Disrupter in Chief

I think this is going to be another long, winding road. My thoughts are coming together in waves, and not all that organized. I may delete this opening before posting…or may just leave it here so I can watch the winding road and maybe enjoy the ride. I have a Facebook friend who I do not know in real life, and I don’t think I’ve ever met in real life. He became a Facebook friend because he maintains a pretty sizable following of Trump loyalists, and after going back and forth a few times, he asked me to join the fun. I don’t participate in the banter all that much since the start, mostly because it’s not my style (the typical response from the Trump loyalists is a meme about Hillary being ugly or something like that), and I get bored with the lack of real discussion. The folks over there seem more about winning, when I’m not there to compete. But this group has given me a window into Trump loyalists that I might not otherwise have, and I’ve made some generalizations. I know generalizations are often unwise, and I’m sure there are individuals who support Trump and do not fit this mold. Indeed, I’m not sure at all that these loyalists are representative of Trump supporters at all, so in truth I see this more as a focus group than a survey, but I’ve still seen some interesting things. Let’s start the ride.

The common thread that I find in most of the people in this “focus group” is hostility. There’s a machismo that pervades, and they often resort to attempts to feel tough when challenged. They like the American military might, and they want us to destroy our enemies without any restraint. The idea of launching a nuclear weapon into North Korea doesn’t bother them, nor does the idea of carpet bombing parts of the Middle East if it means that ISIL fighters will die in the process. We apparently deserve no blame for the collateral damage, and anybody who loses loved ones should be angry at the North Korean government for bringing it on themselves. But the most common thread among them is the desire to upend the whole system. I’ve pushed the Facebook friend to try to explain what that means. He once said that he loves what Trump is doing because he wants to destroy the whole media-driven elitist world that I love so much (my love for this world was part of his statement, not mine). I asked if that means the sports broadcasting that he seems to like (except the NFL, which he is now boycotting). He said yes. I asked about movies he likes, he said yes, all of it. He wants to burn it all down. In a sense, he’s an anarchist, but at the same time, he applauds the government having a heavy hand in removing immigrants and in protecting demonstrations by nazi groups (although I haven’t seen any evidence that he agrees with a lot of the rhetoric of these groups).

When it was reported that Trump was working with Schumer and Pelosi on some policy issues, this guy’s group wasn’t upset at all. From what they could tell, Trump had destroyed the democrats already, and now was turning on the GOP. He was going to burn it all down. Without saying if I agree with that or not, it became clear to me that these are the new anti-establishment people, and that made me ponder where that comes from. I was born in the early 1970s, and didn’t start having any sense of politics until the 1980s (and it wasn’t until the 1990s that I can say I was genuinely “politically aware”), but the ripples of the Civil Rights movement were still moving through the waters, especially in my house. My parents were Civil Rights activists before I was born. They marched with King, and worked on equal housing issues with Jessie Jackson in Chicago. My father was a captain in the Army during Vietnam (never deployed), and hung a peace flag on his Ft. Knox residence (as the story goes, he was the highest-ranking officer on his row, so he was given some leeway). Fighting oppression of minority groups was important in my house, and certainly had its impact on me growing up. And, because the government was responsible for a good deal of the oppression in the years before then, there was an overarching anti-establishment sense among liberals who cared about these issues.

I grew up with the word “antidisestablishmentarianism” being famous for being the longest word in the dictionary (I’m not sure if it ever was, but “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” has that title now, and “antidisestablishmentarianism is currently the fourth longest word). Although I knew the word well, I never knew what it meant. Breaking it down shows that we’ve had these kinds of establishment vs anti-establishment divisions for a while. They were mostly related to the Church, but until the United States, the Church and government were often intertwined.

Anti: against.

Disestablishment: breaking down the establishment.

So antidisestablishmentarianism is really a double negative that means being for the establishment and against the dismantling of the establishment. Although the word is really more about Church and State relations, I think it’s safe to say that during the 1960s and 1970s, American liberals were the anti-establishment crowd, and the conservatives were the pro-establishment. The liberals were protesting, and the conservatives were supporting the government that was trying to stop the protests. Liberals wanted change, and conservatives wanted to be, well, conservative. But now we’re in a different world, and those roles have flipped a bit. Over the last decades, the government has taken on the role of protecting minority groups. So those who tend to care about protecting minority groups have become pro-establishment, and those who feel it’s hurting them have become anti-establishment.

All of this made more sense during the election, when Trump and Sanders appealed to the anti-establishment views (both right- and left-leaning), and Clinton was favored by those who wanted the establishment to prevail. Clinton (and all but one of the republicans in the GOP primary) represented some degree of stability, and Sanders/Trump were more radical options. It’s interesting that supporting “radicals” would have been completely antithetical to a conservative decades ago, and I imagine that many of Trump’s supporters wouldn’t like being thought of as radicals, but the “burn it all down” mentality among them, at least among those in my “focus group” is clearly a departure from the norm, and, therefore, radical by definition.

I do not know what Trump supporters want, and I know it’s not a homogenous group. I do know that Gallup tracks daily approval ratings of presidents, and President Trump’s ratings sure aren’t good. He peaked at 45%, and that was his first few days in office. He’s been down since then, hitting a low of 35% (in mid August), and not hitting the 40% mark since May. To put this in context, Bill Clinton, who assumed office without a majority vote in the election, has his worst approval ratings (37%) in June of his first year, but averaged 50% during his first term, and 61% during his second term (with a high of 73%). Barack Obama spent a fair amount of time in office under the 50% approval mark, but still averaged 55% (a combination of 50% in his first term and 61% in his second) with a bottom at 37%. Obama also peaked on his first few days in office, but his peak was 67%, not the 45% that Trump started with. Interestingly, Clinton and the two Bush presidents are the only recent presidents to have peak approval ratings that weren’t in the first few months, or even first days, of their presidencies. Bush 43 experienced his highest approval ratings after the attacks on 9/11, but otherwise trended downward from his 57% start, so his pattern seems a bit more typical. George HW Bush was atypical in that he started at 51%, which is lower than the 56% that he left office with, and much lower than his 89% peak (in February 1991, about halfway through his time in office, during the ground offensive of the first Gulf War). Reagan started higher, hitting a peak of 68% by May, but then trended downward until his low of 35% in January 1983. After that, he had a steady rise until matching his earlier peak at 68% in May of 1986, shortly after bombing Libya and passing the Firearm Owners Protection Act.  I’ve heard Rush Limbaugh compare Trump to Reagan, and as far as approval ratings, he might be right. If Trump is going to have a similar pattern, he still has a little more than a year to start some upward momentum. Time will tell, but I think he’ll have to stop being a disrupter to get popular support, and if he does that, he risks losing the support from the anti-establishment types who seem to make up a good deal of his support now. We will see.

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