During the summer, Trump sent out a number of cobbled-together tweets, all referring to “his base.” He wrote, “Hard to believe that with 24/7 #Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYTimes, WAPO the Trump base is getting stronger.” This was followed by “The Trump base is far bigger & stronger than ever before (despite some phony fake news polling). Look at the rallies in Penn, Iowa, Ohio and West Virginia. The fact is the fake news Russian collusion story, record stock market, border security, military strength, jobs, Supreme Court pick, economic enthusiasm, deregulation & so much more have driven the Trump base even closer together. Will never change.”
Actually, with every rally I find myself not listening to what Trump is saying. Instead I study the people who compose the bleacher backdrop, many wearing the signature red hats, others holding up the familiar signs about making America Great Again. Who are these people? Are they not watching and listening to the same events that I have been observing for all these months? Are they not aware of the chaos that defines this new White House? Or the chronic dissembling: Trump Tower was wiretapped.
Were the Arizona rally folks truly supportive of the telegraphed pardon of “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio?
Clearly, Trump lives for these moments. He basks in the collective adoration. He paces back and forth behind the podium. He absorbs their ebullient emotions and then extrapolates from that limited crowd, an act of magical thinking, assuming they represent a much wider base, meaning a significant segment of the electorate. As he said, “The Trump base is getting stronger.”
But here is a reality he chooses not to deal with: According to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, only 25 percent of Americans strongly approve of how Trump is handling his job as president.
Only 27 percent believe America’s leadership in the world has gotten stronger, and just 24 percent think Trump acts presidential. Concerning Trump’s campaign staff meeting with Russians last year, only 26 percent consider it appropriate.
But the above polling aside, it has become clear that Trump is governing with just his base in mind. He believes that this hard-core, nativist cohort pushed the Electoral College into his camp. These are his people.
Regarding the promises he made from the podiums, in halls, stadiums and on airport tarmacs, in state after state, well, all he has to do is to “try” to keep his word while pointing at the Dems and his own party as the obstructionists. It wasn’t his fault that “Repeal and Replace” failed. It was John McCain’s thumb. Plus, as he reminds his party, they had seven years to craft a plan and couldn’t.
It wasn’t his fault that he couldn't fulfill his promised Muslim travel ban; the courts were the problem. Of course, as promised, he withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord while affirming that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He and Scott Pruitt have thus set about dismantling the EPA. He has embraced the alt-right ethos and is hollowing out the “deep state.”
To the cheers of his base, he has denigrated to the point of incitement the “fake news media,” while pointing to the reporters and camera people as “horrible, dishonest people.” He has stereotyped Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, while taking jobs away from “real” Americans, something Jeff Sessions argued when justifying ending DACA. In other words, Dreamers are merely collateral damage. The immorality is jaw-dropping. The administration’s solution: let Congress fix it. The Russian investigation is a “witch hunt,” perpetuated by a discredited media. And as promised, coal is the future. And so on.
The problem is that while these policies appeal to his base — the 25 percent who strongly approve and the 11 percent who somewhat strongly approve — what has occurred is that our democracy has been co-opted by a president who argues for policies aimed at a hard-core minority of voters.
This is not representative democracy. It feels like a form of ad hoc autocracy that empowers a quarter of Americans and is supported by a spineless, Faustian Republican Party.
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.