The Problem with Trump: Some Conclusions

Concluding thoughts (for the moment).

“#UNGA” by The White House is in the Public Domain

So, what is my point in this series of posts (which started in my head as two posts and ended up being four)? Overall I am trying to connect long-standing concerns about Donald J. Trump as President of the United States and some salient and current examples.

It is difficult to capture the totality of the problem of Trump and so think that perhaps specific, discrete examples can have more impact.

As the sub-title of the first post noted, I am “Thinking about support for Trump and considering how recent events may influence that support”

To over-share my thought process, I have had two broad topics in my head for some time. The first is recognizing that Trump support, especially in terms of things like voting and public approval, are more complicated than a lot of readers here tend to want to accept. The reality is that it is easier for all of us to rationalize away bad behavior by “our” side than we want to admit and, further, they were real policy reasons (whether one agrees with them or not) to vote Republican rather than Democrat for president.

However there was a second thought: I also believe that Trump’s behavior in office is such that some people who engage in said rationalizations or made/are still making the aforementioned policy choices have the potential to change their minds (note: some).

So, in my purest conception I was going to write a political science oriented explanation of basic partisan voter behavior and, separately, sort of an open letter to Trump supporters of a certain type. I didn’t really do either in full form.

Indeed, it strikes me that these posts illustrate some of the limitations of the blogging format insofar as really, these four posts together form a rough draft of a longer essay that would be vastly improved by clearer framing and a more obvious argument (and editing and re-writing). Of course, if it weren’t for the blogging format, I likely would not have taken the time to write out any of this, so there’s that.

(Along those lines, I probably should have picked a different headline—but I committed to that last Sunday, so c’est la vie).

Still, here is what I tried to do:

Part One was intended to provide some rationale for voter behavior and to note that one need not assume the worst of every single person who voted for Trump or who “approve of the job the president is doing.” Now, I recognize that there is a not insubstantial amount of Trump’s supporters who love the worst stuff (and who cleave to his white nationalist rhetoric and policies happily). I also think that a lot of people are in denial (just as they have been in denial about things like the Southern strategy). But a lot of people voted for him and support him because he is a Republican, and that is what a Republican voter does: votes for the Republican on the ticket.

None of this, by the way, removes moral culpability for that support.

Part Two identified an area that that is understandable and immediate: Trump’s decision to get out of Turkey’s way in Syria. It highlights Trump’s fecklessness and his lack of basic understanding of his job. It also shows how long-term damage to US interests can result from having a woefully underprepared president.

Again, I think that the relative simplicity of the event and its obvious and its immediate impact gives this story more power than other bad decisions Trump has made. If you are a supporter, you have to come to terms with this decision (or you have to wax into denial or deep rationalization).

Part Three is about the Ukraine call specifically. Trump can claim that is was “perfect” and “beautiful” but the released summary memo is evidence of abuse of power that is deniable only if one wants to lie to oneself about what is in the document. His repeatedly calls for foreign governments to investigate a main political rival are also hard to deny (and require hefty cognitive dissonance to explain away as proper). Yes, a lot of people will do so, but intellectually honest supporters have got to pause if they allow themselves to truly look at the evidence (which, I expect, most of them have not, but are relying on Trump’s version or whatever the right wing press is spouting).

Fundamentally, these posts seek to explain the basic partisan political behavior that resulted in a Trump victory in the first place and that leaves his approval steady with partisans. But, these two recent events really underscore why so many of us thought him unfit for the office in a fundamental way that was well beyond policy differences.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, Presidency, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I really like you @Stephen, you’re a good man and a good writer. That said, have you just told us that 1) something less than 100% of Trump supporters are racists, 2) Trump hasn’t got a clue what his job even is, let alone the ability to do it, and 3) he’s really stepped in it this time because this may be just simple enough for attention deficit America to understand it? Is that a fair summary of your summary?

    I really should have gone to college. /s

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  2. @Michael Reynolds: To a degree, yes 🙂

  3. @Michael Reynolds:

    I really like you @Stephen, you’re a good man and a good writer.

    And, I should have noted: very kind of you to say. Thanks.

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  4. DrDaveT says:

    It is difficult to capture the totality of the problem of Trump

    I think this is a bigger issue than people are aware of. It is so easy to become desensitized, to lose track of the sheer magnitude of his selfish evil treasonous incompetence. If you want to compare him to past politicians, you’d have to use a logarithmic scale to fit him on the same chart.

    Trump has done at least four things I can think of that are worse than anything Richard Nixon ever did:
    1. Make military aid to a foreign government contingent on illegal personal political favors
    2. Implicitly encourage foreign governments to fabricate evidence against his political opponents
    3. Abandon US military allies to be predictably slaughtered, for no US gain whatever
    4. Publicly give higher credence to Vladimir Putin’s word over that of his own intelligence community

    I’m probably missing a few; the Mueller Report seems such small beer now. I personally think that trashing half of the cabinet agencies from the inside by appointing saboteurs to lead them is at least as harmful to the US in the long run, but not actually illegal. And the “always doing whatever Putin would like best” is extremely suspicious, but not actionable yet.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    @DrDaveT: Not to disagree about Trump, but Richard Nixon sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in order to secure his own election. That was worse. Also, W. Bush invaded Iraq and screwed up the aftermath, resulting in at least a hundred thousand deaths. That was worse. Both were worse than anything Trump has done. So far.

    It ain’t just Trump.

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  6. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: I’ve seen estimates of the body count in Iraq between several hundred thousand and a million.

  7. DrDaveT says:

    @gVOR08:

    Both were worse than anything Trump has done. So far.

