Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Six months and change:
The Trump presidency* and the nation

WE’RE ABOUT 12.5 PERCENT through the presidency* of Donald Trump, six months and change, and for a chief executive who famously distrusts the polls, there’s been a lot for him to disbelieve in lately. No fewer than five opinion polls in a row — released within days of July 20, the day of Trump’s six-month anniversary in The White House — show how politically and civically damaged Trump is.

If the polls are any indicator, there’s a lot to suggest that a ghost-ship narrative has taken hold of the subconscious of those in power at House Trump; what’s been more or less consistently communicated to the public is an administration bereft of any governing vision that extends beyond imposing the word No or asking How Much It Costs ... that and the ongoing parade of horrors and conundrum led by the tweeter-in-chief.

The first six months of his shambolic administration have been defined by two stories — the Russia hacking controversy, which dogs House Trump structurally and imagistically; and the prospects for Trumpcare, which faces a bruising legislative future — and by the Trump White House’s woefully ham-handed responses to dealing with both of them.

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Over that six months (and really before the administration began), House Trump has violated some basic laws of political physics: First, don’t vacate the high ground of a story you can’t escape. Like nature, the media abhors a vacuum, and the media, facing a relative absence of credible sourced information, will go with smart analysis, informed speculation and White House leaks — until the credible sourced information shows up (and it always does). At the very least, House Trump is learning that lesson from the immense fallout surrounding the Russia hacking scandal: Define the story early or the story will define you. Forever.

Second, don’t measure yourself against the actions and policies of your predecessor. To do so is to nullify your own identity. We’ve seen this time and again in the fury of conservatives’ attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell feverishly looking for every procedural trick in the book to topple the Obama White House’s greatest legislative achievement; and Trump himself calling for (or demanding) one more try — just one more repeat do-over.

In the bizzarro-world looking glass through which we view modern American politics, it’s clear: Thanks to a mountain range of insecurities, shady financial dealings with a sanctioned and adversarial foreign power; a perverse misapplication of congressional energy, and a squandering of already meager good will, Donald Trump has done the improbable: making much of the first six months of his administration more about the Obama presidency than about his own.

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THE DISCONNECT that’s existed between House Trump and the American people reveals itself in a wave of surveys that underscore the popular sense of an administration in free fall, and a chief executive increasingly unpopular and out of touch. One poll in particular tells a story Trump would just as soon forget: The media, a favored White House punching bag, has supporters who are punching back on its behalf.

According to a July 17 survey from Public Policy Polling, a majority of American voters trusts the networks, metropolitan daily newspapers and other big media outlets more than than they trust Trump. According to the PPP poll, 54 percent of Americans said they put stock in CNN, a major Trump bĂȘte noire from the campaign days into the White House, more than they trust the president*. Only 39 percent said they trust the Trump more than CNN. ABC and NBC got the same benefit of the doubt (each with 56 percent majorities). The New York Times and The Washington Post got similar respect.

There’s a growing call for The Donald’s impeachment. A Monmouth University poll released on July 17 showed that more people want to see Trump impeached today than was the case for then-incumbent Richard Nixon at the start of the Watergate scandal. “About 4-in-10 Americans currently support impeaching Trump six months into his term, which is significantly higher than the number who called for Richard Nixon's impeachment six months into that president's second term,” the poll says.

“The president's job rating currently stands at a net negative 39% approve and 52% disapprove. This is nearly identical to his 39%-53% rating in May.”

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ACCORDING TO GALLUP, Trump has registered the lowest favorable opinion results in decades. “President Donald Trump averaged 38.8% job approval during his second quarter in office, which spanned April 20 through July 19,” Gallup reported. “No other president has had a worse second-quarter average. Bill Clinton is the only other president who fell below the majority level of approval at a comparable point in his administration.”

“Trump's average approval rating for his second quarter in office, 38.8%, is more than five percentage points lower than the next closest president, Bill Clinton at 44%,” Gallup reported. “The two are the only presidents on the list whose average job approval does not rise above 50%.”

And Gallup finds that Trump isn’t growing the Republican church at all. On the contrary: “Trump maintains solid support among his fellow Republicans. However, with fewer than three in 10 Americans identifying as Republican he cannot rely on Republicans alone to have healthy job approval ratings.”

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By an admittedly slim margin, the Democrats are now preferred over Republicans to run Congress, as a check on Trump’s machinations, according to the Washington Post/ABC News poll. The survey found that voters are “clearly preferring Democrats in control of Congress to check President Trump even as Republicans appear more motivated to show up at the polls.

“A slight majority of registered voters — 52 percent — say they want Democrats to control the next Congress, while 38 percent favor Republican control to promote the president’s agenda, according to the poll.

And another survey’s come to the conclusion that Trump can’t dance with them who brought him to the party because, more and more, they won’t dance with him.

“Donald Trump is wearing out his welcome among the voters who swung 2016’s presidential swing states in his direction,” according to Salon, republishing a story from AlterNet that cites just-released regional polls — including that Washington Post/ABC News poll, which found that “Trump’s support had fallen since April, including in the important category of political independents, where only 32 percent support him now compared to 38 percent this spring. Independents are not the only swing voters who matter.”

“In many Midwestern states last November, tens of thousands of voters who previously backed Barack Obama rejected Hillary Clinton and voted for Trump,” AlterNet reported. “That’s where the latest regional polls come in, showing that growing number of voters in counties that flipped from blue in 2012 to red in 2016 were having the political equivalent of buyer’s remorse.”

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Not that he hasn’t given his detractors a lot of ammunition. Two lackluster or abysmal performances on the world stage at back-to-back summits. A willingness to be antagonists with world leaders. The scandal over the Russians hacking our presidential election. The Donald’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a hugely important trade agreement.

His ritual castigations of NATO and, by extension, the mutual-defense commitment that’s been at the heart of the U.S.-European relationship for generations. His thinly-disguised disdain for the media, minorities and anyone or anything that’s not on the good side of Trump's transaction-driven radar.

These and other pivotal events of his first six months in office have had an impact that’s slipped out of the six-month time frame; actions he’s taken in recent days will go on to define the next six months. Over the weekend, Trump turned on Attorney General Pete Sessions — the first senator to board the Trump train during the campaign. Trump condemned Sessions for recusing himself from involvement in the Russia hacking scandal, in the process undercutting his one indefatigable ally, and angering Republicans who respect Sessions’ conservative cred, and don't trust or believe in The Donald’s.

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And Wednesday, Trump tweeted a new military directive, banning transgender recruits from serving in the U.S. military: “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”

At a Tuesday campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump waxed passionate about his own prospects for making history in the Oval Office, saying, apparently with a straight face, that he could be “with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln... more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office.”

There’s absolutely no reason to believe that the remaining three years, five months and three weeks of his tenure as president-asterisk will be any less obviously an adventure in governmental improvisation, any less apparently a tour through the wack-job funhouse of Donald Trump, a legend in his own mind.

Image credits: Mark Wilson: Getty Images. Trump and Sessions: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg. Trump bottom: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters. Logos and nameplates of news and polling organizations are the respective property of themselves or their parent companies.

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