Despite Everything, 40% Still Support Trump; How Come?

By Joe Rothstein — October 17, 2017

Psychiatrists openly debate whether the president of the United States is a mental case. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers the president a threat to start a world war. The president’s own staff has no idea what challenge they may face each morning after he’s tweeted his daily insults and invectives.

The U.S. has a president who is systematically disrupting the nation’s health care system, its environmental protections, its treaty obligations, its relationships with long time allies, its immigration and travel policies, its race relations, and just about every other matter within his power to disrupt---which is just about everything.

Hardly a day passes when we don’t read, see or hear experts and commentators discussing what might be wrong with him.

And yet, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. voting age population, according to ongoing polls, approves of the way he’s doing his job. That’s roughly 100 million people.

If there’s something wrong with him, and so many Americans still say they approve of the job he's doing, doesn’t that suggest there’s also something wrong with us? Or, at least, something wrong with the way our democracy functions?

What motivates “Values Voters,” who met in Washington recently, to stand and cheer a man, who by most standards of common decency, is a moral midget? What motivates so many people who live paycheck to paycheck to stand by a man who is systematically reducing their opportunities for economic security? If Tennessee’s Senator Corker is right when he says most of the senators in the Republican majority are deeply concerned that Trump is irrational, ill-informed, impulsive, unfit for command, and increasingly a danger to the country and the world, why are they not doing anything to deal with that threat, or even speaking out about it?

You don’t need to be a psychiatrist or an economist to realize that willingness to accept a bizarre president in the White House results from deep anxieties shared by much of the U.S. population. Immigrant backlash? Some. But we have too much pride in our immigrant past to be in wholesale rebellion about immigration. Racial hatred. Some. But we’ve come a long way down the difficult road of adjustment to racial integration and its acceptance.

Let’s look elsewhere.

For one thing, there’s been more fundamental change to our every day lives during the past few years than at any comparable time in human history. Scientific and technical developments are radically altering centuries of human experience and our deepest beliefs. The output from laboratories and other centers of advanced discovery have affected our sex lives, our work places, our religious framework, even our conception of what is real and what is virtual. Even if we don’t understand the hows and the whys, we know all of this is happening, and that the pace of change is accelerating.

The familiar walls of our past are crashing, and our social, political and economic systems are not elastic enough to keep up, to respond, to adjust, to keep our civil society civil or our representative democracy democratic. Under these circumstances, why wouldn’t we be on edge, hungering for leadership changes competent to deal with all that’s disconnecting.

Our economic system also is failing us. The deal has been that if you work hard and are responsible you can be financially secure. Maybe not rich, but at least not one paycheck or one illness or a plant closing away from bankruptcy. Yes, we have low unemployment numbers, but no, we don’t have security. Medical costs are too high, employer-sponsored pensions have gone away, credit card companies and other lenders charge interest rates once common only from knuckle-breaking mobsters, higher education costs require massive borrowing, jobs move to other cities, other states, other countries with few apologies and few provisions to assist or retrain workers left behind.

Meanwhile, bankers get bailed out, deep-pocketed money people get richer, and that wealth is used to influence Washington and state capitols to protect the wealthy and provide ways for them to keep adding to it, hiding it, and shielding it from taxes.

It’s not hard to see what’s wrong with that picture. Nor is it hard to think of ways to correct it. What’s required are leaders willing to engage the rich and powerful forces that resist true reforms.

Which leads us to the way we elect people to high office. We have a president who the majority voters didn’t vote for. Because we tolerate egregiously political reapportionment, congressional districts are less representative of voter preferences than ever. Because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, unlimited secret money is distorting campaigns. Why is the public having such a hard time exerting its will on public policy? The system we use to translate that will into action is broken.

Steve Bannon says he’s on a crusade to “blow things up.” His instrument, Donald Trump, is doing a good job of that. Judging by recent polls, blowing things up has a lot of popular support. But after you succeed in “repeal,” what does “replace” look like? Not only in health care, but in dealing with hostile nuclear-armed powers, in trade relations with long-time partners, in safety nets for those who work for little money and less retirement security, in education, if they succeed in taking the “public” out of it?

These are all big deals. People distressed enough to look favorably on blowing things up are not going to be satisfied with a follow-on agenda of small bore tidying around the edges of reform. The times require bold new vision and action already well beyond their past-due dates.

Why shouldn’t we feel distressed? Let’s face it. Democracy is not going well. Capitalism has been captured by greedy bastards. It’s not just separation anxiety from our old moorings that’s driving our politics. It’s representatives failing to represent and leaders failing to lead. It’s a system captured by the few with too little concern for the many.

President Lyndon Johnson often said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.”

A hundred million of us seem to be okay with kicking down the barn. The real test will be whether we're able to find and elect the carpenters who know what comes next and are skillful enough to build a replacement strong enough to withstand the crosswinds of the times.

(Joe Rothstein is a regular columnist for USPoliticstoday.com and author of the acclaimed political thriller “The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her.” Mr. Rothstein can be contacted at joe@einnews.com).



Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.