    I’m not disagreeing, but neither of those is a plausibly impeachable offense, unless you can prove W was deliberately lying. I didn’t make it clear, but I was talking solely about grounds for impeachment. I agree entirely that the unnecessary Iraq war dwarfs anything Trump has yet done.

  8. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    In general I agree with your list but take partial exception to this:

    3. Abandon US military allies to be predictably slaughtered, for no US gain whatever

    We have a long history of abandoning allies, including multiple times with the Kurds. This is, sadly, nothing new.

  9. Ken_L says:

    “Policy differences” are over-rated as a reason to disapprove of a president. Presidents get few opportunities to implement policies unless they can sway Congress, and even then, the outcome in any significant policy matters will be the result of complicated wheeling and dealing in which the president will be only one party.

    Presidents have these core responsibilities:
    – Nurture the institutions of the constitutional republic, so they function as intended;
    – Protect the national security of the United States;
    – Manage an enormous public service efficiently and effectively by appointing capable executives who will faithfully and intelligently manage their departments and agencies in accordance with the law.

    The reason I was contemptuous of Trump from the moment he announced his candidacy was that he lacked the knowledge, qualifications and experience to perform any of these functions at even a minimal level of competency, but seemed grotesquely over-confident that he was uniquely well-qualified to do the lot without assistance from anyone else. It would be hard to imagine a man more unfit for the presidency than Trump, in terms of knowledge, temperament and willingness to take advice.

    His record has demonstrated how legitimate these concerns were, but it’s not as if there were excuses not to see them in 2016.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Concluding thoughts (for the moment).

    Heh.

    @DrDaveT:

    neither of those is a plausibly impeachable offense,

    What Nixon did in sabotaging the peace talks was blatantly illegal, led to the deaths of *20,000 more US troops and the maiming of uncounted thousands of others*, and most assuredly meets the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard.

    **assuming the talks would have been successful, something that is hardly assured

  11. MarkedMan says:

    FWIW I think there is one phrase that could work to get some Trump voters to sit this one out, but only if delivered sympathetically: “Well, you gave him a legitimate shot.” No follow up, no further discussion.

  12. Kathy says:

    @Andy:

    All alliances end when they stop working for the stronger partner(s). Some end because selling out your allies might bring greater gains.

    Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds in Syria was neither.

  13. mattbernius says:

    @Andy: Agreed. The difference is once again how ineptly and blatantly this administration has executed this.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    What Nixon did in sabotaging the peace talks was blatantly illegal,

    OK, I’m clearly ignorant about this incident. Was it known at the time that he did this? That it was illegal? Why was he not impeached for that, instead of for covering up a second-rate burglary?

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @DrDaveT: It’s called the Chennault Affair. WIKI has reasonable coverage on the “Anna Chennault” page. (She acted as intermediary.) Johnson apparently knew but couldn’t say anything for fear of revealing gov’t surveillance and for political reasons. It was kind of known publicly but not confirmed until fairly recently. Kissinger was acting as Nixon’s mole in the administration.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: Sorry that this is going to seem like piling on, regarding “abandon US military allies to be predictably slaughtered, for no US gain whatever,” my take is that “Vietnamization” is the exact same sort of abandonment. At the time, we knew that the policy was simply for the purpose of leaving the field of combat and that South Vietnam had no capacity to defend itself (it’s what all the “2nd Place: SE Asian War Games” tee shirts were about).

    One can note that the US gain for that policy was that it stopped the flow of injured and dead US soldiers back to the states, but that is the same type of thinking Trump uses.

  17. Kingdaddy says:

    Steven, thank you for your careful, deliberate thinking on these questions. It’s clear that there’s no tipping point at which the cumulative weight of demonstrably bad policies, undeniable lies, obvious incompetence, and blatant corruption will be enough to sway some of his supporters. Nor is it possible that the simple repulsiveness of the man is enough. (See today’s story on his grotesque, reality show-inspired to get grieving parents to hug things out with their son’s killer.) For whatever reason — transactional logic (he’s giving us judges and tax cuts), sunk costs, wishful thinking, etc. — he’s still their guy.

    Perhaps either the Ukraine fiasco or the betrayal of the Kurds will be the short, sharp shock that rattles some of his supporters. Lordy, I hope so.

  18. mattbernius says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    Perhaps either the Ukraine fiasco or the betrayal of the Kurds will be the short, sharp shock that rattles some of his supporters.

    I would like to think the fact that not a single Trump supporting poster has gone anywhere near the Kurdish topic is a suggestions that they are rattled. And yes, many of them have visited and posted on other threads.

    But the reality is, given than none of them can summon up even the base bravery to either — anonymously on a blog’s comment threads — say that this is (a) a misstep or (b) attempt to defend the decision (and live up to the courage of their convictions) — just demonstrates that when push comes to shove it’s damn the ethnic cleansing, I want my judges and tax cuts.

  19. dazedandconfused says:

    I don’t disagree but I don’t believe it can be understood looking at Trump in isolation.

    Most of the Trump people I know are aware of his flaws but have been so filled with abject hatred of the “left” they saw, and many still see no choice. Some of them remain uttlerly convinced that Hillary was out to “destroy this nation.” If you can get people hating enough you can lead them around by the nose, the oldest psy-op trick in the book. Trump won the nomination by embodying more hatred than the others.

    IMO Trump is the net result of New Corp’s highly successful business model and the Republican’ willingness to be steered by it.

  20. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    One can note that the US gain for that policy was that it stopped the flow of injured and dead US soldiers back to the states, but that is the same type of thinking Trump uses.

    Yes, but that was my point — there’s not even that kind of parochial benefit from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. There’s no flow of injured and dead US soldiers from Syria to stop at this point, and certainly not an ongoing sacrifice of conscripts. The only benefit is that Trump can wash his hands of an annoying complex situation. Or, at least, so he naively thought.