August 30, 2018
Donald Trump is a bad joke as a President, which raises a fundamental question: how did we get stuck with him? He was chosen by our odd, anti-democratic electoral system, having lost the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes. However, he drew almost 63 million votes, more than any presidential candidate other than Barack Obama. Much of what is known about him now was known in 2016, so why did so many vote for him? Looking at it from the other side, why do so many still support him?
Let’s deal with the electoral system first. The Constitution provides for the process in Article II, Section 1. Each State has “a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” As all but two states  award all of their electoral votes to the popular winner in that state, the system is a hybrid of a popular vote within a state and a final, weighted, vote by states, the latter element being a relic of the Eighteenth Century. Twice in a period of sixteen years we have “elected” the candidate the people rejected.
The odds of amending the Constitution to eliminate this procedure are slim. A somewhat better chance is offered by the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement between states to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It has been enacted by states possessing 172 of the necessary 270 electoral votes.
The popularity question is less easily answered. The rabid crowds at Trump’s rallies are not a true picture of his supporters, as they certainly are the most disaffected, least informed and most easily misled. However, we can’t get away from the fact that 80% of Republicans state their approval of him in poll after poll.
Trump sometimes is described as a populist, an oddity for one who lost the popular vote, and his agenda clearly is tilted toward the wealthy and powerful, so he’s not a populist in terms of policy. Enthusiastic support is understandable from those benefitted by tax cuts and deregulation, but the reason for support by ordinary folk is less obvious. One factor is simply party loyalty, a powerful impulse in a time of polarization, but there is more to it: a mood of resentment, rebellion and reaction, one facet of which is white nationalism.
Less than six years ago we reelected a black semi-liberal by a margin of almost five million votes; has the electorate changed radically in that time? About eight million more people voted in 2016 than in 2012, but that is only the sixth-highest increase by percentage between presidential years since 1964, and it isn’t likely that all the new voters were reactionaries.
There is an argument, widely accepted, that “Trump Democrats,” those who voted for Obama but switched to Trump, were his key to success. However, that doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny; as Dana Milbank put it in a recent column, “The number of Obama-to-Trump voters turns out to be smaller than thought. And those Obama voters who did switch to Trump were largely Republican voters to start with. The aberration wasn’t their votes for Trump but their votes for Obama.”
The theory that it was the working class that elected Trump founders, at least in part, on the definition of “working class,” those without a college degree; some very wealthy people lack those degrees. Income is a more significant index; “approximately three-quarters of Trump voters were from households earning more than the national median income. . . ." 
There isn’t much doubt that the culture has worsened, so in that sense the people have changed for the worse. However, the tie between that and voting patterns isn’t clear and, again, Obama was reelected in 2012. Whatever change there may have been in the voting public since then, the more serious problem is that, in different ways, the parties have changed, not for the better, and those changes have led to the election of, and support for, Trump.
Democrats are viewed, with some justice, as wedded to an agenda which is foreign, in a cultural sense, elitist, and more concerned about minorities than the people in general. Also, while trending to the left culturally, the Party has, in an odd exercise in cognitive confusion, become more conservative economically, becoming so cozy with business and finance as to present little reason to vote for Democrats on pocketbook issues.
Republicans have embraced, made peace with, or in some cases unintentionally reenforced the worst attitudes and arguments on the right. An example of the last is given in a recent book by a Republican campaign strategist: “After the 2010 elections, we learned to motivate and activate Tea Party voters. . . .” Unfortunately, they were waiting, not for “a conservative revolution,” but for ”a strongman, a caudillo, a Saddam.”
The Party’s unwillingness to oppose Trump encourages his base to believe he is doing the right things. If Republicans refuse to accept facts, such as the evidence of climate change, and attack the media, it’s not surprising if many people believe nonsense and ignore the evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office.
Republicans have claimed, for decades, that Democrats aren’t real Americans. However, now they have help: the proliferation of right-wing television and internet commentary, spreading misinformation, recycling absurd conspiracy theories. Fox News has been around since the Nineties, but it has become more rigidly biased. Before “Hannity,” there was, until January, 2009, “Hannity and Colmes,” in which the latter made some attempt to put forth a liberal view. Now Fox is a Trump echo chamber, and evangelical leaders, abandoning all concern about personal morals, lend support.
Although the culture is coarsening and people are less well educated politically, those are long-term trends. The people haven’t undergone a radical, recent change and there is nothing new about the selfish rich, the bigoted or the foolish. Properly guided, the majority can act rationally, but those with influence, political and otherwise, have led many of them down the wrong path, or have failed to lead at all. The result is Trumpism. The familiar King James version of Proverbs 29:18 tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” A more apt translation is found in the American Standard Version: “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.”
The bad joke is still President, doing harm while his Party looks the other way and his legions applaud, but some encouragement might be taken from Proverbs 29:16: “When the wicked are in authority, transgression increases, but the righteous will look upon their downfall.”
44. Maine and Nebraska award two electoral votes to the statewide winner, and one to each winner in a congressional district.
45. There is a more extended discussion of such elections prior to 2016 in my note of January 14, 2013.
49. Rick Wilson, Everything Trump Touches Dies, p. 104
50. Revised Standard Version; New Revised Standard