President Trump is a popular figure in Niagara County. In 2016 he won here by a landslide, with 57 percent of the vote, and still has a strong and loyal following today among people who credit him with a rising stock market, low unemployment and tough talk at home and abroad.
This is not, however, how the rest of the country sees Mr. Trump. National polls consistently report that only a third of the nation approves of his presidency. More than half of the nation disapproves, deeply. Never since such polling began has a President been less popular at the one-year mark, not even close.
I understand why so many people here supported Mr. Trump’s election. In a county of working people facing real challenges, he promised to shake things up, to shed political correctness, and to be a champion of the little guy – as opposed to Hilary Clinton, who spent a career making herself inseparable from the political and economic establishment. His blunt style expressed your anger. But elsewhere in the nation others are baffled. “Who are these people who support Trump?” they ask. “What are they thinking?”
So as we mark the first year of Trump’s presidency, that is the question I’d like to ask local supporters of the President: What are you thinking? And specifically, what are you thinking about three concerns that are central to the anger and opposition Mr. Trump faces?
Racism in the White House: The dictionary defines a "racist" as a person who shows prejudice against people of other races or believes that one race is superior to another. On this point the evidence around Donald Trump has been pretty clear for a long time. As a developer he tried to avoid renting to African-Americans. He declared that “laziness is a trait in blacks.” In politics he pronounced Mexicans to be rapists and warned that immigrants from Haiti all have AIDS. Last year, as most of the nation watched in horror as torch-bearing white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Va., the President’s early assessment was that some of them were “very fine people.” Key white nationalist leaders have giddily embraced the President as a soul mate. Today we see that attitude expressed in national policy on issues such as immigration, essentially: bring me white Norwegians but kick out black and brown people.
Trump the liar: It is easy to say that politicians all play fast and loose with the facts, but as documentable falsehoods go Mr. Trump has knocked the needle off the chart. He insisted after the election that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally, with no evidence at all to support the claim. He declared that President Obama (who he also claimed was born in Africa) tapped his phones in Trump Tower, again with no evidence. He pledged that his tax plan would offer no benefit to people of wealth like himself, while in truth about half the plan’s benefits flow to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. He even made a recent effort to deny it was really him on the infamous Access Hollywood tape boasting about how he gropes women. Should we accept less truthfulness from our President than we would demand from our own kids?
Handing the powers of government over to corporate interests: Mr. Trump campaigned hard against Wall Street, declaring that the nation’s banking giants were "getting away with murder." He said he would break up the big banks and raise taxes on financial titans. But when he took office he put those very titans in charge. Goldman Sachs bankers now occupy two of the most powerful economic posts in the country and are working hard to dismantle the rules put in place to protect consumers from a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown. Former coal lobbyists have been put in charge of dismantling clean air rules. Former chemical industry lobbyists are now in charge of regulating toxic waste in our water.
So I ask local Trump supporters sincerely: Do you believe that these things — despite the hard evidence — are simply "fake news"? Do you see these things as true but a worthwhile price to pay for a President who Tweets with swagger? After a year of watching President Trump as a reality, do you still support him just the same?
Jim Shultz, founder and executive director of the Democracy Center, resides in Lockport and returned to the U.S. in 2017 after 19 years in South America. He can be reached by email at: email@example.com.