(Next issue of Insights from Inside the Bunker will be November 12—just after Election Day. I may write about non-political issues in the interim, but the current avalanche of senseless political rhetoric drowns out all voices, whether serious or satirical.)
How Will a New Unpopular President from Either Party Affect US?
Media people continually remind us that the 2016 election cycle is different from any that we have ever seen. Repeating that mantra, however, does little to project our future beyond November 8. On that day, we will see one of the two most disliked politicians in recent memory declared a winner and the next President of the United States.
Along with a powerful and difficult position, every President enters a relationship with the public that is somewhat like a marriage. To extend the marriage metaphor, we can think of the media as that noisy friend who fixes someone up to date a person that he or she doesn’t especially like and continually praises that “significant other” until the couple agrees to marry. Early in the marriage, the bride and groom try to see only the positive parts of the relationship. But often, a slow, downward trajectory begins, punctuated by temporary uplifting moments, and an equal number of low points. After a few years, one or both of these people may have had enough and dreams of better opportunities.
In most marriages, both parties enter with attitudes that are at least somewhat optimistic, if not euphoric. In the same way, a new President usually enters his or her new relationship with positive feelings and high public support. But on January 20, 2017, the new President’s inauguration day, it will be difficult or impossible, to begin a Presidency with optimism. Considering the negative ratings for both candidates, the public is likely to consider the new President to be either an untrustworthy liar or a dangerous race-baiter.
Though rocky at times, President Obama’s relationship with America provides a much more favorable comparison. After inauguration in January 2009, his overall approval rating was a high 67 percent. America loved him. He was young, looked good, sounded good, was smart, and had a beautiful family. The honeymoon had begun. By September, however, his rating had dropped to about 50 percent. A year later, the rating had dropped to the low forties, with the saga of Obamacare, and in 2012, the perceived dishonesty about Benghazi. But he beat Mitt Romney in 2012 and his rating popped back up to 53 percent. Americans like a winner. Nevertheless, the rating drifted down to the low forties again and was up-and-down for the next year or two. In the past few months, it has risen slowly back up over fifty percent. This apparent improvement may be due to voters comparing him to the current two candidates to succeed him. (“Maybe he wasn’t as bad as the next President will be!”)
But what would his approval rating have been if his tenure had begun with a rating of only 40 percent instead of 67 percent? If the rating had receded at the same rate, he might have ended his presidency at 25 percent or even lower.
A President with a public approval rating that fluctuates between 40 and 25 percent will not be able to govern effectively. For example, Congress would be unlikely to implement tax cuts or capital spending for any major initiatives. The media would crush every decision on nightly newscasts. Muckrakers would “pile on,” dig up trivial negatives and blow them up to become major stories every day.
Can either candidate escape that fate if he or she wins the Presidency? It will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for President Hillary Clinton to gain broad public support and become an effective leader. To use the marriage metaphor again, once a spouse has lied about big things, he or she is never trusted again. Certainly, President Clinton would always have many middle-aged or older women on her side since she represents a symbolic victory for women who suffered from various inequities on past years. But that group is not large enough to sustain broad popularity.
As for President Trump, he too would find governing nearly impossible. He would have to overcome an image of racism against Hispanics and Muslims, by demonstrating positive actions. If he does that, however, he might lose his core constituency of Caucasian men who adhere to his rants against political correctness. And he would have to ignore sideshows of fighting anyone who criticizes him. He hasn’t yet demonstrated that he can resist the urge to fight back.
Is America at a crossroads where we need to change the way we elect Presidents? In the words of the great Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
The Curious Case of Bernie Sanders
Has anyone seen Bernie lately? No one remembers seeing him in the days before his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. An hour after his speech, Bernie was apparently gone, and no one has seen him since. There have been a few “official statements” purportedly from Senator Sanders. And there have been a few video clips released by the DNC. No one knows, however, if the videos are current.
Bernie’s whereabouts seemed to be a mystery, until yesterday. The only clue was the “hostage video” tone of his convention speech. Many of his supporters believe he spoke under pressure.
One enterprising investigative reporter found Bernie, in an undisclosed hotel room, somewhere in the Philadelphia area. A strong Bernie supporter, she located the hotel and learned the room number from a hotel employee she had met at a “Feel the Bern” rally.
Knocking on the door of Bernie’s hotel room, she heard a raspy voice whisper. “Is that you, Jane?” asked Bernie, hoping to see his wife.
“No, I’m not Jane,” the reporter answered, “I’m one of your loyal followers who would like to chat with you.”
A grim-faced Sanders opened the door and invited the reporter to come in.
“What happened, Bernie,” she asked incredulously. “You look like a victim of a mugging. Why are you locked up here?”
Sanders vacillated for a few moments, speaking in uncharacteristic non-answers. Then he dropped all pretense and told his story.
“Everything was fine as the Convention opened,” he began. “I was here in my room when two thugs from the DNC knocked and said they had a message from the Chairwoman. I let them in, and they immediately became violent. One twisted my arm painfully behind my back. The other grabbed my eyeglasses from my face and smashed the lenses against that table.
“In the next few minutes, they seemed to calm down and said they wanted to chat and to have a drink with me. We sat down at the table, and one of them took liquor bottle miniatures from the mini bar and mixed a drink for each of us.
“We then had our so-called chat, which was just a series of demands and threats. They wanted me to endorse Hillary and apologize to the DNC. Of course, I resisted. So they stood up in unison and said it’s time for “Plan B.” They threw me on the bed, handcuffed and leg-cuffed me.
“They must have known that I’m practically blind without my glasses, but they also lowered the lights. As they left, I know others entered the room, but everything was a vague blur. I then became so sleepy, that I couldn’t stay awake. They must have put something into that drink I sipped. In a semi-conscious state I was aware of someone lying on top of me, and saw a photo flash, before everything went dark.
“When I awoke the next morning, my clothes were gone. I lay there helplessly, until the two thugs came back, uncuffed me, and offered me a cup of coffee. Now they seemed friendly until they showed me photos of myself with a strange woman, whose face turned away from the camera. I knew I hadn’t taken part in anything untoward. The pictures had to be photoshopped. But I did notice a faint scent of strange perfume and sweat.
“The two men told me that these pictures would be all over social media if I didn’t cooperate. They handed me an envelope containing that surrender speech I gave at the convention and promised to escort me to and from the speaker’s platform. And they informed me that I would remain in this room for the next two weeks.
“I complied with their orders, still thinking of how I could escape from this situation. Then they gave me a new pair of eyeglasses, and I looked at the pictures, especially at the unclothed woman, who I now recognized. I was immediately sickened and nearly vomited. I couldn’t believe it! It was THAT WOMAN!! She’s a female Bill Cosby! And I thought she only rigged elections!