The Commentariat Considers: What Gave Rise To Donald Trump?

Honestly, what didn't?

Donald Trump is probably going to be the Republican nominee for this year's presidential election. And people are wondering: "Hey, how did this happen? What inspired Donald Trump's ascension?" Maybe it was you that caused this to happen! Or maybe I did it. Did you ever think of that?

Well, I've completed a quick study of everyone else's quick studies of how the Trump phenomenon came to be, and it turns out there's a clear consensus: Nearly everything you could possibly imagine caused Trump to happen. Let us point the fickle finger of blame!

  • The Republican establishment: GOP elites pretty much get the lion's share of the blame for Trump, if for no other reason than the fact that they bear the brunt of Trump's invective. As Mother Jones' David Corn writes: "For the fat-cat donors, special-interest lobbyists, and elected officials who usually run the Republican show, Trump is an invasive species. But he has grown large and strong in the manure they have spread across the political landscape." (See also: Robert Kagan saying that Trump is "the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker.")

  • Jeb Bush: According to the Atlantic's Peter Beinart, the former Florida governor was Trump's "perfect foil," the Washington General to Trump's Harlem Globetrotter. Had Bush not been such a well-funded wimp who opened the door to a critique of his brother's presidency, Trump wouldn't have had the avenue to launch his most effective attacks on the establishment.

  • George W. Bush: But then, Jeb couldn't have caused Trump if his brother never existed, right? That's Adam Haslett's take in the Guardian. He says Trump's doing nothing more than following the crude path to the presidency Dubya perfected, with "Torture unleashed, race invoked and controversy on demand."

  • Barack Obama: A Trump Hot Take mainstay. Here's a distillation from Matt Laslo: "But now that President Obama is starting to unfurl his sails and head towards the sunset, what’s being left in his political wake looks less like his soaring campaign promises than it does like Donald Trump and a bitter American electorate."

  • The Media: Yes, it's true. If you're not getting the outcome you wanted in politics, it's probably because of something we did.

  • The Republican "noise machine": Or maybe the media is off the hook? That's the position of The Week's Damon Linker: "If you want to assign blame for Trump's disruptive rise, you need to look for those forces in American life that have prepared voters to swoon for his demagogic message. That's not the mainstream media. What it is, in large part, is the mainstream media's mortal enemy: the Republican noise machine, especially talk radio and Fox News."

  • The Democrats: Is Trump really a mole, created by the Democratic Party with the intention of destroying the GOP from the inside? Giving the Democratic Party waaaaay too much credit for caginess is the BBC's Anthony Zurcher: "Could this latest iteration of Mr Trump's political brand be just a ruse, the elaborate cover for a liberal saboteur who has spent the past year setting explosives that threaten the unity of the party he pledged to support?"

  • Sarah Palin: The occasional Alaska governor is also widely seen as doom's harbinger. Per Bill Maher: "All of this probably would not have been possible without Sarah Palin. She got the country used to someone on the level of a car show spokesmodel being presidential timber...Trump may be their savior, but [Palin] was the immaculate mis­conception."

  • John Boehner: According to CNN opinion columnist Tara Setmayer, the former speaker of the House (and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) failed at manifesting any sort of pushback to the Obama agenda after voters handed them the keys to the legislature. "All this has led to this moment," she writes. "An electorate so angry, they are willing to vote for a conservative of convenience who has spent the majority of his adult life pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-single payer health care and as a financial backer of Democrats." Sucks that the president has veto power, I guess!

  • Eric Cantor: Everyone should have seen Trump coming after the 2014 election was in the books, according to The Observer's Will Bredderman: "The current turmoil in the Republican contest for the presidency occurred in microcosm in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District in 2014, when a Tea Party candidate named Dave Brat challenged then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—and won."

  • Citizens United: Trump's ascension (and also Sen. Bernie Sanders' ascension) is the natural consequence of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, from which a backlash would almost certainly come. As The Daily Beast's Jay Michaelson insists: "No wonder the grassroots left and right get more angry that politicians seem to respond to billionaires’ whims instead of their needs. No wonder a 'democratic socialist' and a wealthy demagogue are doing well in the polls."

