Republicans say President Barack Obama is responsible for the political rise of Donald Trump. Obama says the GOP deserves the blame for the real estate mogul becoming the likely Republican nominee.
They're both right to a certain degree, but Obama carries more of the blame.
With a two-party system, American politics are a pendulum. And with increasingly hyperbolic and partisan media, there's no room for nuance or even viewing the other side as human. Americans love everything in black and white: good versus evil, conservative versus liberal, 'Merica versus Not 'Merica. Your guy is the savior; the other guy is Hitler.
That's why, when talk turns to general elections and courting undecided voters, the media treats independents like aliens or cryptozoological animals — theoretically, they exist, and they must be out there somewhere, but we've never seen these rare and elusive creatures.
Who has time for understanding, civil discourse and more than two points of view? You either side with the guy on the left who thinks "The Day After Tomorrow" is a documentary, or the bow-tie-wearing clown on the right who quotes Ayn Rand and names his kids Buckley. They'll talk over each other and get your blood boiling before you've had enough and flip to that other news channel, with the soothing anchors who nod and repeat your political views back to you. It's like self-affirmation therapy.
In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan sums up the Republican viewpoint on Trump.
"There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar," Noonan writes, reported MSNBC. "He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window."
Got that, kids? It was Obama who lowered the bar, not former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a person who could have been a heartbeat away from the presidency but couldn't articulate a sentence. Obama might have been inexperienced, but at least he understood that the U.K. is headed by a prime minister, not its queen.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid summed up the Democratic viewpoint on Trump on March 17.
“The Republican establishment acts bewildered,” Reid said, per The Washington Post. “But they should not be bewildered. As much as they may try to distance themselves from Trump now, Republican leaders are responsible for his rise.”
The truth is that the pendulum has just swung the other way.
When it comes to presidents, fatigue settles in, especially after two terms. By the time former President George W. Bush's second term was winding down, Americans were so sick of the GOP that they latched on to Obama and, for a time, viewed him as a messianic figure who was going to undo all the damage of the previous eight years. The wars, the failed economic policies, the lost goodwill with other nations.
After eight years of Obama, the pendulum is on its way back. Americans are tired of entitlement programs and a president who seems embarrassed to pursue the interests of his own nation. They want a president who speaks in declarative sentences, someone who isn't mortified by the idea of American exceptionalism. They want someone who will finally do something about the border, and end the massive drain on taxpayers that comes with supporting tens of millions of people with free healthcare and resources.
My guess is that, when most people talk about the rise of Trump with disgust, they're really talking about his rhetoric. He's a candidate who doesn't bother to couch his views in acceptable terms, a guy who has no interest in sugaring the pill when he says the same things Republicans have been saying for years. He calls people pigs, he describes women he doesn't like as bimbos, and he doesn't see a problem with referring to other heads of state as idiots.
It's un-presidential, but what did we expect? With more political discourse taking place online, with more talking heads screaming over each other, with more political ads demonizing opponents, and with both sides regularly comparing political figures to Adolf Hitler, we've dispensed with polite discourse and political goodwill a long time ago.
In that sense, we're all responsible for Donald Trump.