Opinion: A year in, Americans are of two minds about Trump, both of them wrong

Jan 17, 2018

This week brought an update on President Donald Trump’s health from the White House physician. Trump is up 3 pounds from his last check-up but his “overall health is excellent,” said Navy doctor Ronny Jackson. He added that, at Trump’s request, he’d administered a cognitive screening test and confirmed, contrary to perceptions in some quarters, the president is not losing his mind.

If only Dr. Jackson could say the same about the rest of us.

As the first year of Trump’s presidency draws to a close, “divided” is no longer the right word to describe Americans. Even “polarized” doesn’t quite cut it. We are reaching such vastly different conclusions about what’s happening in our country that it’s hard to believe we even live in the same place.

A new opinion poll by Politico and Morning Consult illustrates the dominance of the extremities. Asked about Trump’s job performance overall and on 10 various issues, the lion’s share of respondents in every case gave him either an “A” or an “F.”

Perhaps my threshold for such grades is higher than others’. But I’d have thought it required only a smidgen of objectivity to understand the current administration is neither excelling nor outright failing right now at much of anything. Muddling through without triumph or catastrophe is more like it.

Granted, simple partisanship explains a lot of this. On only two issues did a majority of self-described Democrats not rate Trump’s presidency so far an F; his performance on the economy and jobs was deemed a failure by mere pluralities of them. While Republicans gave Trump an inordinate number of A’s, at least they were about as likely to downgrade him to a B or, in the case of “draining the swamp,” a C.

Grades on an opinion-poll report card aren’t terribly important in the end. It is apparent, however, that Americans are all too willing to define down such standards as excellence or failure.

Consider the 27 percent of Republicans who rated Trump’s handling of the debt as an A. Maybe in the rosy projections of the president’s budget office, but an administration that is cutting taxes, refusing to talk about entitlements and trying to ramp up military spending is not — whatever its good intentions — excelling on this score.

Then consider the 47 percent of Democrats who gave Trump an F for the economy. By what measure? Next week’s GDP report is expected to mark three straight quarters above 3 percent for the first time since 2004-05. Job growth remains steady, if unspectacular, and last month’s tax-reform bill prompted numerous companies to announce wage increases or bonuses for employees and new investments. The latest is Apple, which on Wednesday said it would create 20,000 new jobs and make $30 billion in capital expenditures over five years, and implied it was repatriating about a quarter of a trillion dollars in cash from overseas.

Sorry, but to grade Trump as either excellent or a failure at this point, on any issue, is to dwell in one’s feelings, not the real world. Maybe the folks on one extreme or the other will end up being right, but for now they’re just suffering from the latest strain of Current President Derangement Syndrome. Like the worst diseases, it gets nastier and more incurable with each mutation.