Only terrorism can save Trump
Trump is trending down and his position becoming untenable. What could save him now?
American politics at the moment is like watching a fascinating cross between Dallas, Game of Thrones, and Dumber & Dumber. The scriptwriters got together, smoked a few joints and decided every crazy idea would be accepted. “How about we give the president orange hair, get his opinions from Fox news, tweet absurd comments from an insecure phone, fire the person investigating him and invite the Russians into the oval office the next day, etc”. While making for compelling viewing, his support is waning even in some Fox news commentary, though Republicans representatives are mostly still supportive. Trump’s public approval ratings has now dipped below 40%, as shown in this great page on fivethirtyeight.com
To note; below 40% approval, it becomes almost impossible to get re-elected. Only Truman managed to get re-elected having dipped to a low of 33%.
Given the compounding problems, instability in his team, and the high propensity for Trump to screw up, one would assume it will only get worse. So what could save him now? Looking at the comparative historical approval ratings of US presidents, there is one in particular that stands out (in yellow below).
The highest approval of all time, and the biggest jump happened in September 2001 for George Bush. The 9 11 death toll was large, the images shocking, and the response was strong.
So at least on past data, it looks like a big and deadly attack is what it would take to propel Trump to an unimpeachable approval rating.
The next question for conspiracy theorists, looking to the sinister influence of Steve Bannon and his terrifying world view, is whether Trump would engineer something to facilitate it? They do seem to have managed to change the discourse on North Korea in the last few weeks, moving it up in people’s minds and “preparing” a compelling narrative for war. But let’s leave that to the theorists for now.
What is sure is that autocrats, dictators and oligarchs the world over use fear and the perception of an existential threat to control public opinion, undermine a country’s institutions and solidify their power. Putin using mysterious bombings across the country, Erdogan using both the Gülen movement and the Kurds, Hitler using the Reichstag fire… the list is long. Trump tried hard to put terrorism in the spotlight, even making up attacks and claiming they were under-reported, and even though most terrorism in the US is from domestic, normally white “patriots” (US resources to fight terrorism have been shifted almost entirely to foreign terrorism these days)
Responses to terrorism are always disproportionate, and let’s just hope nothing significant happens during Trump’s presidency. And if it does, that the institutions are strong enough to resist any dictatorial tendencies he may have. Meanwhile, US politics makes for cringe-worthy and compelling viewing.