I’m not sure the average person obsesses over James Comey, Trump’s taxes and North Korea. Last week I read a book titled “Earning the Rockies.” The author is a fellow likely once described as a neo-conservative, but some lessons of history have made Robert D. Kaplan more of a realist. The first work I ever read by him was almost a quarter century ago. A friend from South Dakota recommended Kaplan’s “Balkan Ghosts.” It described centuries of a house of horrors known as Southeastern Europe. Kaplan’s world view was tamed by the second Iraq War.
Two summers ago he climbed into his car and drove across country from east to west. His excursion for 1,500 miles mirrored a trip I made six months earlier. Much like my odyssey, he found himself a fly on the wall in local diners, pubs and convenience stores. During his stops for coffee and meals he listened to the chatter from local people. He describes in the latest book how the folks were mostly pleasant, but the author is critical because they don’t much care about what happens in Washington or around the globe. He does, to his credit, realize the interests of people in the Great Plains, Great Basin and the mountains don’t match the lifestyles of coastal elites.
Saturday I ate breakfast at a diner in rural Utah. My waitress beamed a bright smile when she saw I was wearing a Minnesota Vikings shirt. She fetched her purse and showed me her Vikings themed bank card. Then she conversed with some fellows at another table about pickup trucks. It seems her husband’s first wife was such a spendthrift his credit is awful. Buying a new truck required cash. The discussion then drifted into the merits of extended cabs and extended boxes. This might not impress a Manhattanite, but pickup trucks are a staple of mountain life.
A few weeks ago I was lunching at a diner in Gooding and the neighboring conversations were all about weather. Rain and snow and some years the lack thereof are a business concern. A guy at the next table was sharing the story of a tractor he bought at auction. He got a bargain when you consider the cost of used tractors is skyrocketing and some are bringing record prices. These are things we know matter in this corner of the world. Kaplan acknowledges the character of Americans who settled the West. It was a life-or-death struggle for many. The men and women who came here were individualists or communitarians (the LDS Church). Both groups saw government as distant, often out of touch and generally meddlesome. I believe they also have a healthy skepticism of elites, and that includes news media.
The Comey firing doesn’t faze people I meet. Bureaucrats come and go, and the FBI director didn’t appear to have many fans on the left and right. As for Trump’s taxes, it has faded from headlines as media chases the latest fire. When Trump threatens to end daily news briefings, your buddies at newspapers and TV networks fulminate about the end of the Republic. Can we note our federal Constitution neither mentions daily briefings and the release of tax forms? Our founders would’ve found the notion of a government confiscating your earnings to be anathema. Media in the early days of the United States consisted of pamphlets and broadsheets and both were filled with invective and political opinion. This idea of tradition implies longstanding behavior. Before joining a national ticket, Theodore Roosevelt served as governor of New York. When he encountered reporters outside the capitol he would strike a deal. He would announce he was going to race up the outdoor stairs and anyone who could reach the top alongside him would be granted some comments. I’ve been there. It’s a long slog. The wheezing nicotine addicts never reached the top. Today Teddy lives forever at Mt. Rushmore. The United States will survive President Trump. The news gang, however, is sure to burst a collective aneurysm.
Many of us are now old enough to remember an America of rapid and stable economic growth. We yearn for a restoration. Those people in those diners where I eat are looking for just a few things in life. Weather may be beyond political efforts but a decent future for our kids isn’t too much for asking. People want a job or maybe a better job. They want to be able to afford the tools for their trades. We could be talking about pickup trucks and tractors. They don’t want to see all their children move a thousand miles away in search of work. Who’ll take care of mom and dad in old age? Who’ll run the farm? Who’ll ensure the tradition of carving a civilization in the desert survives? This is our national mythology, and it’s far more important than whining of self-absorbed media elites. Trump has a bigger chore than pleasing pampered columnists at the New York Times.
Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice to lead. However, those of us living in flyover country have spent decades waiting for someone to recognize the old, stagnant methods aren’t working. “Action!” is what people are demanding, and in this part of the United States it means get out of the way. Trump is a man of action like Teddy Roosevelt but is also reversing much of what his predecessor started in this corner of the country. If it jump-starts a stagnant economy, reporters will be the only people who remain complaining. A writer a few weeks ago labeled flyover country a “tourist colony” for elites. This isn’t Williamsburg. We aren’t actors. We live here and make our living here.
