By Nick Gier
Trump is normalizing all this; he is, to borrow
a phrase, “defining deviancy down.”
—Bret Stephens, conservative columnist
Disorder, chaos, instability, uncertainty, intemperate
statements are not conservative virtues in my opinion.
—GOP Congressman Charlie Dent
These are soulless people working for a soulless president.
—Jennifer Rubin, conservative columnist
When Barack Obama left office in January 2017, his approval rating, according to the Gallup Poll, was 57 percent. All the polling agencies have tracked Donald Trump’s approval and the results range from the mid-30s to low 40s. In a late March 2018 poll by CNN, 42 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s performance while 54 percent disapproved.
Obama: Most Admired in America; Second Most in World
A YouGov poll recently asked people which living American they admired the most. Obama was on top with 24 percent, Trump was a distant second at 10.7 percent, just ahead of Billy Graham at 7.7 percent. (The polling was finished just before Graham’s death.) A CNN/ORC poll just after the election found that 66 percent did not believe that Trump was an admirable person.
YouGov also surveyed 37,000 people in 35 nations, and found that Bill Gates was most admired, followed by Obama, movie star Jackie Chan, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Pope Francis was in 16th place and Trump was 17th. Obama ranked far ahead of Trump in every country except, you guessed it, Russia.
Michelle: Most Admired in America; Second Most in World
In the same survey, Michelle Obama was admired most by Americans, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton. Melania Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders tied for 9th place. A 2014 survey showed that at 24 percent Michelle Obama was the third most admired First Lady behind Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton who tied for first at 27 percent.
Around the world, the YouGov poll revealed that Angelina Jolie came in first as most admired, followed by Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Queen Elizabeth, and Hillary Clinton. Hillary haters appear to be a very small minority.
Obama’s Economic Achievements
What is the reason for Barack Obama’s popularity? In January 2018 pollsters at Quinnipiac University found that 66 percent of Americans said that the nation’s economy was “excellent” or “good,” the highest number since Quinnipiac asked the question in 2001. Significantly, 50 percent gave credit to Obama for this achievement, and only 40 said that Trump was responsible. Just 37 percent thought that Trump’s policies were helping the economy.
There are good reasons for Americans to have this opinion. Coming out of the Great Recession, Obama brought down the unemployment rate from a high of 7.8 percent to 4.6 percent. It is now at 3.9 percent, but primarily because 250,000 people have left the labor force.
During Obama’s 8 years, the economy, facing great difficulties, grew at a modest rate of 2.2 percent. Trump has managed only 2.3 percent during his first year. Trump has an Obama wind at his back, and a majority of Americans are smart enough to see this.
Will the “King of Debt” Embrace GOP Deficits?
During his term in office, Obama brought down the budget deficit from a high of 10 percent to 3.5 percent. With the GOP tax cuts and insufficient growth, the rate has climbed to 4.6 percent, and $1 trillion annual deficits are forecast for the years to come. For the first quarter of this year, the Treasury Department has borrowed a record $488 billion to keep the government running.
In October 2017, Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he was the “king of debt,” and he ignorantly thought that the nation could just declare bankruptcy, just as he did six times as a corrupt real estate developer. Will the Debt King now embrace the trillions of dollars that will be added to the current $22 trillion for the indefinite future?
It is Character, not the Economy
While I think many people may readily acknowledge Obama’s economic achievements, I don’t think that is the reason why they admire Michelle and him so much. I believe that it is a matter of character. As Michelle put it so well: “When they go low, we go high.” Obama’s comment about red state voters “clinging to guns and religion” was the exception to the rule.
President Historians Praise Obama’s “Moral Authority”
A 2017 C-Span survey of 91 presidential historians ranked Obama 12th out of all presidents. Abraham Lincoln was first, Franklin D. Roosevelt third, John F. Kennedy 8th, Ronald Reagan 9th, and Bill Clinton 15th. Significantly, it was Obama’s moral authority that impressed them most, citing failures with Congress and foreign affairs as weaknesses.
Obama: Aloof, Cool, and Gay Philanderer?
Obama’s critics have called him aloof and cool, but these are character traits that one would want in a president, as opposed to the impulsive and arrogant man who now disgraces the office. The charge that he is an egoist and lacks humility is not supported by the facts.
I challenge these critics to read Dreams from My Father, especially his choice to leave his corner office at a New York City firm to become a low paid community organizer in Chicago. There his preconceived notions were challenged daily, and he bowed to the wisdom of seasoned black clergy and activists.
