A review of several recent presidential opinion polls shows Donald Trump’s approval ratings—one month after his botched “build the wall” government shutdown fiasco—at just over 40 percent, consistent with his core Republican support.
The Washington Post/ABC News poll was more extensive. It not only asked registered voters whether they approve or disapprove of the president’s performance, but what they didn’t like about him. The overwhelming answer? Practically everything!
Sixty percent of voters surveyed in the Post/ABC poll say they have an unfavorable view of the president as a person and question his compassion, truthfulness and ability to make political deals. Forty-eight percent acknowledged having little or no confidence in his future decision-making.
When it comes to character, Trump’s ratings are appalling. Sixty percent of voters see him as a negative person, including 63 percent of independents and 66 percent of women. Fifty-one percent believe Trump is not a strong leader, including 55 percent of independents and 59 percent of women. As far as honesty and trustworthiness is concerned, his lack of credibility abounds: 60 percent question his integrity, including 73 percent of independents and 71 percent women.
Now into his third year as president, Trump is considered to lack the temperament to be president by 58 percent of voters. Sixty-five percent believe he cares little about the average “Joe,” including 68 percent of independents and 72 percent of women.
Why do so many find Trump so dislikeable and untrustworthy?
The Trump presidency has been like no other. His conduct, deportment, mood swings, and impulsivity are frequently far out of proportion to the situation at hand. The country seems to be caught constantly off balance and thrown into a veritable tizzy over his antics on a daily basis. Not to mention the ongoing Russia collusion investigation, which continues to raise serious questions about this president’s true allegiances.
Within the Trump administration itself, chaos reigns. In office for just about 25 months, we’ve already seen two secretaries of state, two secretaries of defense, three attorneys general, three chiefs of staff, and a revolving door of senior White House aides. Upon exit, most of these “principled” characters have little good to say about their former illustrious leader.
Trump conducts foreign policy by tweet; initiates pseudo-friendly relations with adversarial authoritarian leaders (Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin); and muddles the ethics of his office by not only denying public access to his personal and corporate tax returns, but vehemently refusing to separate the Trump White House from the Trump business empire.
Trump unashamedly flouts the customary rules of presidential comportment, as playground nicknames, Twitter tirades, and ugly personal slurs abound. He ardently claims to be the moral compass of the country, while defending a neo-Nazi torchlight protest in Charlottesville; campaigning for racist and anti-Semitic politicians; and ignoring the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government hitmen in Turkey.
Senior staff in both his administration and the Republican Party treat Trump as if he were the “emperor with no clothes.” His cabinet members offer lavish praise at meetings, as if on cue; his vice president is frequently caught on camera in a gaze of unparalleled devotion; and senior party bigwigs may roll their eyes in private, but, in his presence, they are obsequious and ingratiating.
Trump has normalized the abnormal. So many Trump stories and scandals that might have launched months of critical coverage for previous presidents now scarcely last a single news cycle.
Most troublesome to many are not only his uncalled-for public attacks on the judiciary and legal systems, but his constant disparagement of opponents and debasement of facts. According to White House aide Kellyanne Conway, the Trump Administration conveniently utilizes “alternative facts” to make its points. The Washington Post has registered over 7,000 presidential falsehoods in Trump’s less than 800 days in office.
Regretfully, the Trump presidency is proving that objective evidence is less persuasive than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs when shaping public opinion, especially when it comes to shoring up his political base.
Assuming gridlock in Congress becomes a more permanent aspect of Washington politics, the most perilous aspect of Trump’s time in office is that presidential successors, following Trump’s lead, might push the confines of executive authority in ways that further breach constitutional norms, and our democratic processes may crumble in their wake.