Trump has managed to unify America — against him
BERKELEY — Donald Trump is on the verge of accomplishing what no American president has ever achieved — a truly multiracial, multi-class, bipartisan political coalition so encompassing that it could realign U.S. politics for years to come.
Unfortunately for Trump, that coalition has come into existence to prevent him from having another term in office.
Start with race. Rather than fuel his base, Trump’s hostility toward people protesting the police killing of George Floyd and systemic racism has pulled millions of white Americans closer to black Americans. More than half of whites now say they agree with the ideas expressed by the Black Lives Matter movement, and more white people support than oppose protests against police brutality. To a remarkable degree, the protests themselves have been biracial.
As John Lewis, the great civil rights hero who died on Friday, said last month near where Trump and Attorney General William Barr had set federal police in riot gear and wielding tear gas on peaceful protesters, “Mr. President, the American people … have a right to protest in a peaceful, orderly, nonviolent fashion. You cannot stop the people with all of the forces that you may have at your command.”
Even many former Trump voters are appalled by Trump’s racism, as well as his overall moral squalor. According to a recent New York Times/Sienna College poll, more than 80 percent of people who voted for Trump in 2016 but won’t back him again in 2020 think he “doesn’t behave the way a president ought to act” — a view shared by 75 percent of registered voters across battleground states, which will make all the difference in November.
A second big unifier has been Trump’s attacks on our system of government. Americans don’t particularly like or trust government, but almost all feel some loyalty toward the Constitution and the principle that no person is above the law.
Trump’s politicization of the Justice Department, attacks on the rule of law, requests to other nations to help dig up dirt on his political opponents, and evident love of dictators (especially Vladimir Putin) have played badly even among diehard conservatives.
Refugees from the pre-Trump GOP along with “Never Trumper” Republicans who rejected him from the start are teaming up with groups such as Republican Voters Against Trump, Republicans for the Rule of Law, the Lincoln Project and 43 Alumni for Biden, which comprises former officials of George W Bush’s (the 43rd president) administration. The Lincoln Project has produced dozens of hard-hitting anti-Trump ads, many running on Fox News.
The third big unifier has been Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic. Many who might have forgiven his personality defects and authoritarian impulses can’t abide his bungling of a public health crisis that threatens their lives and loved ones.
In a poll released last week, 62 percent said Trump was “hurting rather than helping” efforts to combat COVID-19. Fully 78 percent of those who supported him in 2016 but won’t vote for him again disapprove of his handling of the pandemic. Voters in swing states like Texas, Florida and Arizona — now feeling the brunt of the virus — are telling pollsters they won’t vote for Trump.
Although the reasons for joining the anti-Trump coalition have little to do with Joe Biden, Trump’s presumed challenger, the Democrat might still become a transformational president. That’s less because of his inherent skills than because Trump has readied America for transformation.
The tempting analogy is to the election of 1932, in the midst of another set of crises. The public barely knew Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom critics called an aristocrat without a coherent theory of how to end the Great Depression. But after four years of Herbert Hoover, America was so desperate for coherent leadership it was eager to support FDR and follow wherever he led.
There are still more than 100 days until Election Day, and many things could derail the emerging anti-Trump coalition: impediments to voting during the pandemic, foreign hacking into election machines, Republican efforts to suppress votes, quirks of the Electoral College, Trumpian dirty tricks, and his likely challenge to any electoral loss.
Yet even now, the breadth of the anti-Trump coalition is a remarkable testament to Donald Trump’s capacity to inspire disgust.
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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” He blogs at www.robertreich.org.