The Media Myth of Teflon Don

Things stick. They always stick. The result is the most unpopular presidency in modern memory.

In polling news, the big story came late Wednesday after NBC News released the results of a new Marist survey from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The takeaway was that the president is doing poorly—actually doing horribly—even in Midwest Rust Belt states, where Donald Trump has typically found his strongest base of power. (He lost Minnesota to Hillary Clinton, but only by a sliver.)
This is one poll. We should not imbue it with more importance than it deserves. But it does check a prevailing narrative, which is that nothing sticks to this president.

Remember: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's, like, incredible,” according to then-candidate Trump. That was wrong. That was always wrong. Things stick to presidents. They always stick. The result is the most unpopular presidency in modern memory.

This, of course, is not the dominant focus. The focus has been on the president’s support among Republicans, a focus that, as I mentioned, is abnormal. In the recent past, no serious journalist took seriously approval among partisans. Partisan support was a given. As in: Of course, Republicans like a GOP president. They’re Republicans.

But this isn’t a normal presidency. Before and during his campaign, Trump had dozens on dozens of contacts with a hostile foreign power that did, we now know, commit acts of cyber-warfare against the United States. Moreover, since his inauguration, the president has been making nice with the enemy, even inviting him to tea.

So it’s not unreasonable to look at Trump’s deference to Russia, and look at his popularity among Republicans—which is to say, people usually hawkish about foreign affairs and willing to pound Democrats for signs of weakness—and wonder: how can this be? The result has been story after story about how Trump, contrary to a body of evidence showing he conspired with Russia, is still popular with Republicans.

But in focusing on this story, journalists come to the conclusion that nothing sticks to Trump, and in coming to that conclusion, they inadvertently (I presume) lend credence to his image as Teflon Don. Worse, for journalists, is missing the bigger story, which is that huge majorities don’t like this president. That is the case nationally and, we can now infer, that’s the case even in the heart of Trump’s base of power.

But even that isn’t the biggest story. The story few reporters are telling, because they are busy trying to square the circle of support among Republican voters usually hawkish about foreign affairs, is about the reawakening of American participatory democracy, a reawakening led primarily by people of color and women.

Remember that for many liberals, especially elites within the leadership of the Democratic Party, the tide of American history had been on their side. The current of demographic change in the United States, in which a minority-majority awaited them in the near future, would carry them to power, and probably keep them there.

Trump’s victory changed that, God willing, for good. Politics is about power. Power is what Democrats needed to achieve their goals. Republicans understand power, and did everything they could in 2016, even if that meant turning a blind-eye to the Kremlin’s cyber-assault, to seize it. Liberals now understand what they are up against.

Consensus-building of the kind that was vogue during the Obama years paled compared to disloyal opposition unwilling to compromise but very willing (by all appearances) to conspire with Russia to maintain white minority rule. People who value reason and knowledge have nothing to offer those who’d befriend a fascist mafia state before enduring the “tyranny” of a multicultural democratic republic.

The media framing I’d like to see is not between Republican and Democrat, not even between conservative and liberal. It’s between those who would privilege group interest—in this case, the political interests of those who share a particular regional identity, white rural and probably evangelical Christian—and those who would privilege the national interest. One of these is a boon to democracy, one a bane.

Again, liberals now understand what they are up against.

God willing, for good.


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