If you believe that approval ratings measure anything reliable or important or even interesting, you might like to know that Donald Trump had the worst first month in office of any president since the dawn of approval ratings, by a wide margin.
Personally, I can’t stop checking the approval polls, every couple of days. But I’m not really sure why I or we should care, except for the possibility that they will make Trump so crazy his head will explode or he will start a war or tweet something really strange, even stranger than he already has.
In case you can overcome a similar ambivalence and want to check the numbers, political number-cruncher Nate Silver offered a smart, calm overview of the “approval” picture here.
Silver aggregates 18 polls by 16 different organizations. In just five of the 18 did Trump have more approvers than disapprovers. There is exactly one, by Rasmussen, an organization that historically produces a lot of polls more favorable to Republicans, in which Trump is approved by more than 50 percent of the electorate.
Naturally, that Rasmussen poll is the only one the president himself has publicly cited, which is further evidence of his lack of honesty or critical thinking skills. When someone can’t acknowledge negative news about himself, it’s a problem. When that person has the nuclear codes, it’s a little scary. I could write him a nice sentence in which he would acknowledge that he has work to do to convince more Americans that he is the man for the job, and then pledge to do that work by listening to them and doing his job better.
But that’s not the way Trump rolls. Why? Because he can’t stop selling, or because he thinks the audience is stupid, or perhaps because he is psychologically incapable of acknowledging or even entertaining himself the unpleasant truth of what these poll results suggest. And so he limits himself to the outlier — which itself would not look good in historical comparison to other presidents at the beginning of his term — and pretends that’s the only one.
Part of this is not his fault. Trump has excellent approval ratings among Republicans, comparable to what most presidents see from their own partisans at this point in their terms. He gets close to a zero from Democrats, however, which bespeaks the anger, fear and revulsion they feel, but which also suggests we are no longer in the era (which used to be more normal) where members of the opposite party would give a new president a chance. He also is below water among independents, which should worry him more.
But to spend any more time talking about those polls would conflict with my first thought, expressed at the top, that approval ratings far away from the next election are not worth too many pixels.
Instead, if you can stand it, I offer a small anecdote from my childhood. In the Boston area, where I spent my early years (during the Eisenhower Administration), we had a local kid show called “Big Brother Bob Emery.” (This is not a 1984 “Big Brother” reference, it’s the show biz name of a sweet avuncular old fellow who hosted a noontime show for Boston-area kids.) And Big Brother Bob Emery had a shtick: During every show he encouraged all us kids to get a glass of milk, hold it up, and they would show a picture of President Eisenhower beaming baldly from behind a translucent American flag waving in the foreground. And Big Brother Bob would announce: “A toast to the president of the United States.” And “Hail to the Chief” would play and we would drink our milk and toast to Ike. I actually did this.
My parents were Adlai Stevenson Democrats, but they were also first-generation Americans and it would never have occurred to them to tell their kids not to toast Ike just because he was not from their preferred party. They liked Ike too, even if they didn’t vote for him, and if a pollster had asked them whether they approved of him, I believe they would’ve said yes. Unfortunately, I can’t ask them, but I’m pretty sure they would join me in being a little sad that’s it’s become so hard and rare to be friendly across partisan and ideological lines.
I can’t quite believe I’ve written this sappy (but true) reminiscence, but the level of “four legs good; two legs bad” partisanship is starting to really worry me. (Now that one actually is an Orwell reference, from “Animal Farm.”)
Have a nice weekend. See if you can find someone you disagree with but whom you respect and trust enough to discuss your differences with. It’s getting harder all the time.