Opinion

As America's Most Unpopular President-elect, Trump's Not Invincible

Israel has been living through a form of Trumpism for years. But Netanyahu has one enormous advantage over his U.S. counterpart: the public still loves him.

People protest against President-elect Donald Trump as electors gather to cast their votes at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, December 19, 2016.
Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

Do not despair, fellow Trumpophobes. At this rate, the incoming president might be politically paralyzed before too long by his deep, wide, accelerating unpopularity with the American public. 

After being the most disliked major U.S. presidential candidate in the annals of public opinion surveys, Donald Trump heads into the White House on Friday as a “historically unpopular” president-elect, according to Politico’s wrap-up of recent polls. Gallup puts his disapproval rating at 51 percent; at this time eight years ago, only 12 percent of Americans held a negative opinion of then-president-elect Barack Obama. 

Polls showed that Trump enjoyed a “honeymoon” after the election, just like all newly-elected presidents do. But unlike his predecessors, he squandered it with his unabated attacks on his opponents, among whom he includes America’s intelligence agencies; his uncontrollable bragging; his cabinet appointments of mainly white nationalists, anti-government radicals, bankers and Putin-lovers; and, worst of all, the confirmation by U.S. intelligence that Vladimir Putin did his dirtiest to throw the election Trump’s way, leading all but the president-elect’s hardcore supporters to face the horrifying possibility that on January 20, the White House will effectively pass into the Russian tyrant’s hands. 

There’s one more reason, I think, why Trump’s unpopularity is growing: All those Americans, millions if not tens of millions of them, who “held their noses” and voted for him because they hated Hillary Clinton even more, are now looking at the man on his own, without benefit of Hillary's reflection, and they're feeling serious buyer's remorse. They're getting a very stark reminder that the lesser of two evils (as they saw it) is still evil.

A whole lot of people – reporters, intelligence officials, politicians and political activists worldwide, along with Democrats and at least some decent Republicans in the U.S. – are gunning for him. Trump has a long, gruesome record. The revelations are highly unlikely to stop – as are his wild reactions. The voters rejected Trump by a margin of nearly 3 million ballots; he has the committed, even fanatic support of maybe a third of the American public – but beyond that, the water gets very deep for him very quickly. 

If the center of the American electorate – those who “held their noses,” along with those who voted for the “change agent” – turns on Trump, which the polls say is happening already, what will he do? How will he carry out his malicious designs? He is not an absolute ruler, not over America and certainly not over the rest of the world – how will he get others to do his bidding if they’re running away from him for fear of being tainted? 

That’s what tends to happen to massively unpopular leaders in a democracy – it gets so that they can’t lead. Think of Nixon after Watergate, George W. Bush after Americans turned against the Iraq War and the economy crashed, Ehud Barak after the second intifada broke out – as heads of state, they were dead men walking. The Putin-Trump connection may already be a debacle of that size – with the potential to dwarf them all. And unlike Nixon, Bush, Barak and so many other leaders whose time at the top ended badly, Trump starts off deep in the hole. 

With his shameless lying, demagogic genius, contempt for the checks and balances of democracy, superiority complex, greed and bigotry, Trump has rightly been compared to Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli liberals are warning their American counterparts about what to expect, because this country has been living through a Hebrew version of Trumpism since before the decade began. 

But Netanyahu only gets away with it – eternalizing the occupation, demonizing Arabs, Jewish leftists and African refugees, persecuting human rights NGOs, siding with an executioner in uniform against the IDF, flaunting his contempt for the Obama administration, luxuriating in the largesse of billionaires, plotting to enslave the media, etc., etc., etc. – because the Israeli public supports him. They’ve elected him four times. He’s consistently alone at the top in polls of the public’s choice for prime minister. 

If he was as unpopular here as Trump is in America – or, certainly, as unpopular as Trump could become – Netanyahu wouldn’t be able to work his will on Israel like he does. His allies and enemies would see him as vulnerable, dispensable, nobody they need to obey, and probably somebody they should avoid. 

There’s no guarantee, of course, but this could turn out to be Trump's fate, and in not too distant a time. Even if he doesn’t get impeached, he could find himself crippled as president, all but impotent. He’s not invincible – in fact, as a megalomaniac, he has blind spots all over. The way he’s going, he most definitely can be taken down. 

So chin up, Team Decency, as Inauguration Day approaches. Maybe Satan isn’t ruling heaven and earth yet. And maybe what goes around comes around. 

Larry Derfner is a copy editor at Haaretz and he blogs at www.larryderfner.com. His memoir "No Country for Jewish Liberals" (Just World Books) will be published in April 2017. Follow him on Twitter: @DerfnerLarry