Gaming out the Iowa caucuses
From Forbes, by John Zogby
As of this writing, President Donald Trump’s average approval rating is 45% for the past week, including a Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll which scores him at 51%. It enrages liberals who are too myopic and one-dimensional to see deep down the real source of his support base. Conservatives will cheer the rightward thrust of American voters and their demand for tax cuts, gun rights, school choice, and tough talk on the world stage. Liberals will rely on a much simpler set of explanations – too many white middle class voters are ill-informed, ignorant, and deplorable in their values to really understand this authoritarian. And pundits, who have downgraded their role from adversarial to oppositional, have simply reduced their credibility by seeing only through the eyes of being victims. They are all wrong.
Most folks are a complicated mix of conservative and liberal, communitarian and libertarian, practical and utopian – and schooled at turning off their television, leaving their wet newspapers in the driveway, and falling asleep early after a day’s work to be locked in one way or the other. But more than ideas, Americans have sensibilities and sensitivities and they – all of us – sift through life by absorbing stories. And even those who do not like nor approve of the behavior of the President are even more distrustful of an elite that they feel have let them down. The press has done a wonderful job of investigating and reporting on government, political, ecclesiastical, not-for-profit and corporate corruption that the public truly gets it. No one is to be really trusted, including a press that has fallen prey to ugly scandals. (Not even pollsters!) So there is something to be said of someone who has the capacity to use a bully pulpit to raise some of the worst failings and hypocrisies of institutions who are already crumbling in public trust.
Mr. Trump is not the hero but the current spokesman for those who have been hurt, bullied, humiliated, cheated, ridiculed, abandoned, just plain screwed. Posing as a narcissist – and doing a mighty good job of that – he is really the poor little rich kid who inherited a fortune, parlayed by hook or by crook that money into one construction bid and one licensing arrangement after another to a lot more wealth – but has never achieved the prestige and respect he craves. Not even a winning election can assuage the pain he suffers by being disrespected by media and political opponents.
Ironically, this is Mr. Trump’s leveling experience which all successful American Presidents have had to suffer in order to be respected. Patricians like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy had their wheelchair and PT-109. Richard Nixon was an encyclopedia of hurts and disses. Bill Clinton watched then acted as his mother was abused and Barack Obama was of mixed race, raised by a single mom, and drifted on the periphery of mainstream adolescent and young adult life. George W. Bush, the cat with the silver spoon, had to come to grips with his business failures, alcoholism, self-doubts, and always being second fiddle to his favored brother Jeb.
Let’s not get bogged down in seeing historical figures and issues in simplistic terms. We are very complicated human beings and are driven as much by personal stories as we can be by the merits and values of an issue. Anyone who has ever suffered from failure or humiliation, missed paychecks or their mortgage payment, been abused by a parent or mate, and so knows that that experience will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It is one of the reasons why we can bond with people who can express those hurts either by lifting our spirits or metaphorically punching the bags of who may symbolize authority figures. Make no mistake about it, President Trump is an imperfect vessel. He appeals to our darker side and at times poses a danger to himself and the nation. But we can’t dismiss the fact that he still has some broad and intense appeal.
I know that simplistic explanations that miss the boat can lead to wrong strategies and defeat. Mr. Trump had the good fortune to run against someone who refused to share any real personal stories. But 2020 comes very soon and the question is who can express real personal pain and turn into a compelling message of personal triumph, a reason to hope, and issues that call to our better angels? More about that later.