  • Jan Brewer: The New York Times' Josh Barro fingers the Arizona governor for paving the way for the Trump derangement. "In Arizona, there was a sign that Republican voters could be drawn to a candidate who combines anger and flexibility, who is a hard-liner on immigration and a moderate on government spending."

  • Gerrymandering: Sheila Kennedy suggests that the "American message has always been that we have political choice. If we don’t approve of the behavior of our political representatives, we can vote them out. Increasingly, that’s not true; gerrymandering has produced Congressional districts that would re-elect dead people if they ran with the correct political label." She adds: "When voters feel powerless, they are vulnerable to simple messages, identifiable villains, and candidates who channel their anger."

  • Richard Nixon: Didn't everything terrible in American politics first gestate in Nixonland? Trump's constant invocation of "the silent majority" led Salon's Paul Rosenberg to urge, "If you want to get to the roots of Trump's appeal, just look back to the first campaigns Nixon ever ran." (See also: The "Southern strategy" created Trump.)

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Jonah Goldberg has theories: "Trump has already spoken fondly of Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans (which was constitutional according to the court at the time. Eight of the nine justices had been appointed by FDR. The one Republican appointee was among three dissenters.) It seems a sure bet that a President Trump would follow FDR’s — and Obama’s — example in doing whatever he could get away with."

  • Jimmy Carter: Ryan Migeed, a "digital writer" at Hillary Clinton-allied rapid-response outfit Correct The Record, blames Carter's 1976 campaign in what is perhaps the hottest take available (on LinkedIn): "In November 1976, a plainspoken peanut farmer-turned-governor won the Presidency. His campaign message was simple and explicit: Washington politicians lacked the ethics and the basic human knowledge that 'everyday Americans' possess to provide competent leadership. If this sounds like Donald Trump’s familiar rant on 'incompetent leadership' because 'we are led by very, very stupid people,' it should." (How it helps Clinton win over liberals to blame Carter in this way escapes me.)

  • Pim Fortuyn: Cool, cool, here's a Voxsplainer on how "European politics experts argue that [Trump's] rise was eerily presaged by the assassinated Dutch demagogue Pim Fortuyn."

  • The European Far Right: Or, if that's too specific for you, here's another Voxsplainer that voxplains how the European far right's ascension essentially heralded the beginning of Trumpism.

  • Pat Buchanan: That's what Pat Buchanan thinks, anyway.

  • Mary MacLeod Trump: Points to The Bustle for dialing in on the most literal explanation: Donald Trump's mom.

  • Kim Kardashian: Lynn Stuart Parramore, deadline fast approaching, hurls this thought-fart at Reuters: "With their cartoonish appearances — Trump with his buoyant hair and Kim Kardashian with her outlandish curves — both seem characters from a storybook. They are the king and queen of an American Dreamland, all the more important now that the American Dream has become fantasy for so many people. In an era of growing inequality and foreclosed futures, people can’t get what they need, much less what they want."

  • Ben Franklin: Say what, now? "As with a great deal of our national myth making, these narratives originate with Benjamin Franklin, and more exactly with Franklin’s self-fashioning in his published works. In telling his life story in his two-part Autobiography, Franklin both helped coin a dominant version of the American Dream and linked it two equally longstanding national narratives: the rags-to-riches and self-made man stories."

  • All of us: "Trump's candidacy was a long time coming, and whether or not we want to admit it, we are all responsible for his ascendancy," writes U.S. News And World Report's Jonathan C. Rothermel.

So, what's the real answer? Clearly the culprit is Rothermel, who sat by and did nothing to stop Trump's ascension to power despite knowing that all of us were causing it. Either that, or we blame the unique way America's near-religious self-mythologizing of itself as a divinely-ordained "exceptional" nation helps to create an inordinate amount of space for toxic demagogues to operate during times of great economic stress or global insecurity.

But yeah, probably Rothermel did it.

Editor's note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.


Jason Linkins edits "Eat The Press" for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast "So, That Happened." Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.