Monday, August 7, 2017

As Trump's Approval Ratings Plummet, His White Christian Base Ratchets Up Its Support

He's tweeting again this morning, though he's also supposedly on vacation. One of today's tweets boasts that "[t]he Trump base is far bigger &  stronger than ever before (despite some phony Fake News polling)." 

This is, of course, a direct response to the findings of numerous polls in the past week, as he had a horrible, horribler, most horrible week on the heels of Trumpcare's collapse, that his base is shrinking. Even a Republican-commissioned poll last week found Trump's base now dangerously low in "key swing states of Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio."

For The Nation, John Nichols comments at the end of last week on the collapse of Trump's base of support: 

Trump is losing the faith of the American people. He is doing himself immense damage—failing to lead on major issues such as health care, flunking even the most basic foreign-policy tests, and leading his White House into deeper disarray with hirings, firings, and reshuffles of a cabinet that was a mess to begin with. . . . 
The math was always against him, but whatever claim on legitimacy Donald Trump might have been able to make after the November 8 election has long since evaporated. The numbers are now overwhelming: Trump won 46 percent of the vote in November, and his approval rating has fallen as low as 33 percent. Likewise, while he was opposed by 54 percent of Americans in November, his disapproval rating has [sic] now as high as 62 percent.

The same day, GOP national strategist Rick Wilson published the following in Daily Beast:

With the news Thursday afternoon that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has empaneled a grand jury to investigate Russia's election tampering and the Trump campaign's role in it, today was the single worst day in the single worst week of the Trump Presidency. Even before this devastating news, if you wanted to pick a week where the Trump Administration got its ass handed to it at virtually every turn, this would be it. At almost every moment in the news cycle, Team Trump was getting beaten like a rented mule. The fallout of the Scaramucci firing is barely cool to the touch, and already this week's pile of steaming radioactive waste from this White House is hip deep. 
Virtually nothing is going right for Trump. . . .This is by far Donald Trump's worst week...and I'm writing this Thursday morning. 

But, though for some commentators it may now be all over but the shouting for the Trump presidency, I'm inclined to be skeptical. I've witnessed too many Hydras regenerate too many heads when others comfortably assumed the monsters had died. I am inclined to agree with what Carol Anderson said in the New York Times this past Saturday: 

White resentment put Donald Trump in the White House. And there is every indication that it will keep him there, especially as he continues to transform that seething, irrational fear about an increasingly diverse America into policies that feed his supporters' worst racial anxieties.

As Ezra Klein wrote for Vox near the end of last week, 

Trump becomes meaner and more dangerous when he's losing. He looks for scapegoats, he embraces illiberal plans for revenge, he retreats to the strategy that launched his political career and his presidential campaign: capturing press coverage through shock and offense. 
Trump is losing. His health reform push is in tatters. Republican senators are speaking out against him. Congress is tying his hands on Russia. Bob Mueller’s investigation is advancing, and two senators have introduced a bipartisan bill to protect it from Trump’s ire. His poll numbers are poor. He just fired his chief of staff and communications director. 
He needs to regain control. And over the past week, we've seen he'll do it by returning to his campaign's darkest roots: fear of immigrants, defense of police brutality, and appeals to white resentment.

Part of the reason I am dubious about concluding that it's all over but the shouting for Donald Trump is that (and this is purely anecdotal evidence, but it's still evidence) I've seen a noticeable uptick in pro-Trump messaging and attacks on his critics on Facebook at the very time polls tell us he's tanking. I've seen this kind of uptick quite specifically in the white evangelical circles to which I'm connected on Facebook because I have many white evangelical relatives, some of whom have chosen to connect to me on Facebook.

They have not gotten the memos that the Trump presidency is underwater. The memos they are getting, from their pastors, tell them that God anointed Donald Trump and put him into the White House to save white Christians, and it's time to man (I choose the word with deliberation) the battlements and throw down scalding pots of vituperation on the godless Democratic hordes who are attacking God's anointed man in the White House.

This past week, for these folks, it was as if the election had never happened. They were in full-throttle pre-election attack mode. Their Facebook feed was full of high dudgeon about how evil and dangerous Hillary Clinton is, how Democrats don't have and never did have any morals at all, how all the news that Trump is in trouble is fake news. These folks live in an alternative world, and that world has been created for them by their churches. No matter what happens to Donald Trump, no matter what filth may come out about him and his cronies, no matter what immoral action he might take, they will stand by their man to the bitter end and believe quite sincerely that none of this is actually happening and that the rest of the world has lost its mind as it lusts after fake news and bogus headlines.

Ditto for the white Catholic family in the heartland about which I wrote last week. Right to the end of the week, members of that family were claiming that their elderly family member who is in a semi-comatose state and is totally non-responsive when anyone else visits her perks up, laughs, and becomes responsive when they — and they alone — enter her nursing home room. No one else sees this. But they do.

They made this claim last week right in her nursing home room, as she lay totally non-responsive in her bed, and as one of their relatives who had not seen her in some time sat by her bedside and found her non-responsive for the entire visit. They see — they believe — something  hidden to the rest of us.

And the reason the rest of us don't see the miracles is that we have abandoned faith and set our feet into the path of immorality. Nothing will ever change any of this for folks who think and act this way, whether they are white evangelicals, white Catholics, or white Mormons. All the hate that Trump is now ginning up — against people of color, transgender people, immigrants — is for their benefit, because he knows that they will stick with him through thick or thin.  

Trump's support is not dwindling in the least among white Christian "pro-life" voters, and we deceive ourselves if we imagine that it is doing so. We deceive ourselves to our peril if we succumb to such imaginings: these folks retain political influence out of all proportion to their numbers. And for all the wavering that may be occurring now in swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, or Michigan, support for Trump remains solid — it is all the more fervent the more his presidency seems imperiled — in places like Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, and so on.

Facts do not count for these folks. Reason does not matter. Reason, logic, education? The devil's workshop! Science be damned! These are folks who do not have the capacity for shame, no matter how shameful the decisions they make. To have the capacity to be ashamed requires that one also have the capacity to admit that one may be wrong, that nothing in life including (and especially) moral decision-making is cut and dried, black or white — and that simple answers to complex questions do not suffice.

There is no capacity for any of this among the people who placed Donald Trump in the White House and intend for him to remain there no matter what he does. This is not the kind of world in which they live. And we ignore or discount these facts about American culture, religion, and political life to our great risk, and the great risk of the whole planet.

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