By Jack Russell
Trump now wades through his 90th day as president. He will close his opening 100 days on April 30. From day one, the Trump presidency has merited mass resistance. Trump voters, however, deserve respectful dialog.
Since FDR’s famous first 100 days in 1933 launched the New Deal from four years of the Great Depression, we’ve thought that new presidents’ first three months and a few days defined administrations. We’ve obsessed on picks for cabinets, new priority policies and initial budget proposals. We’ve followed first big bills through fading hill honeymoons, fawned over fresh first families and heard new homilies from the bully pulpit.
No 100 days since 1933 has neared Roosevelt’s high bar, whether their architects arrived by election, death, assassination or resignation. Now comes Donald Trump, the unlucky 13th successor since FDR.
On his inauguration day, this loser by 3 million popular votes delivered a baleful dirge to a wanting crowd. On his first full day of power, the world greeted him with the largest demonstration of resistance in global history.
The courts now block his first strategic play in foreign policy. Repeal-and-replace of Obamacare, his long-promised signature move in domestic policy, crashed in the House through fractious Republican incompetence. He drags the lowest approval and highest disapproval ratings of any new president through every news cycle. He bleats tweets to deflect attention from looming investigations of probable collusion between his campaign and a meddling Kremlin kleptocracy. Not, shall we say, a smooth launch.
Trump brings the best political TV since Watergate, but lively theater should not obscure the threat. He could do great harm. Most Republicans still genuflect, but how long will their fealty last? Ryancare failed because insufficiently cruel to sate the Freedom Caucus, who do not fear Trump. Should president and speaker try again, the concessions they must make to the House hard right will drive further defections from their moderate caucus and doom their bill in the Senate. This pattern could repeat on other Trump initiatives – tax reform, immigration and infrastructure – if his administration can even mount such campaigns.
The 21st-century Republican Party remains riven by tensions some thought terminal before last November. Milking the improbable Trump presidency to fill the stolen Supreme Court seat fostered faux unity for a few months. But any major Trump policy play will now stress the Republican coalition.
If Trump’s thump slumps, Republican fractures could crack open as factions fight. Trump’s populist pitch to his white working-class and rural base may sour as his program initiatives fail or deliver the opposite of what he promised in his campaign.
In this context, what is the post-100 day prospect for Trump? And what can be done to constrain him?
Despite major blunders and unprecedented disapproval, most of Trump’s base still supports him. His approval as president has never risen to the 46 percent who voted for him. It ebbed to 35 percent at his nadir and is still 10 percent below his disapproval. But we should remember that Trump was at just 37.5 percent approval on Nov. 8, the day on which the math of the Electoral College, a quaint 18th-century constitutional provision, made him president.
Folks may disapprove of a candidate but still vote for him, it seems. This may explain much about the election of Trump and suggests ways to send him packing. I think many of the 63 million citizens who voted for Trump found him crude, ill informed and incoherent but still welcomed his disruption of a political world they feel fails and disrespects them.
Real worker wages have been flat for a generation. No Wall Street banker went to the slammer for lying us into the Great Recession while millions of ordinary folks lost their homes. Neoliberal-led globalization really has cost millions of Americans good manufacturing jobs. Government has done little to help them.
So, what to do now? Two paths open, both necessary: Resist Trump with clarity and passion, and engage Trump voters with humility and respect.
Through Indivisible, resistance on our islands builds a base and sustains a calendar of actions. Hundreds work together to engage elected officials, critique Trump policies, educate friends and get feet in the street. The next big opportunity will be the Downeast Climate March at the Bar Harbor Village Green on Saturday, April 29, from 1-3 p.m.
Grassroots organizations everywhere have new energy. Many look to the state and federal 2018 elections as a reckoning.
The harder path will be to engage Trump voters with humility and respect. Some 2,068 of us on MDI and the near islands voted for Trump last November. If you think even 10 percent of these folks drop into some “basket of deplorables,” you don’t know where you live and should think about moving away. Trump voters on our islands pay their taxes, love their kids, serve on PTA, go to church, get their vegetables at Hannaford, root for the Sox and Pats, and catch some of what we eat. I learned to read and play football with the fathers of Trump voters here. They are friends and neighbors.
I’ll bet many of our 2,068 Trump voters saw him as a buffoon but still liked his disruptions. Some of them bought Fox on Clinton and at least hoped Trump meant some of what he seemed to promise about health care and jobs. Now they must consider what Trump will mean for them. Will he bring jobs Down East? Will he be good for the Gulf of Maine? What would his repeal-and-replace of Obamacare mean for our hospital and their health care? What would Trump-proposed tax reform do to their families?
Trump voters also will ask – and progressive Trump resisters must be able to answer – what the future Democratic Party offers that could make a difference in their lives and the life-chances of their kids.
The evolving Democratic Party must stand for a vision and program that will fundamentally reweight the tax burden and grow federal investment in public goods – health care, education, infrastructure, retraining, food security, environmental protection – that matter to the majority.
If you hope many Trump voters will conclude the man they backed is screwing them over and you think you have perspective to contribute as they rethink Trump, then earn the right to talk with them as a neighbor. Know enough about what Trump programs and policies would mean in our towns and local economy to make the case against them, but listen first, for a long time, to learn why your neighbors marked that box for Trump. I plan to. I’ve got good friends who voted for Trump. I hope to earn a welcome to learn from them.
Jack Russell is a political activist and resident of Mount Desert.