Historian Eric Foner: Trump is Logical Conclusion of What the GOP Has Been Doing for Decades

Historians in the News
tags: election 2016, GOP, Eric Foner, Trump

For a historical perspective on the 2016 race, we speak to Eric Foner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and professor at Columbia University. His books include “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, during our debate special on Wednesday night, we spoke to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner of Columbia University and with Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. Nermeen Shaikh began by asking Professor Foner a question.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, one of the reasons, just to bring in Professor Eric Foner, that this election season has been so extraordinary, as many people have pointed out, has to do with the rise of a candidate like Donald Trump. So, as an American historian, Professor Foner, could you explain what you think accounts for this extraordinary rise?

ERIC FONER: Well, you know, looking at history, I think Trump is almost a combination of a number of figures, both in our history and abroad. There’s no individual predecessor to Trump, really, but there are precedents, and he didn’t just come out of the blue. You might say he’s a combination of George Wallace, who really was the first to show how white resentment against the gains of the civil rights movement, overt racism, could be really mobilized in a modern campaign and be pretty successful, not only in the South, but he did very well in primaries in Michigan and other states like that—but Wallace was not really talking about the economic issues that Trump is.

 You might throw into the hopper Ross Perot in 1992, who is the model of the sort of businessman who had no political experience, and came in with that as his selling point, you know? "Nobody can bribe me; I’m a billionaire. And, you know, I can fix things. I know how to get things done." But Perot was also the guy who introduced trade into the political dialogue. Perot was the first one to say, "We are losing jobs because of these trade agreements." Trump, of course, has picked that up.

 But on the more personal element and the really, you know, wilder element of Trump, you have to go to a guy like Berlusconi maybe in Italy, who also had this kind of sexual element to his appeal, with his going to sex clubs and parties with young prostitutes and, you know, kind of reveled in this. And I think many of his supporters thought that was pretty cool, as—the male supporters, let us say—as many of Trump’s male supporters don’t seem to be pretty bothered by all the revelations that have come out.

 So, there are precedents, but you put them all together, and, as was said, it’s a kind of oddball election, no question about it. ...

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