Considering he’s a new president, a historically large percentage of the American people think Donald Trump sucks at his job. That’s what his approval ratings make clear. In fact, neither Barack Obama nor Bill Clinton (nor Ronald Reagan for that matter) were ever as unpopular over their eight years as Trump is now, and it’s still the spring of his first. Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford’s numbers never got this low either, yet both of them got bounced after one term. Buyer’s remorse? This is more like buyer’s vomit-stained hangover.
While it’s easy to chuckle at this clever crocodile graphic, I can honestly say that the primary emotion I have about popular vote loser Trump's unpopularity is anger. Why? Because I’m angry at the people who voted to put this man in the White House, and yet now disapprove of the job he’s doing. What kind of president, exactly, did they think they were voting for last November?
There’s no way to know what the people who voted for Trump but now disapprove of his job performance were thinking on Election Day. The parallels aren’t perfect, but it’s easy to think of this. We can, however, gain some idea of the expectations they had by looking at one group of Trump voters who are more likely to disapprove of his job performance than the average, partisan Republican: the ones who voted for Barack Obama in 2012.
More than 9 percent of Trump voters pulled the lever for Obama four years earlier, according to a study that came out this past week. It’s disheartening to note that Trump got almost twice as high a percentage of Obama voters compared to Clinton-Romney voters. Separately, a Washington Post poll found that almost 20 percent of Trump voters also held a positive opinion of Obama’s job performance on Election Day.
Another survey gives us some important clues as to what these voters were expecting, at least in terms of economic policy. Priorities USA interviewed 800 people who voted for Obama and who either stayed home or went for Trump in 2016. Of the Obama-Trump voters, only 21 percent expected Trump to enact laws and policies that would help the wealthy, while 77 percent expressed a belief that he’d either focus on the concerns of the middle class or seek to equally benefit Americans of all economic levels. Facepalm.
On the other hand, almost twice as many, i.e., 40 percent of them, expected Congressional Republicans to work on behalf of the rich, while 42 percent believed Congressional Democrats would do so. This disparity strongly suggests that Trump convinced these voters he’d be a different kind of Republican, a much more progressive one, at least in economic terms. Given that Trumpcare along with Trump’s budget and tax proposals would represent a huge shift of money from those in the middle and below to those at the very top, maybe some of these Obama-Trump voters are coming to realize that they were mistaken.
On a related note, the Priorities USA survey also found that 92 percent of people who voted for Obama in 2012 and then didn’t vote at all in 2016 thought Trump’s economic approach would benefit the rich, and 90 percent held a similar opinion about Republicans in Congress. Not getting these voters out to the polls counts as a tremendous lost opportunity given the small number of votes that were needed in order to have elected Hillary Clinton president.
The fact that more and more Americans disapprove of the Trump presidency is a good thing only to the extent that it translates into stopping him from implementing his agenda. If that happens, then yes, I’ll be very happy, because that will make America a far better, stronger, fairer, and more inclusive place than it would be if he succeeds. But I’ll still be angry at the people whose votes put him in office in the first place.
I can’t say I’ll be more angry at those who voted for Trump after having voted for Obama, and/or did so at the same time they approved of the job President Obama did, but I can say that my feelings toward them are laced with a particular kind of frustration. Clearly, many of them didn’t get the president they bargained for. I’m certainly also angry at former FBI Director James Comey, and at the Clinton campaign, each of whom bears some responsibility for the election results. But ultimate responsibility lies with the voters.
What really gets me angry is how awful and destructive the first five months of the Trump presidency have been. Separate from what he did during the campaign and as president-elect, since Inauguration Day he has been incompetent, he’s been reckless, he’s subverted democracy and the rule of law, he’s sought to divide Americans against one another on the basis of race and religion, he’s sought to deny Americans their right to control their own bodies, he’s worked against peace and in favor of suffering around the world, he’s made it harder to avoid the destruction of our planet, and he’s consistently pushed for policies that favor the economic elites of our country over the middle and working classes. Oh, and he’s under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller for having obstructed justice. While I can’t speak for those who voted for him, he has acted precisely the way I expected him to.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books).