Historians and political scientists analyze the world in terms of nation-states. The nation is the people and the state is the government. When a gap occurs between the people and their government, even a democratically elected one, a variety of things can happen on a graduated scale from a new election to a revolution.
The new Trump Administration is not the first to be led by a president with a low approval rating. It is the first where that low rating occurred so soon after an election. Even presidents such as Harry Truman who experienced low approval at certain points, came back to be considered by history and reflective opinion to be somewhere between better than average and outstanding.
Aside from this early opening slump, the other rare circumstance for the new Administration is that its Party controls virtually all of government, not only the White House and all the executive agencies, but also both Houses of Congress and soon the Supreme Court. This partisan accumulation of power in effect sets aside Constitutional checks and balances, leaving one Party, and only one of its wings, to dictate policy and its application.
Several factors contribute to the public unhappiness with the President and many in the Congressional majority, even though they claim to be carrying out the promises they made during the recent election campaign. One is the gap between propaganda and reality. Stunning numbers of those supporting repeal of Obamacare did not know it was the same as the Affordable Care Act. When asked if they believe there is too much government regulation, a large majority concur. The same people object, however, to elimination of clean air and water regulations, worker safety rules, food and drug regulations, and much else.
When asked if taxes are too high, a large majority say yes. But the same people are angered at tax cuts for the rich.
The difficulty is that those now running the government mean it when they propose to cut taxes, including for the wealthy, slash regulations across the board, eliminate government agencies that deliver services the public expects, reduce public pensions and privatize Social Security and Medicare. The people, the nation, thought they voted for a scalpel that might disadvantage a few others but not an axe that chopped off whole elements of society.
Those now in power have been sharpening the axe for decades, in some cases since the age of Franklin Roosevelt. Now, the time they have been waiting for has arrived.
Elimination of the “administrative state”, the professed goal, is guaranteed to produce an everyman-for-himself society with unsafe food and drugs, polluted air and waterways, dangerous working conditions, lower wages, reduced childhood nutrition, and the elderly and poor further marginalized.
Were the dangers not so great, it might be interesting to observe the results of a domestic and international experiment in populist nationalism that casts off security alliances, exiles immigrants, withdraws from trade treaties, lets climate temperatures (and oceans) rise, and cancels much of the New Deal and Great Society. Decades of progress now under siege did not result from the hated liberalism; it was bipartisan. The massive rejection of that progress is also a rejection of moderate Republicanism that believed in free trade and responsible regulation.
Despite the nonsensical notion that Trumpism is a revolt against the “elites” (consider the Cabinet), it is instead a revolt against social progress, mature government, and a civilized society.
In the absence of checks and balances and a mature sense of history, we have entered dangerous waters where the gap between the state and the nation will only widen. When the radical wing of one Party achieving its objectives, there will be no wide-spread demonstrations of public gratitude and affection, no town hall meetings at all, and only repeated rallies of the dwindling true believers. Even those rallies will be smaller and much angrier.