for people coming into this country so that we don’t bring people into the United States who are hostile to our Bill of Rights freedoms, who are hostile to the American way of life.”
This is a bargain with the demographic devil. This could be a closing window for Trump/Pence. They might be able to pull off a stunning upset next month, then work to change laws favoring a white, aging population in statistical decline. The math beyond is one of a browner population, more urban, more tolerant. A different type of populism lies over the horizon.