Friday, November 30, 2018


Here's a Twitter exchange I saw this morning:

The media's email coverage in 2016 was obviously excessive, but attention was paid to Donald Trump's business dealings, to his implausible denials of an interest in Russia, and, certainly, to his refusal to release his tax returns. However, we've been told at least since the Reagan era that "career politicians" are terrible and if you really want to clean up government you should elect a businessman. It isn't just voters in conservative parts of the country who fall for this -- liberal Massachusetts elected Mitt Romney governor, and liberal New York City gave Mike Bloomberg three terms as mayor.

As a rule, business executives who go into politics sever ties with their old lines of work, but Trump has tested whether voters really care about appearances of propriety, and in 2016, as it turned out, 46% of voters didn't. Polls in 2016 showed that even the majority of Republicans wanted Trump to release his tax returns, but he didn't, and they voted for him anyway.

According to the myth of the CEO as ideal politcal leader, it's business instincts that make a corporate chieftain a good government executive. Much of America also believes that CEOs, along with generals and college football coaches, are our alpha males. So if we'd known more in 2016 about what Trump was up to in Russia, I'm not sure it would have made a difference in the vote. I'm not sure the new revelations will hurt his polling now.

One problem is that Russia isn't an enemy of the United States in the same way that, say, Al Qaeda and ISIS are. Any U.S. president at this moment would be engaging with Putin in civil terms in at least some areas of mutual interest. The public has mixed feelings about Russia -- in an August Gallup poll, 76% of respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion of Vladimir Putin, but 58% said it's "more important that the U.S. continue efforts to improve relations with Russia."

So Trump trying to make money in Moscow by currying favor with Putin, and adjusting U.S. foreign policy with that goal in mind, really might not move public opinion very much. However wary they are of Trump right now, Americans still believe in the myth of the CEO as politcal savior. And Americans don't see Russia as our mortal enemy.

I don't expect the president to be indicted while in office. I'd like to see him impeached and convicted -- but that won't happen until his soft support evaporates and Republican senators stop fearing that they'll pay a political price for opposing Trump. I'd like to belive this will move his less fervent supporters to the unfavorable side, but I don't see it.

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