Sitting at my vintage roll-top desk in Santa Fe, NM, looking out over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, I admit I might be losing some perspective about the political mood in Washington (or elsewhere, for that matter), but it is beginning to feel like things are changing, maybe even significantly.
It’s a recent sensation, maybe fueled by the calm and progressivism of the high desert. Certainly the four day drive here is not responsible: barreling through southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle … well, let’s just say there weren’t a lot of “I’m Still With Her” or “I Miss Barack Obama” bumper stickers to be seen.
But over the last few days, one gets the decided impression that the wheels are coming off the Trump limousine, that the chaotic, volcanic, mean-spiritedness of this accidental president and his crazed band of acolytes is taking too costly a toll on the nation’s patience and conscience. The issue isn’t so much liberal versus conservative or Democrats versus Republicans, but rather a growing realization that an unhinged and dangerous autocrat is putting our political and moral traditions and institutions at risk, and that even if one shares some of his policy objectives (which morph from hour to hour, tweet to tweet), the price of vesting power in so unpredictable and venal a narcissist is beyond responsibility.
The chaos over the forced separation of families and the incarceration of thousands of children, many under one year of age, has altered the perception of Trump’s competence as a president and decency as a human being. People are enraged and moved to action. One on-line effort to raise $1,500 to support legal assistance for separated families has raised $15,000,000 at last count.
When the histories of this bizarre chapter of our national story are written, the Trump presidency will likely stand out as a moment of madness fueled by mass (and largely racist and nativist fueled) resentment. Beyond the incarceration policy itself; beyond the brazen lying about whether it was mandated or even allowed by earlier law; beyond even Melania’s incomprehensible decision to select, from her gargantuan wardrobe, a jacket emblazoned with “I really don’t care. Do U?,” while visiting jailed toddlers, one feels a growing national perception that something malicious and dangerous is afoot.
Any hopefulness is tempered by two interesting news stories that provide conflicting signs of where public opinion rests, giving pause to any sense of our having turned a corner towards a brighter, more compassionate post-November world.
On the one hand, a Gallup poll published on June 21 (which in so many ways wasthe longest day of 2018), reports that 75% of Americans, a record high, believe that immigration is a good thing for the U.S., up from 71% last year. The high support is registered across all party groups. If asked about “legal” immigration, the number rises to 84%. What seems notable is the high level of support for immigration without qualification.
Indeed, just 19% of those polled are negative about immigration, and just 29% — a record low — think rates of immigration should be decreased, a 6 point drop from 2017 despite Trump’s incessant vilification of immigrants. In fact, 28% think levels should be increased.
Before Trump critics and especially Democratic political operatives get too optimistic about the political calculus of these findings, it needs to be noted that some recent polls give Trump his highest approval rating since becoming president, pretty close to the 45.9% of the popular vote he received in 2016. That fact alone is remarkable. Any other president, presiding over a growing economy, would have registered gains in popularity during the first one and a half years in office. But the steady support, not to mention the obsequious and slavish succumbing to Trump by congressional Republicans, reflects the power of his continued strength among base GOP voters who may well be highly motivated to get to the voting booths this fall. The key variable for the Fall congressional elections, in addition to the get-out-the-vote performance of Democratic voters like minorities and youth, will be the voting decisions of more moderate Republicans. Especially critical votes will come from suburban women and independents who might be prepared to vote Democratic to check Trump, if not embrace the Democratic agenda.
Still, one had to be mystified that despite the daily tirades, tweets, meltdowns, mis-steps and malevolent, punitive policies, Trump retains the support of 45% of voters. What signal does that enduring support send to an egomaniac who wrings signs of devoted approval out of the faintest glimmer of approval?
I really don’t get it. Do you?