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Clowns on the Campaign Trail

NEW YORK – Donald Trump, the real-estate tycoon and reality-show host, also known as “The Donald,” is unlikely to be the next president of the United States. He is loud, crude, ignorant about most things, and looks absurd in his puffed up blond comb-over hairdo. Even ardent Republicans have dismissed him as a “rodeo clown,” and his campaign as a “circus.” The Huffington Post covers Trump’s campaign strictly as entertainment news.

Yet, for the moment, Trump is leaving all his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in the dust. Even in US politics, which can be very strange, this is extraordinary. What explains Trump’s popularity? Are all his supporters “crazies,” as Senator John McCain, perhaps unwisely, called them?

Trump’s critics argue that he is playing to the basest instincts of disaffected voters, who hate foreigners (especially Mexicans), distrust bankers (or anyone with a higher education, for that matter), and still can’t get over the election of a president whose father was black. Trump, in the comedian Jon Stewart’s words, is “America’s id,” or at least the id of a large number of mostly white, mostly older, mostly small-town Americans.

Now, all this may be so. But Trump is part of a wider phenomenon throughout the democratic world. Disaffected voters can be found everywhere, whether in the US, Europe, or India. But they are not only turning away from mainstream political parties and following populists who promise to clean out the corrupt elites from the centers of power; they also share a taste for political entertainers, or clowns if you like.