Donald Trump has been president for almost one full year. To those who voted for him: You must have a lot to be thankful for.
Those of us who supported the candidate who lost in the Electoral College have been admonished frequently since then to try to understand your point of view and your grievances. We are told that if only Hillary Clinton had paid more attention to you and your concerns, the election outcome might have been different.
Maybe so. Public opinion polls continue to show that you have no regrets about your vote last November, that you continue to strongly support Trump’s performance as president. It’s obvious that those of us who are so opposed to what his Administration is doing are missing something.
In that spirit, I’ve been examining what the President has accomplished to retain your support and loyalty. What have been the benefits for you of having Donald Trump as president of the United States? To deepen whatever understanding we can glean from the record of the first year, it’s also worth examining your attitudes on key issues of the day as reflected in public opinion polls.
Most observers agree that the president’s biggest victory this year was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to be the newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. While he owes much of that win to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–who prevented a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 and then changed the Senate rules to allow confirmation by a simple majority in 2017 –a win is a win. Additionally, the Administration is on a near record pace to fill federal judgeships, in part because so many vacancies were held over from the previous year.
The Trump Administration has rolled back a lot of regulations, particularly in the area of environmental protection. As long as you don’t care about climate change or the quality of the air you breath or the water you drink–and polls suggest that you don’t–everything is good.
The President hasn’t done quite so well with other executive actions. Courts have rejected a number of his orders, beginning with his “Muslim ban.” No funds have been appropriated for the “big, beautiful wall” between the United States and Mexico. These were two of the issues that got the most boisterous applause during the campaign. The polling seems to indicate that you are content with his efforts on these promises, regardless of the results, and maybe that you didn’t really take them too seriously in the first place.
Meanwhile, Trump’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission have indicated that they will roll back the previous Administration’s rules on “net neutrality.” Sounds like a pretty technical issue, doesn’t it? The new rules may increase your cable bill, decrease the speed at which you can download and limit the sites you can access, but don’t worry because all the big cable companies are delighted with the change. You like big cable companies, don’t you?
What about other priorities? Republicans have been trying all year to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. After several failed efforts to “repeal and replace”, they are now trying instead to sabotage it. Should they succeed, these attempts would, as judged by independent assessments, lead to millions of Americans either losing their health insurance or having to pay much more for it.
As Trump supporters during the campaign, you roared your approval whenever the candidate attacked “Obamacare.” Now, you may be getting your wish. Your continued support for the President suggests that either you approve of the trashing of the Affordable Care Act or you don’t understand the impact it will have on you personally.
The other big item on the Republican agenda this year, one with strong vocal support from Trump, is tax “reform.” The current versions, one passed by the House of Representations and another still being crafted in the Senate, would bring the largest benefits to corporations and the country’s wealthiest individuals.
Most non-partisan assessments conclude that the middle and working class are likely to lose out as the result of proposed tax legislation. Democrats have been confounded by the apparent willingness of working class Trump backers to act against their own economic self-interest. What is most likely in this case is that those supporters see the reports that they will be harmed by the Republican bills as “fake news.” In any case, you don’t seem troubled so far by the newest give-away to those who need it the least.
The controversy over the Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama, Roy Moore, offers additional insight into the Trump coalition. Even before the President all but endorsed Moore last week, polling showed that a plurality of Republicans were willing to support Moore despite the multiple allegations that he pursued teenage girls while in his early 30s. As Trump said explicitly, you view it as better to have a Republican sexual pervert than any Democrat.
The unholy alliance between Trump and Moore reveals other disturbing patterns as well. Moore has demonstrated over and over again that he has no respect for the rule of law. He has been removed from office twice for failing to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Both Trump and Moore readily employ racist dog whistles, openly display their homophobia and generally appeal to people’s worst instincts.
Frankly, these examples make me wonder if my efforts to better understand Trump supporters are doomed to failure. Support for a thoroughly discredited person like Moore represents the most egregious sort of partisan tribalism. It seems to be yet another demonstration that Trumpism has taken control of the “soul” of the Republican Party.
Maybe that is what you wanted all along. In that case, this whole effort to find common ground may just be a big waste of time. The only thing that makes sense at this point, if you are determined to keep supporting a president who is so damaging the country–which is, after all, your country as well–is to start organizing for the next election.
Let’s get together next November and see how having Donald Trump and Roy Moore as the voices of your party works out for you.