Friday, June 09, 2017
Where are we going? where have we been?
Here's the score, and it's not good. From a high of about 48 to today's low of 38--and this is a composite of all major polling results--Trump's approval rating seems slowly moving downhill. That fact--and the numbers themselves--should surprise no one. Like almost every other President in history, Trump has determined his duty is to satisfy the voters who put him into office. Unlike every other, however, apparently Trump has no desire to attempt to be the President for all the people. He knows who brought him to the dance, and he's not about to hook up with anyone else.
What's more, he is, as Jim Comey said yesterday, a liar. Fox News can't possibly refute that charge. His ridiculous boasting is obscene. He's done nothing to make people other than his fan base smile. Laugh?--sure: he's a blessing to late-night comedy. But today, 140 days after he's taken office, no one who wasn't a disciple in October is proud to have Donald Trump as the Leader of the Free World.
But a look historically at his popularity right now reveals something far more disturbing than Trump himself, who, as I write,has been grabbing the phone and reining more tweets on country already split like a ripe melon.
Yesterday, an article in Five Thirty Eight compared President Trump's popularity--what there is of it--with the popularity of others in their Presidencies. That he doesn't fare well is not a surprise. His only comfort would be Clinton, whose numbers at this point compare with the Donald's. But Obama, who is still maligned almost hourly on Fox News, had a 60 percent approval rating at this point, and W came in at 55, both of them reversing Trump's ratings.
The real shocker comes when you read numbers unlike anything we've seen in the last 30 years or more. Five Thirty Eight examines what once was, and what was is frightening. George H.W. Bush, Reagan, and even the peanut farmer from Georgia, at this point on the calendar of their Presidencies each scored popularity beyond anything we've seen recently. Only Gerald Ford, who didn't ask for the job, scored in Trump's range.
What's more shocking--at least to me--is the popularity of Presidents who served the country earlier. At this present moment, Nixon's popularity was in the lower sixties, but both Johnson, Kennedy, and Eisenhower were all in the 70's, almost twice that of Trump and Clinton. Truman, who is not particularly highly regarded as a President today and seemed destined to lose the race for a second term (but didn't) had sky-high approval ratings at this time--87 percent of the American people liked him.
Those numbers seem impossible. Can you imagine living in a country where three out of every four people basically trust the man running the country and have, therefore, similar ideas? Seriously?
What's amazing is not that so many loved Harry S. Truman, but how united these United States really were. Of course, we were, at that moment, extricating ourselves from a war we'd won with millions of ordinary people volunteering to be heroes. We had great reason to celebrate, and we knew--as no one knows as well today--who our enemies were: an emperor whose people considered him deity, and a stiff-armed madman with a paint-brush mustache.
"Make America Great Again" is undoubtedly an invitation to fantasize returning to the era of "the greatest generation," without mentioning all sorts of historical realities, not to mention the fact that World War II cost the world 60 million people, 418 thousand of them American.
Still, it's disheartening to read the numbers and realize that once upon a time in fairyland America, the vast majority of us tended to think alike. We weren't the Divided States of America at all.
My Antonia, Willa Cather's great novel of the plains, isn't particularly kind on small towns; but that doesn't mean the novel is in any way critical of America. Tony Shimerda, the earth-woman of the novel, is more Superwoman than any silly Hollywood fantasy. Her joyous commitment is itself a communtiy blessing. Old Jules, Mari Sandoz's reminiscence of her own father, brings back to life a character who would be locked up today for abusing his wife and family. But while Sandoz, who's committed to the truth, details the man's abundant sins abundantly, she also recognizes his undying and even just commitment to the world then beginning to take shape on the American frontier. Her father, despite his violence, wanted like nothing else to build community where, to his sense of things, there'd been none.
And Ruth Suckow's The John Wood Case, is set here, in Hawarden, at the turn of the century, at a time when the author felt brimming optimism as she herself grew up in a brand new village peopled with pioneers determined to build a new world for themselves and their children.
That unbridled optimism characterizes those books and many others like them, but is now forgotten stuff. Today, divided factions of our country, our culture, look upon each other as enemies. Today, doctrine is of little worth in the identity of church. Politics is crucial.
How has that happened? The numbers make clear that it's not all Trump's fault--nor Obama's. But determining cause-andeffect is a task for someone far smarter than I am, someone unwilling to call the problem political.
The numbers don't lie.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:48 AM