How to explain the rise of Donald Trump? Analysts on the left and right cite socioeconomic problems revolving around race that go back decades, writes Jamelle Bouie at Slate. And given that Trump leads "a movement of almost exclusively disaffected whites" and does especially well in areas where "racial polarization" is greatest, race is clearly a central factor. But why now? "We’ve been missing the most important catalyst in Trump’s rise," writes Bouie. "What caused this fire to burn out of control? The answer, I think, is Barack Obama." No it's not because he's a "radical," as opponents love to claim. In the big picture, Obama is actually a conventional, mainstream politician, writes Bouie. Obama the "political symbol," on the other hand, is indeed radical, and that's what is at the heart of Trump's ascendance.
"For millions of white Americans who weren’t attuned to growing diversity and cosmopolitanism ... Obama was a shock, a figure who appeared out of nowhere to dominate the country’s political life," Bouie writes. His victory wasn't merely a political upset. "When coupled with the broad decline in incomes and living standards caused by the Great Recession, it seemed to signal the end of a hierarchy that had always placed white Americans at the top." Trump is now promising to restore that hierarchy. While the candidate himself may not triumph, don't expect "Trumpism" to go away any time soon. It represents "a powerful current that will shape the future of the Republican Party, and the Democratic one too," writes Bouie. "Trump came on the stage as a clown. But whenever he leaves, he’ll do it as a new icon of a familiar movement in American life." Read the full column.