I’m struck by something Kaplan repeated in the book. We appear disinterested in distant cities and foreign affairs but we maintain the clan mindset of America’s real builders. The Celtic peoples from Ulster and Scotland and later Southern Irish. We won’t bother you if you don’t bother us. Kaplan concludes the old clan response for transgressors is blunt. Mess with us and we’ll come and kill you! Many days I fear the country is very close to a bloodbath. The elites whistle past the graveyard.
Supporters of President Donald Trump, who is already uniquely unpopular, keep promising a comeback. Less than two weeks after Trump pushed his health-care bill through the House and slightly more than a month after Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was sworn in, Trump’s favorability numbers are getting worse.
Trump has not recovered any ground with voters. His favorability rating has slipped below 40 percent (the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows that 38 percent have a positive view of him, while 52 percent have a negative view; in the Quinnipiac poll, 36 percent approve of the job Trump is doing, while 58 percent disapprove). His signature health-care bill has putrid ratings (only 23 percent in the NBC-WSJ poll like it, while just 21 percent in Quinnipiac do). More voters disapprove (38 percent) of his firing of former FBI director James Comey than approve in the NBC-WSJ poll.
Ironically, Trump has the Hillary Clinton problem — times a thousand. Americans think he is dishonest. Quinnipiac’s poll, for example, shows voters by a margin of 61 percent to 33 percent say he is not honest. (The numbers worsened from a 58 percent/37 percent split in April.) Trump is now in the peculiar situation where he is not believed even when he wanders in the vicinity of the truth. And his own refusal to admit error requires him to double down on indefensible lies. Say, for example, that there are no White House “tapes.” Trump may refuse to admit he was bluffing, thereby forcing Congress to subpoena records and wage a legal battle over nonexistent tapes. (If there are tapes, Trump likely is in deeper trouble, having related many stories as to what people told him in private — stories that are patently ludicrous.)
In a situation like the Comey firing, the unpopular, untrustworthy president argues that the popular FBI (52 percent approve/16 percent disapprove in the NBC-WSJ poll) has engaged in some kind of witch hunt and further claims that he has been exonerated. Whom do we think the public believes? Yup: A strong plurality of Americans in the same poll say they think Trump fired Comey to shut down the Russia investigation and also say the firing raised more doubts about Trump. By large margins, other polls show that the public (not to mention Trump’s entire national security team) thinks that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the election. Majorities consider the investigation to be important enough as to justify an independent prosecutor/counsel.
Trump antagonists’ claim that Trump is “getting away” with his habitual dissembling doesn’t really hold up. While Republicans have yet to move away from reflexive partisanship, the public has rather decisively determined that the president is untrustworthy. Maybe that explains why the congressional generic poll is looking increasingly bleak for Republicans.
The Quinnipiac poll released last week found: “By a 54—38 percent margin, American voters want the Democratic Party to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the widest margin ever measured for this question in a Quinnipiac University poll, exceeding a 5 percentage point margin for Republicans in 2013.”
Interestingly, “If Democrats had won control of the U.S. Senate in the 2016 elections, the country would be in a better place than it is now, 41 percent of voters say, while 27 percent say it would be in a worse place and 30 percent say it would be the same.” Put simply, the American people are reaching the conclusion that the president is manifestly dishonest; since Republicans are unwilling to call him out or pursue evidence of wrongdoing (e.g. conflicts of interest, obstruction of justice, violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause), voters cannot be blamed for figuring that their only choice is to elect Democrats in 2018.
We Americans are faced with a problem of epic proportions. It’s not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. It’s an American problem, and we all need to stand united to deal with it. The Russians have involved themselves in our presidential elections, now, and going forward if we don’t stop them. This is not an alternate fact and it’s not fake news. It’s an honest fact that is backed by all of our 17 intelligence agencies and by common sense to anyone who is listening to real news. Some people need to get it through their head that this isn’t about Hillary. It’s about the Russians attacking the heart and soul and very backbone of our democracy. All American patriots need to stand up to the vile Russian leader named Putin.
My big question for you is this: Are you Republicans going to come to the aid of your country or are you going to keep standing around with your head in the sand and pretend that this didn’t happen? You don’t have to believe any of these truths, but just remember your country is at stake and if you don’t figure it out and join the rest of us in this fight then you are surely going to deserve what you get. Please, let’s unite as Americans and kick Putin the heck out of our elections and out of our country. Remember, the Russians are the enemy, not the Democrats.