Trump still has huge Repub­li­can sup­port

Cana­di­ans look­ing at Trump may ask how em­bat­tled pres­i­dent sur­vives

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Thomas Walkom’s com­men­tary ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

Cana­di­ans look­ing at Don­ald Trump may ask how the em­bat­tled U.S. pres­i­dent sur­vives. A spe­cial coun­sel has been ap­pointed to ex­am­ine his ties with Rus­sia. His de­ci­sion to fire the head of the FBI ap­pears to have left him open to charges of ob­struct­ing jus­tice.

In Congress, the word “impeachment” is bruited about, even among fel­low Repub­li­cans. His White House is said to be in chaos. But for a good many Amer­i­cans, Trump is still the man. True, his de­trac­tors main­tain their dis­like for him. Na­tion­ally, his over­all poll num­bers are be­low 40 per cent. But his sup­port­ers think he’s great. The lat­est Gallup poll es­ti­mates that 84 per cent of Repub­li­cans ap­prove of the way the pres­i­dent is do­ing his job. How can this be? The an­swer lies in the fact that two en­tirely dif­fer­ent sets of re­al­ity have been con­structed in the U.S. to ex­plain Trump. Each is plau­si­ble. Each con­tains both ver­i­fi­able facts and un­ver­i­fied spec­u­la­tion. Each refers to the other as fake news.

The sto­ry­line that most Cana­di­ans are fa­mil­iar with goes some­thing like this: Trump is a brag­gart and an id­iot. He won the pres­i­dency last year only be­cause Rus­sian agents were able to hack into the email ac­counts of his Demo­cratic ad­ver­saries and pass on em­bar­rass­ing ma­te­rial to Wik­iLeaks.

His cam­paign team and pos­si­bly even the pres­i­dent him­self may have been part of this Moscow-led con­spir­acy to sub­vert Amer­i­can democ­racy. Trump fired FBI di­rec­tor James Comey be­cause he feared the bu­reau’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion was get­ting too close.

But the wily Comey kept notes of his meet­ings with the pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing one dam­ag­ing memo that has been leaked to the press.

This is the sto­ry­line that is be­ing ex­panded upon and ar­tic­u­lated ev­ery day in main­stream news­pa­pers, such as the Wash­ing­ton Post and New York Times.

The U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment ap­pointed former FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller Wed­nes­day as a spe­cial coun­sel to over­see the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that Rus­sia and Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign col­lab­o­rated to in­flu­ence the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The other sto­ry­line is ex­pressed through right-wing out­lets, such as Bre­it­bart News, for­merly run by key Trump ad­viser Steve Ban­non.

This sto­ry­line sug­gests that dam­ag­ing emails were passed onto Wik­iLeaks not by the Rus­sians but by a com­puter spe­cial­ist work­ing for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee who was mur­dered last year. It notes, cor­rectly, that Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange — while not con­firm­ing the young man as his source — of­fered a $20,000 re­ward for the ap­pre­hen­sion of his killer.

The al­ter­na­tive sto­ry­line pays less at­ten­tion to the con­tent of the dam­ag­ing leaks com­ing out of the Trump White House and more to the fact that they oc­cur at all.

It ar­gues that the “deep state” — mean­ing the per­ma­nent se­cu­rity bu­reau­cracy — is con­spir­ing to re­move a pres­i­dent it views as hos­tile to its in­ter­ests.

When the Wash­ing­ton Post, cit­ing un­named sources, re­ported this week that Trump had sur­prised his staff by shar­ing top-se­cret in­for­ma­tion on ter­ror­ism with se­nior Rus­sian of­fi­cials, Bre­it­bart’s head­line was: “Deep state leaks highly clas­si­fied info to Wash­ing­ton Post to smear Pres­i­dent Trump.”

In the uni­verse of news­pa­pers like the Post, any crit­i­cism of Trump by fel­low Repub­li­cans is treated as im­por­tant. In the world of Bre­it­bart, how­ever, such be­hav­iour is dis­missed as the pre­dictable re­ac­tion of an out-of-touch party elite.

“Knives out: GOP es­tab­lish­ment makes its move,” reads the Bre­it­bart head­line af­ter Repub­li­can Se­na­tor John McCain com­pared Trump’s sit­u­a­tion to that of Richard Nixon dur­ing the Water­gate scan­dal of the 1970s.

In­deed, the en­tire brouhaha over Trump is dis­missed as a whole lot of noth­ing. Bre­it­bart’s head­line, “Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment de­clares war on Trump vot­ers,” sums up the mood.

For Trump’s many crit­ics, it is easy to dis­miss the Bre­it­bart view of the world. But do­ing so ob­scures the fact that, for many Amer­i­cans, this par­tic­u­lar sto­ry­line seems more plau­si­ble than the al­ter­na­tive, which pre­sup­poses that the elected U.S. pres­i­dent is a Rus­sian stooge.

Take the con­tro­versy over the Comey memo. In the an­tiTrump uni­verse, Comey’s memo, which de­scribes Trump’s al­leged ef­fort to have the FBI go easy on fired na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn for his con­tacts with Rus­sia, is taken as fur­ther ev­i­dence of the pres­i­dent’s per­fidy.

In the pro-Trump uni­verse, how­ever, it only raises ques­tions. Does the memo ex­ist? (The reporter who broke the story never saw the ac­tual doc­u­ment, parts of which were read to him over the phone). Even if it does ex­ist, why should Comey’s rec­ol­lec­tion of a two-per­son con­ver­sa­tion be given greater weight than that of Trump, who de­nies the pub­lished ver­sion?

Th­ese aren’t stupid ques­tions. Nor is the Bre­it­bart, deep­state cri­tique of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics en­tirely out­landish. Those who want to sum­mar­ily dis­miss the sup­port­ers of this par­tic­u­lar al­ter­nate re­al­ity should keep this in mind.

THOMAS WALKOM

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