Political professionals and electoral scholars alike have been befuddled by the astonishing rise of Donald Trump, who seems primed to win the Republican nomination for president. There is little question that Trump has struck a chord with millions of Americans who have fallen behind economically, who distrust elites and the “establishment,” and who frequently blame Washington’s immigration policies for their financial woes.
Trump’s stock-in-trade has been to make incredible, factually challenged, and often crude statements, as he gleefully takes on all comers – whether his primary opponents, journalists or hecklers at his rallies. Moreover, the blunt and snarky nature of social media encourages the kind of rough-and-tumble exchanges that he glories in and excels at.
So should we be surprised by Trump’s rise and his ability to brush aside other politicians’ counter-arguments, hundreds of fact checks, and dozens of reasoned analyses that poke countless holes in his broad-brush assertions and half-baked proposals? To an extent, it is surprising, but if we look more closely at our own political conversations in Kansas, we can see lots of evidence that presaged Trump’s bluster.
Indeed, Kansas has experienced a “Trumpification” of politics over the past few years. Basically, various politicians and policymakers have made outrageous, silly and mean-spirited statements that have degraded discourse within the state.
Though it’s impossible to locate an exact starting point on the decline of discourse, I suggest that an appropriate marker is this 2011 statement by Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro: “It looks like to me if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem.” Although this caused a flurry of outrage, Peck’s career went unaffected.
Then there was Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, and his dress code for women testifying before his committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee got into the act with a bill filed to limit the power of the state’s Supreme Court. Unhappy with the court’s rulings, the committee proposed as grounds for judicial impeachment “attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government.” Of course, in ruling on a law’s constitutionality, that is precisely what the court does.
The continuing babble from the Brownback administration on the “success” of its tax cuts and economic programs constitutes a whole other chapter of Trump-like blather in the face of reality. February tax collections were $53 million below estimates, yet there was another delusional denial that tax policies were responsible.
Finally, before he endorsed Trump last week, Secretary of State Kris Kobach labeled both the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters as “communist” groups.
So, before and after Trump’s rise to political prominence, Kansas has proved a fertile ground for absurd, airy and scary remarks, issued with little thought and indicating a set of politicians who care almost nothing about what they say. Sigh.
Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.