Life in the U.S. these days is dispelling a number of previously accepted “truths”–and not just the widespread belief in American “can-do” spirit and competence.
Those of us who have spent a significant portion of our adult lives in politics, for example, have generally accepted the “math” of politics–the belief that political success is an exercise in addition. Successful campaigns are those that add supporters to whatever base the campaign started with.
One of the reasons so many of us were stunned by Trump’s victory (even recognizing that it was an Electoral College squeaker, and a significant loss in the popular vote) was that his entire strategy was based upon subtraction and division. That first surreal trip down the golden elevator (you really can’t make this shit up) was followed by a speech calculated to repel Latino voters.
His subsequent behaviors were similarly offensive exercises in subtraction. I doubt that disabled folks were charmed by his cruel and demeaning imitation of a disabled reporter. His declaration that there were “good people on both sides” of the racist and anti-Semitic riot in Charlottesville reminded black and Jewish voters, among others, why David Duke and the Neo-Nazis had endorsed Trump.
It has been three-and-a-half years of constant subtraction.
Political pundits are fond of pointing out that Trump’s popularity has never been good–he has been “underwater,” with negatives larger than positives throughout both the campaign and his dismal presidency. I’ve been appalled by the number who do continue to support him, but it’s true that his base has never been close to a majority. (The lesson here is the importance of turnout, and the need to fight voter suppression–it doesn’t matter that a majority hates you if enough of them don’t vote.)
Thanks largely to his pathetic performance during the pandemic, there are emerging signs that his internal polling is tanking, posing a real dilemma to the down-ballot sycophants running in 2020.
Dozens of media outlets are reporting that US intelligence agencies held more than a dozen classified briefings beginning in January, warning Trump about the emerging threat of the coronavirus. Trump ignored them (as, evidently, he ignores everything in those briefings…). Voters who cared only that their 401Ks were growing–who dismissed the obvious corruption and incompetence and international embarrassment because the only indicator they found meaningful was the one on the bottom line–are suddenly less forgiving.
Speaking of numbers and math–Trump’s pursuit of political victory has always rested on his belief in division. Dividing immigrants from citizens, blacks from whites, Muslims and Jews and mainstream Protestants from Evangelicals, rich from poor, rural from urban residents and more recently, Red States from Blue.
The concept of “American” seems entirely foreign to him. Playing on fears and resentments has been his “go to” instinct, and in 2016 that (barely) worked for him.
There’s plenty to fear about a pandemic, but very few people are looking to the “bully pulpit” for direction; a “pulpit” from which we get only rambling diatribes, seething animosities and evidence of Dear Leader’s monumental stupidity. (True, some people are actually asking health authorities if it’s okay to drink bleach…Those people are beyond help.)
Right now, Americans need reassurance that our government is in the hands of competent people who will see to it that we’ll eventually be all right.
We need empathy–expressions of concern and human-kindness and connection.
We need to believe that we have a President who is more concerned with our health and wellbeing than with himself. (Amazingly, the braggart-in-chief– a consummate liar–somehow can’t manage to lie about that.)
Above all, we need a President who knows how to add–and stops dividing.