This one is going to sink him. This broadside hit below the waterline, and Trump going down! Reviewing The Room Where It Happened, due out Tuesday, The Guardian’s Lloyd Green opines “John Bolton’s near-600-page tome is the most damning written account by a Trump administration alumnus, the one that stands to haunt the president come November.”
It’s time for John Oliver to hit the big red button, Bolton has President Trump dead to rights; there is no way that he can survive this.
If it seems as if we have heard all of this before, it is because we have. Since even before the 2016 election, the president has shown an uncanny – and unerring – ability to dodge scandals and keep his ship afloat. The Access Hollywood recording in which soon-to-be-president Trump boasted of grabbing women “by the pussy” should have been just the thing to derail his campaign.
It had happened before, of course. The revelation in 1972 that Democratic vice-presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton has been treated with electroconvulsive therapy for depression (then, a common treatment) a decade before made him political poison. George McGovern dropped him from the ticket within a week. Monkey Business sunk Gary Hart’s 1988 campaign, and the questions around Chappaquiddick ensured that Ted Kennedy’s name would never appear on a presidential ballot.
But Trump? Not a scratch.
Since inauguration day in 2017, the media, the president’s foes and, let’s face it, anyone with more than a modicum of decency, has caught their breath with every one of the president’s scandals, defeats, and missteps, expecting this to be the one that does it, this will be the wound that he cannot endure… only to resignedly exhale when he sails through it again like a corpulent Neo in a hail of Agent Smith’s bullets. The only president in American history with anything like President Trump’s ability to cheat the hangman was Ronald Reagan, the Teflon President, only the current president’s talents are far more prodigious. Scandals didn’t stick to Reagan, but they never even hit Trump.
The revelations of the president’s dalliances with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal just sailed past, even when it came out that the hush money payments, in themselves evidence of mens rea, violated electoral law. His friends in the GOP just shrugged – boys will be boys, and all that – and his deeply-devout Christofascist supporters cheered louder at his rallies. The 25 sexual misconduct allegations, each one of them far more serious than the offense that cost Al Franken his Senate seat, seem entirely beside the point.
The president has not been harmed by his abject stupidity when staring directly into a solar eclipse, refusing to wear a face covering during the Pandemic or – remember this one? – proposing to use nuclear weapons against hurricanes. The administration’s revolving door of incompetence has left nary a scratch. And unapologetic bigotry and white nationalism, which have been embodied in the White House’s immigration policies and President Trump’s blithely racist rhetoric, haven’t left a mark. You would think that an American president who publicly celebrated the legacy of racist traitors, who “complimented” Jewish entrepreneurs with an antisemitic libel – “you’re all brutal killers, not nice people at all” – and praised neo-Nazi terrorists as “nice people” might have some problems. But no.
There isn’t even any trouble when the corruption and misconduct of President Trump, his advisors, and his family are clearly documented, investigated and revealed to the public. As disappointing as Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation conclusions might have been, the evidence presented in the report – even in the highly-redacted version released to the public – was hardly a “nothingburger.” The Ukraine scandal was as clear a “high crime and misdemeanor” as anyone could imagine, and it was laid-out in clear, explicit detail and corroborated by the president’s own words. Yet, though he was impeached in the House of Representatives, President Trump was acquitted by the Senate. He dodged the bullet again, only this time he could claim to be an innocent man persecuted by his enemies.
After all of that, it beggars the imagination that the revelations in Bolton’s book will be any different. While one might rationally hope that the vast public brief against President Trump’s intelligence, competency, morality, ethics, and honesty, of which The Room Where It Happened is just the latest evidence, would finally end his authoritarian kleptocracy. It is, in truth, too much to hope for.
The litany of President Trump’s hateful rhetoric, blunders, and scandals has had virtually no effect on his popular support. Every few weeks for the last three and a half years, some news outlet or poll has published an excited or hopeful (or both) report that the president’s approval ratings were finally in freefall. In April, Gallup reported that his support had slipped to 44 percent, down from a recent of high of 45.8 percent just a week before. Politico reported that the president’s bumbling handling of the Pandemic was finally biting back. There was, it seemed, cause for celebration.
Unfortunately, a slide of two percent support is not really indicative of anything in a poll with a margin of error of plus or minus three percent. The drop seemed more significant in the context of Gallup, Rasmussen, and Zogby surveys in the middle of March that showed the president’s support at or near 50 percent, but that was a two-day surge, with more consistent approval ratings of about 44 percent for weeks before and after.
Mark Twain famously observed that there “are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and we could leave it at that, but a longer view of the president’s approval rating reveals a darker truth: that his support is rock-solid, no matter what he does. President Trump’s overall approval rating has remained consistently within 38 and 44 percent for almost his entire term. Compared to the ratings of every president since Harry Truman, in fact, President Trump’s approval resembles nothing so much as a straight line. While you might think that a rational human being who voted for him in 2016 might have cause to interrogate or doubt their continued support, that has simply not happened, and it is unreasonable at this point to think that it ever will.
Politics is not rational, not anywhere or at any time, but particularly not in America, and not at this time in history. We choose our elected representatives and leaders, and our political affiliations less through rational thought and calculation than by gut feelings and emotional judgment. Policies are important, but usually only as the post facto rational justification of a decision already made, or an allegiance already committed. The details of just how a program or policy will address a problem, how it will work, how much it will cost are secondary to how it resonates in our sense of self – who we want to be – and sense of justice or morality – how we want the world to be, writ large.
The fashionable term for this is “confirmation bias” – we accept as truth what we already believe and feel emotionally – but it is better understood as ideology – the “common sense” knowledge that follows from a premise or idea that we accept as irrefutable truth. And the ideology of President Trump’s solid base of supporters is premised on white supremacy, the idea that race is a biological and evolutionary truth, and that the white race or, more specifically, white, Christian Americans of European descent, are superior to and more evolved than all others. Everything that they believe, from their religion to their political choices and commitments follows from that.
If evolution has endowed the white race with superior gifts, including prerogative to rule, then why, 38 to 44 percent of Americans ask, are they not the undisputed leaders of what they think of as a their society? If they have genius and abilities supposedly superior to the inferior races, then why have they suffered economic woes equal to everyone else? The only logical answer is that the state – in their terms, the “Deep State” – which, in theory, recognizes civil rights and demands equality before the law, is holding them down like a population of Harrison Bergerons.
President Trump’s disdain for the restraints of law, humanity, and common decency are thus not flaws, but features. He is proof to his followers that the Constitution, so long revered as a sacred document of the Social Contract, is just a piece of paper. Its guarantees of equality are thus only provisional rhetoric that a great man, unconstrained by scruples or respectability, can sweep aside. He is the embodiment of the white masses’ deepest desires and fondest hopes, and that he keeps getting away with it against the impotent bleating of the libtards and the spiteful envy of turncoats like Bolton is only more evidence that might makes right.
The thing that we miss when we focus our political energies on President Trump is that it is not about him at all. We cannot expect a new revelation, investigation, or tell-all memoir to bring him down; his failures and offenses cannot undermine him because his supporters do not believe that he can be undermined. And because he pays no price in political support, those members of the Republican Party who could withdraw their protection or loyalty see no margin in doing so. President Trump’s support is solid, so he is safe.
If the last three and a half years have revealed anything, it is that President Trump is unsinkable as long as he is buoyed by the 38 to 44 percent of Americans who voted him into office in 2016, who will never desert him, and who can never be swayed by reason. Our battle is with them, and we will not win it in the media or in the bookstores, but only at the ballot box and, if need be, in the streets.