Three days ago, March 23, President Trump signaled his intent to relax guidelines on self-quarantining, saying “the cure can’t be worse than the disease.” Health authorities and citizens all over the country (including me) reacted with profound dismay at such a precipitous and apparently dangerous decision.
But across a separate civic and political landscape — call it The Great Divide — the president’s decision to open the economy and tilt away from public safety is evidence of why Trump is revered. His public opinion poll numbers on performance are inching up and Gallup this week said that 60 percent of Americans they polled give him high marks for managing the crisis.
I spent several days this week trying to understand that surprising finding by studying reporting and commentary across the Trump-supporting on-line media community.
I occasionally read and view popular arch-conservative media, and have a working knowledge of its message and rancor. But following what looks to be the most consequential presidential decision of our lifetimes, I wanted to know more about what led to it. I wanted to develop deeper insight into why the president was so confident about the March 23 announcement.
Some of this may be familiar to you in the abstract. A good bit was new to me. My conclusion is that even if the virus really gets out of hand and kills thousands more Americans, Trump could win the 2020 election. His supporters are mobilized and energized to vote in droves. The lapses and insults and erratic behavior that make Trump a loathed figure on the left are precisely the personality traits that solidify his popularity on the right. Democrats are going to need to get ‘way down in the muck and fight as never before to inspire and motivate their supporters to turn out in record numbers to beat him.
One reason, according to billions of words written and hours of video broadcast by Trump-supporting media, is that in their eyes, and through their eyes to the hearts and minds of their faithful audiences, Donald Trump can do no wrong. The president’s supporters, roughly half of voting age Americans, adore him. Not only is he seen as a once-in-a-generation leader, he is superbly adept at commanding the moment just the way they think it ought to be dominated. His supporters see Trump as prepared and capable of not only making the right decisions, but also doing so with joyful acid attacks on people and institutions they loathe – Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the New York Times and Washington Post, CNN, Democrats, liberals, and most especially Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
A second reason for Trump’s staying power is that his supporters see an attack on him as an insult to them, a hostile misguided rocket strike on their principles and values. Criticism of Trump produces measures of angry, stinging bitterness I’ve never before encountered when reporting on political figures.
“These globalist vultures hate the American worker more than anyone,” Wayne Dupree, a columnist widely distributed on Trump-supporting blogs and web sites, wrote on March 23. “That’s why these ghouls want open borders, migrants, illegal aliens, and things like NAFTA—all of the things that have put us in this vulnerable place with the coronavirus. Globalism kills, and Pelosi and Schumer are the faces of it.”
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, added this the same day: “One of the responses he shut down is another deep state attempted coup, coordinated with their international puppet partners to attack the economy in grand scale of illusion, counting on The People not to look at comparative statistics (tested negative, positive, recovered, dead, total population).”
Like Trump, his supporters identify and close on events and ideas they view as left-leaning abuses. During the debate over the new stimulus proposal, wind and solar industries and their allies among Democratic and Republican lawmakers, wanted to extend tax credits for solar and wind development. The clean energy industry, they argued, was getting hammered by the virus as much as any other sector.
Conservative Trump-favoring media, which supported assistance to Boeing, airlines, and big oil, ridiculed the idea, which they blamed for delaying Congressional voting. “The evil anti-American globalist Democrats have overplayed their hand,” wrote Political Insider, a well-read website. “They have decided to make this virus pandemic political and, in the process, they are stomping on the backs of the American workers who are scared, unsure, and struggling, all so Democrats can try and weasel out some ‘solar tax credits’. My God, these people are monsters.”
When the pandemic is over, Congress is sure to hold hearings and the government is likely to convene a Covid-19 Commission, much like the Warren Commission (Kennedy Assassination) and the 9/11 Commission, to investigate what happened. From my perspective, Trump dithered and obfuscated and deflected and lied about the risks of the fast-developing epidemic…until he abruptly and wisely declared a national emergency. He and his governmental departments, rife with empty seats and “acting supervisors” in critical agency leadership positions, have been dangerously slow and clumsy in managing this crisis.
The millions of Americans in Trump’s army, though, see only clear, decisive, effective management, and lies by his opponents that are meant to help beat him in November. “The open borders crowd would NEVER have done what Trump did immediately to control the spread,” wrote No Bull Cause, a Facebook page. “As soon as he limited travel, all they did was complain that he was “xenophobic”! Now they want you to believe they would have been MORE decisive. Come on! They have no credibility left. They’d rather scare the country into hating Trump.
“That’s always been their only goal. Get rid of Trump…at ANY cost. Behind the scenes, they consider the danger to your health and to the economy to be just their latest opportunity for political gain. The consequences for the nation are simply collateral damage in their war on Donald Trump.”
Trump and his supporters do not recognize the evidence of delayed, then precipitous and malignant decision-making that his opponents condemn. Trump and his supporters apparently have no concept of the potential for much more widespread disease and mortality. Science and safety be damned.
His base is powerful and mobilized to vote. Will Democrats be as inspired and more mobilized to beat him?
I live in Trump country. I know and see the pride people take in displaying MAGA hats and bumper stickers. I also know that incumbents are hard to beat.
Out of 11 presidents in my lifetime only three were beaten for a second term — Ford, Carter, and Bush. I’m not as confident as I want to be that Trump is a one-termer. So many of his supporters back the president and delight in his tirades against the ‘libtards’, snowflakes, mainstream media, and the educated, whom they think of as elitists.
Will losing a child or a grandparent in this pandemic change that? Likely not. Trump is turning to his very big base for support in making stupendously important and premature decisions about withdrawing freedom of movement restrictions. It’s a perilous turning point for those of us making informed decisions. But for Trump’s admirers it’s a courageous move to Make America Great Again.