American Opinion in June 2019.

According to a recent poll, ten percent of Americans believe that Donald Trump is the best president of their lifetime.[1]  Trump’s support was concentrated among older, white, men.  In particular, according to a Pew Trust analysis, “49 percent of those aged 30‒49 feel warmly toward him, 60 percent of those aged 50‒64 do, as did 56 percent of those over 65 years of age.”[2]  So, the enthusiastic ten percent may come from older voters.

In contrast to most voters, both Trump supporters and Trump opponents have some historical basis for judging “best” and “worst” presidents.  If someone was 50 in 2016, then they were born in 1966; if someone was 60 in 2016, then they were born in 1956; if someone was 70 in 2016, then they were born in 1946.  If we postulate that people start to become politically aware at age 20, then 2016 Trump voters became politically aware between 1966 and 1986.

What do they have to work with in terms of historical experience of the presidency?  They have late-stage Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam, the social turmoil associated with the “Great Society”); Richard Nixon (Vietnam, Watergate); Gerald Ford (the first “oil shock” and inflation); Jimmy Carter (second “oil shock,” inflation, Iran hostage crisis); Ronald Reagan (Paul Volker wringing out inflation, defeat of the “evil empire,” Iran-Contra); George H. W. Bush (Preppy in the White House, first Iraq War, “read my hips”); Bill Clinton (Eddie Haskell in the White House); George W. Bush (Frat Boy in the White House, 9/11, the flunked war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina); Barack Obama (Affordable Care Act, but also the Stimulus bill, rule by decree).

Experienced voters might be forgiven (although they will not be forgiven) for thinking that in their lifetime American government has run amuck and that the quality of presidents has deteriorated.  This ignores the reality that we have lived through very turbulent times that demanded government responses.  Many of these problems found no easy solution.  Still, is it possible that the typical voter follows the meta-narrative, rather than the micro-narrative?

Polls also showed that Trump appealed most to those with only a high-school education, but least to those with a college BA or more.  Well, auto-workers and steel-workers and a bunch of other workers used to be able to earn a middle-class income walking off the graduation stage and into an industrial job.  These people used to be a) Democratic voters, and b) the salt of the earth in Democratic discourse.[3]  Why did they stray, assuming it was the voters, rather than the party, that strayed?  Then, how does the educational profile of Trump voters compare with the educational profile of African-Americans?  Data suggest that educational attainment among African-Americans, measured in terms of BAs, is about two-thirds that of whites.[4]  How different is this from the educational profile of Trump voters?

The Pew poll also showed that core Trump voters believed—correctly—that free trade had harmed their own interests.  They believed that he would address illegal immigration, which they regarded as a serious problem.  They thought he was an awful person who might get things done.  “Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 June 2019, p. 17.

[2] See: https://www.thoughtco.com/meet-the-people-behind-donald-trumps-popularity-4068073

[3] See: Norman Rockwell, “Freedom of Speech.”  https://www.periodpaper.com/products/1945-print-norman-rockwell-vermont-man-freedom-of-speech-open-forum-oil-painting-126405-xaa5-061

[4] See graph: https://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal

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