Fear, hate and hubris

After eight years of Obama many Americans are frustrated and have, in a kind of cynical defiance, begun to rally around outsiders. This makes Donald Trump a perfect candidate to win the Iowa caucus.

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Every elected politician disappoints his voters because he or she evokes expectations during the campaign that cannot be met afterwards. One could call this calculated lying. Add to this an overestimation of what one can actually achieve – because many candidates simply can’t gauge how little change they can really affect from the White House – and you can end up with a cocktail of dissatisfaction.

In his last State of the Union address Barack Obama spoke very honestly about how little of his dreams and hopes he could fulfill once he became part of the bureaucratic Washington machine.

Faded dream

But it is not just he who is disappointed. Millions who believed in his message of “hope and change” are as well. Many who may not even have voted for him hoped that this energetic novice and outsider, the first African-American president, would be able to reinvent this anguished country. That he would be able to break the corrupt structures of big money and make America again the place its people were once proud of. A genuine democracy in which almost every dream can come true if one only works hard.

This dream has failed. And many disappointed Democrats have now turned their backs toward any kind of established politician or platform. Outsiders profit from this sentiment.

And many Republicans don’t celebrate equal rights for homosexuals and a more humane immigration law as historic achievements, but as an attack on the good old times. Their opposition against Obama is often openly driven by racial hatred. In that sense the Republican candidate field almost appears as a cynical reaction of defiance.

The games begin on Monday. Iowa is the first of 50 US states to hold primaries and caucuses to determine which candidate each party selects to run for the presidency.

And right now everything is still possible.

Unsettled nation

The 2016 elections are taking place in a deeply unsettled and divided country in which there is little room for sober debate between the political extremes. The old certainties of the white majority are history. Large parts of the middle class are afraid that their downward slide will continue unabated while the super rich amass more and more money. The wealthiest 10 percent of households now accrue more than half of all incomes.

During Obama’s tenure the gap between rich and poor did not shrink. It expanded.

The rhetoric of the debates is characterized by a mixture of fear, hate and megalomania. This sentiment gains ground in a world that is becoming ever more capricious and complex, a world in which the US does not play a clearly defined role any longer.

This eats away at Americans’ self-confidence. Given these circumstances the dangerous longing for simple answers and strong leaders who promise to make the country’s nationalistic interests their top priority is growing – not unlike to what is currently happening in Europe.

Nemesis of the Republican establishment

All of this is a perfect feeding ground for the billionaire Donald Trump. What seemed practically impossible until very recently could now become reality. The reality TV star could make the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire the pillar for his ultimate nomination as the Republican presidential candidate. And if that happens, polls suggest, everything else is possible as well – even his ascent to the presidency.

People like Trump’s strong desire to win and consider his self-absorbedness a strength, not a weakness. His supporters don’t ask how exactly he made his millions, they simply regard his golden Trump Tower in New York as a sign of his independence.

The Republican establishment still has not found an answer to Trump’s continued appeal. This is a candidate, after all, who knows how to make headlines better than anyone else while at the same time violating every rule of the Republican Party, trashing social etiquette, insulting women and launching racist rants against Muslims and Indians. All eyes will be on Donald Trump to see how he fares in the upcoming games without rules.

Reality check for Hillary Clinton

For the favorite Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, the poll in Iowa serves as an important first reality check. But even a win by the outsider Bernie Sanders, the liberal pendant to Trump, against the Clinton empire, would mean that the former first lady still has a second chance in New Hampshire on February 9 to avoid a stinging early setback to her presidential ambitions. Trump knows that as well. And he surely will soak up all the bizarre attention he is getting.

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