OK, Doomer. Can Trump stop himself becoming a ‘prophet of doom’?
Donald Trump berates the ‘doom mongers’, but to get re-elected, he could become one.
One of the things that makes Trump’s presidency so dangerous and unpredictable is his relationship with the truth. The amount of time he has been unfaithful to facts now exceeds 16,000, and both commentators and voters alike are exhausted. Donald Trump lies is no longer news. Going into the 2020 election, it is now more of a question about what type of lies the President tells.
This was never more true than in last week’s State of the Union speech. Of course, the measure of an effective speech is no longer how closely it resembles to truth, but how politically expedient it is. And that is the real task for Trump this election: Will he continue to boast about his ‘achievements’, or will he too become a ‘prophet of doom’, warning people of the dangers of not re-electing him?
Earlier this year, Trump berated the so-called ‘prophets’ but these are people who have helped the President more than he probably realises.
Dependent on what side of the political aisle you are on, Trump has done untold damage to the Presidency and the very crux of government. Whether that is through appointing hundreds of ‘unqualified’ judges, or gutting budgets that look at climate change and fund research and development for alternative energy, the prognosis is bad. The sun still rises, however. People — mostly — still have their jobs. Cars run on the roads; airplanes fly in the sky. Paychecks get put into bank accounts.
Compared this to the picture many commentators were pitching before the 2016 election. There was talk of Trump coming into the Oval Office and signing executive orders on Day One, erasing almost all of the Obama years in thirty seconds. Aside from politics, President Trump would destroy the world, they said. No experience, no knowledge of government, and no desire to learn. While it is doubtful that Trump has developed his understanding of policy and government, the apocalyptic predictions of some have not been realised.
Voters recognise the disconnect between the predictions and the reality, but don’t view it is a simple miss-judgement. Instead it’s something more insidious. They feel lied to; deliberately deceived by a class of people who do not have their interests at heart. A class of people that insults voters’ intelligence through fear tactics.
And we can see the results. For example, recent Gallup polling showed Trump had a 49% favorability rating, the highest he’s ever had. It also showed his support amongst Independents up five points (42%) and that two thirds of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, up six points from November. All this makes any future doom mongering about Trump’s possible second term much less impactful.
There is a feeling, then, that most voters simply do not believe the prophets of doom. Trump has so far been a winner of this trend, without himself being able to foreshadow it. For example, there are several reports of just how surprised Donald Trump’s team were they found out they won the 2016 election. One of my favourites stories comes from Michael Lewis where he claims that shortly after Pennsylvania was called, Mike Pence’s wife refused to kiss him, saying “You got what you wanted, Mike. Now leave me alone”.
This time, Trump has his own record to run on, and the question remains how disciplined he can be in maintaining his anti-Doomer approach.
In terms of exercising influence, Trump has a history of threatening behaviour, but it isn’t normally directed at this supporters, as he seeks to foster a relationship of togetherness — even cultishness. Instead he threatens economic tariffs or military retaliation towards foreign nations, or political repercussions to his domestic rivals and while we have seen some of this language creep into his rallies— ‘your 401(k) will go down the tubes’ — so far the President has preferred to tout his accomplishments instead of threaten the alternative.
Donald Trump conjures a feeling amongst his supporters that he is one of them, an ally, a friend, even, despite his background being the very antithesis of many of his supporters’. But when things begin to get difficult later this year, and the President feels like his chances may be dwindling, does he present the vision of State of the Union? Or does his embrace ‘doom mongers’ and threaten his supporters?