Queues are forming at fainting couches, and nostrils are flaring with unconstrained indignation at Donald Trump's daily outrages - and there's no denying the man is a loathsome cretin. But when it comes to extrapolating this self-evident insight into into a broader critique of the alleged cravenness of the American political mind, I offer a word or two of caution.

Per the RealClearPolitics average of polls, roughly thirty per cent of Republicans say they'll vote for Trump. According to Pew, self-identified Republicans comprise just 23 per cent of eligible voters. That means Trump is the preferred candidate of just under seven per cent of the US electorate - about a third the support achieved by the National Front in France a few days ago, and just a touch under what the fascist Golden Dawn party achieved in the most recent Greek elections.

The US has a two party system with primaries that reward reckless wing-nuttery (because incentives are geared towards the base) and where general elections tend to act as a corrective (demanding that candidates compete for independents and non-partisans). When fringe candidates prevail in the primaries - Barry Goldwater in 1964 comes to mind - they get whipped.

Among the wider electorate, Trump's extreme anti-Muslim and anti-immigration platform is not noticeably gaining ground. In fact, the number of Americans who support Obama's immigration proposal - designed to give legal status to millions of immigrants - has actually risen since September, despite terror attacks and Trump's antics. 49 per cent support Obama's approach compared to 13 per cent who agree with Trump that immigrants should be deported instead. In addition, 70 per cent reject Trump's claims that deporting immigrants will help American workers or "make America great again" by boosting the economy.


In truth, the "paranoid style in American politics" (the title of an essay in Harpers from 1964 that's always worth a read or reread) has been around for centuries, and Trump's nativist, anti-Muslim rhetoric is just the latest iteration. However, the US is not alone: a sizeable and, sadly, growing minority of European voters are gravitating towards far-right parties, rejecting what they perceive as "political correct" pandering from the governing elites of the centre-left and centre-right. But neither in the US nor Europe do these forces represent the dominant public sentiment. Golden Dawn will not win elections in Greece; UKIP will continue to subsist on the fringes of British politics, and Trump won't get within a bull's roar of the White House.

So when smart, well-informed people like David Shearer warn that America's legacy of religious tolerance is at risk because of Donald Trump, I sense an overreaction. There's always a segment of the voting population ready to embrace shameless populists, vile racists and rabble-rousers like George Wallace, Pat Buchanan, and H. Ross Perot. But they never win in the end. In fact, they tend to lose spectacularly.

There is nothing new or particularly original about Donald Trump, except that his emergence as a first-tier presidential contender occurred after the coming of the internet, history's most powerful umbrage disseminator. He does not herald some frightening new dawn of neo-fascism set to dominate US politics. He's just the same old clown, admittedly in a scarier wig.

Phil Quin is a communications consultant.