Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

What is the cause of Trump's popularity?

By Aamir Khan (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-08 08:04

What is the cause of Trump's popularity?

Ever since Donald Trump declared himself as a Republican presidential candidate, he has been subjected to fierce, even vitriolic critique. He has been seen as a misogynist, isolationist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim and a neophyte in understanding the complexities of economics. And yet he has beaten the odds to become the Republican presidential nominee. We may not like him, but we cannot escape asking ourselves: How did he do it?

To find the answer, we should examine the roots of his popularity without evaluating which part of his still-evolving farrago is fact or myth. I will specifically examine his views on foreign policy, international trade and internal security and argue Trump has ingeniously targeted two major American segments that will matter in the elections.

In his seminal foreign policy speech of April 27, Trump claimed the United States no longer had a clear understanding of its policy goals. The US has gone from committing mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Barack Obama's line in the sand in Syria. Israel has been snubbed. Iran was allowed to cut a favorable deal. And the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has become more aggressive. All this has allowed the US' allies to perceive its weakness and thus not pay their dues.

In international trade, Trump has threatened a 35 percent tariff on goods imported from Mexico and a 45 percent tariff on imports from China. Whether or not these threats will (or can) be actualized, given the extraordinary cost of these measures that will be borne by the US economy, is irrelevant for now. We need to understand why the above pronouncements appeal to the American electorate.

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