Tabloid headlines screamed about Obama’s infidelity and secret gay life, but there was never any credible evidence to support either. By any measure, the Obamas were a model family in the White House, and as well a couple to emulate around the world.
In contrast, the Trumps sleep in separate bedrooms and one longtime friend told reporters that “they spend very little to no time together.” Trump forgot to give her a birthday present and he neglected to mention Melania in his tepid Mother’s Day address. Listen to Obama’s tribute to mothers as an instructive contrast.
The Obamas have Endured Savage Attacks
The Obamas have endured savage attacks with dignity and restraint. Trump started the lie that Barack was born in Kenya, and 43 percent of Republicans still believe that this baptized Christian is a secret Muslim. In 2016 the Washington Post listed 22 insults to Michelle, the most egregious being “she is an ape in high heels” and has a “gorilla face.” Can any of you imagine Trump staying silent in the face of charges such as these?
Trump: Worst Liar in Political History
When we think of honesty as a character trait, the contrast with Trump is not only stark and troubling in comparison to Obama, but also any politician in living memory. The Washington Post has been keeping a detailed list of Trump’s falsehoods and misleading statements, and the total is now over 3,000.
At the beginning of his term, Trump was lying five times a day, but that rate has gone up to nine times a day. Yes, it is lying, because when confronted, he, with full intention, continues to repeat false statements. Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper declares that “Trump’s relationship with the truth is Orwellian.”
Trump’s Statements: False 68 percent of the Time
The most reliable comparative measure of truth telling is found at Politifact.com. There a careful analysis of Trump statements has found that 68 percent are false, mostly false, or pants on fire. At 80, he has a record number of the latter, four times more than Mitt Romney, his closest competitor. In contrast, Obama’s statements are in the false categories only 26 percent of the time, with only 9 pants on fire.
Trump’s Character Traits: Very Low Ratings
A January 2018 Quinnipiac poll was the most detailed survey of Trump’s character traits. With regard to the president being a role model for children, 90 percent of respondents believed that is was important, but just 29 percent thought that Trump qualified for this important role.
This same survey found that only 33 percent believed that Trump provided the nation with moral leadership; only 35 percent think he is honest; just 40 percent said that he cared about average Americans; a mere 30 percent maintained that he was level-headed; and only 34 percent claimed that he shared their values.
Trump’s Corrupt Administration
The Obama administration was one of least corrupt in history, tied with Jimmy Carter’s, according to one analyst. I contend that this achievement was a reflection of Obama’s character, and the intelligent and deliberate way that he ran his administration. The Republicans laid on many charges, most unfounded, but key is that no Obama official was ever convicted of a crime.
It will be difficult to match the Reagan administration on this criterion with 14 officials indicted and 11 convicted for the Iran-Contra affair. Only one Trump cabinet member (Mike Flynn) and three advisers have been indicted, but there will no doubt be many more by the end of his term.
Trump may indeed have the record for the number of people (20 so far) who have resigned or have been fired. (And this in only after 16 months!) I would submit that the main reason for this is Trump’s character flaws, primarily his arrogance in not taking advice, his failure to be patient and vetting people properly, and a perverse idea of loyalty that forces them to be Yes Men.
A Conservative Speaks Out: “Character Doesn’t Count”
In a hard-hitting column in The New York Times, conservative Bret Stephens declares that “Trump is empowering a conservative political culture that celebrates everything that patriotic Americans should fear: the cult of strength, open disdain for truthfulness, violent contempt for the press, hostility toward high culture, and other types of ‘elitism.’”
Stephens regrets to announce the GOP’s new mottos: “Character Doesn’t Count” and “Virtue Doesn’t Matter.” He contends that it is important to “pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance, and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.”
GOP Congressman: Civility is Essential
Former Congressman Charles Djou has resigned his membership in the Republican Party. In his resignation letter, Djou gives his reasons: “Civility is an inner trait of true character. Trump’s belittling of Sen. Jeff Flake and immature name-calling of Sen. Bob Corker reflect a weakness of character. Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories, such as his assertion that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK, is disturbing.”
How much longer will Autocrat Donald Trump drag his party into the gutter, and much longer can the American Republic stand his attacks on the judiciary, the press, the CIA, and the FBI, one of the most respected national police agencies in the world?
Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Contact him at [email protected]