Trumpism, like all populist movements, is based on the pernicious conceit that only the strongman speaks for the “real” people and that anyone who opposes him must be an outsider or elitist who isn’t in touch with the common folk. The corollary is that the supreme leader is justified in doing just about anything in the people’s name — even abusing his authority to punish those who don’t support him.
Reality check: A president with a 43.5 percent approval rating doesn’t speak for most Americans. In today’s America, Republicans represent more land area, but Democrats represent more people — having exceeded the Republican tally by 2.8 million votes in the 2016 presidential election and by more than 8.6 million votes in the 2018 House races.
The blue parts of the country are not only more populous but also more diverse and (no coincidence) more economically dynamic. The Brookings Institution calculated that the counties carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 account for nearly two-thirds of U.S. economic output. The gap between blue and red America is widening, with blue House districts showing an impressive increase in foreign-born workers, minorities, professional and digital jobs, productivity, and adults with bachelor’s degrees. Red districts are growing mainly in the percentage of basic manufacturing, agricultural and mining jobs, and in the over-65 population. As a result, Brookings found, “Democratic-voting districts have seen their GDP per seat grow by a third since 2008, from $35.7 billion to $48.5 billion a seat, whereas Republican districts saw their output slightly decline from $33.2 billion to $32.6 billion.”
The denizens of red America are aware that they are being left behind, and they’re not happy about it. Trump taps into that dissatisfaction, but it’s a crock to claim that the shrinking part of the country that he represents — white, rural and blue collar — is somehow more “real” than, say, the bustling city where he was born.
Rather than trying to help his constituents get ahead in a changing economy, Trump prefers to stoke their fury against the minorities, immigrants and “globalists” he blames for their woes. Trump jumps on slurs against his movement, such as Clinton saying in 2016 that half of his supporters are “deplorables.” Yet his supporters applaud when he denigrates blue America: He has said that New York City and New York state “are falling apart,” that San Francisco is “disgusting,” that California is a “disgrace to our country,” that Baltimore is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” that Atlanta is in “horrible shape” and that Chicago is “embarrassing to us as a nation.” As Windsor Mann noted in the Los Angeles Times, “He hates every part of America that doesn’t love him, which is most of America.”
Trump goes beyond words to punish blue America. The administration has revoked a permit allowing California to set tougher automobile-emissions than the federal government, while threatening to withhold billions in federal highway funds because California supposedly hasn’t done enough to fight air pollution. This makes no sense, save as retribution against the largest and bluest state.
Meanwhile, the administration has announced that it will bar New Yorkers from joining the Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, allegedly because the state allows undocumented immigrants to get licenses and won’t share its Department of Motor Vehicles database with the federal government. In fact, having a driver’s license isn’t a requirement for joining Trusted Traveler, and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has offered to share DMV records for applicants. This action appears to be part of Trump’s vendetta against New York state, which filed a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation, forcing him to pay a $2 million settlement, and is pursuing another lawsuit, now before the Supreme Court, to force him to disclose his financial records. Trump made explicit that he wants an unethical quid pro quo in return for allowing New Yorkers back into Trusted Traveler — “New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment.”
This is yet another example of Trump’s abusing his authority, just as he did with Ukraine, but he gets away with it because his followers think he’s championing their interests rather than his own. The red states aren’t being taken advantage of by the blue states but by the unscrupulous demagogue in the White House. As a proud resident of New York City, I’m fed up with the president’s vendetta against the most populous and productive parts of the country. We’re real Americans, too.