Rethinking America

The Four Layers of Trump Disapproval

In the U.S., there is no one left who has not formed an opinion on Donald Trump. That’s a problem for Republicans in 2020.

Credit: Gage Skidmore


  • There is no one left in the US who has not formed an opinion on Donald Trump. That’s a problem for Republicans in 2020.
  • Trump is the least popular US President since Nixon. Historically, low poll ratings were centered on policy issues, but Trump is disliked first and foremost on moral grounds.
  • For many US voters, there is no getting around Trump’s flaws as a human being.
  • Long though Republicans have tried to overlook it, Trump threatens to gut the credibility of the Republican Party and all it has ever stood for.

A recent poll by Pew Research showed that Donald Trump’s disapproval rating stands at roughly 58%. That makes him the least popular U.S. President since Richard Nixon.

In addition, of the 58% who disapproved of Trump in the Pew poll, an average of 37% strongly disapproved of the President on his handling of key policy issues.

This will significantly influence the 2020 U.S. presidential elections for a special reason. Historically, in the case of other presidents, low poll ratings were centered on policy issues. Not so with Trump.

A closer analysis reveals that Donald Trump’s low ratings are due to four separate and distinct levels of disapproval.

A relentless provocateur

Trump is disliked first and foremost on moral grounds. Trump uses racism, nativism and misogyny to appeal to the basest instincts in the American soul. This runs counter to the societal values to which Middle Class America has so consistently aspired.

Trump is equally careless in his blatant disregard for the plight of people. He has conducted his entire life on the underbelly of societal norms, conning, cheating and suing his way through his checkered career in business. He is a man who has consorted with loose women, even as his wife nursed their newly-born son. He is a self-confessed groper.

The political essence of this is that, for many voters, there is no getting around Trump’s flaws as a human being. It overwhelms every aspect of his presidency and is reinforced every time he opens his mouth in public. As a result, for these people, there is no policy initiative, no soaring stock market, no Supreme Court judge that can give Trump legitimacy.

For many, it simply comes down to this: “A man like this cannot represent me as President of the United States.”

Standing against democracy

The second level of disapproval derives from Trump’s frontal assault on U.S. democratic principles and institutions. He attacks the press, the judiciary and the foreign and economic policy establishments with reckless abandon.

To Trump, the opposing party is not merely the opposition, it is a blood enemy. Trump subjects the Democratic Party to ad hominem attacks based on lies and distortions, with scant evidence to back up any of his claims. But before anyone can set the record straight on a given attack, Trump moves on to a new slander, leaving his lies to languish unchallenged in yesterday’s papers.

In the world of the historically aware, Trump’s actual domestic and foreign policy ideas matter little, because his assault on democracy matters far more. Assaults on democracy have historically produced bad results, including civil strife, the rise of dictators and, yes, war.

Thoughtful people see Trump turning America over to mob rule. His base of support contains an unruly rabble that supports radical right-wing factions, ranging from white supremacists to gun-toting militias. Trump’s detractors witness him openly pandering to this coalition of highly opinionated, mostly anti-democratic and possibly violent fringe groups.

For those Americans who care about democracy, there is nothing Trump can say or do to change their opinion of him. Simply, he is a threat to everything they hold dear about America.

Attacking the deep state

The third level of the disapproval of Trump occurs on the policy front. Here’s where things get a bit more complicated, because strong levels of disapproval exist on both sides of the U.S. political divide.

Establishment Republicans strongly disapprove of Trump’s foreign policy choices, which might find a more receptive audience among left-leaning Democrats (such as getting the U.S. out of foreign wars). These Republicans also strongly oppose Trump’s constant attacks on multilateralism, his denigration of the NATO alliance and his disregard for the principles of free trade.

They don’t like the way he cozies up to dictators and kowtows to the likes of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kim Jung Un.

For his part, Trump attacks the U.S. security establishment as the “deep state,” disregarding and even mocking the work of career professionals in the State Department, the Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence agencies.

As a result, neocons on the right and half-neocons on the left fear his policy choices, creating a layer of disapproval that crosses party lines. For these people, there is no getting past the idea that Trump is simply out to destroy America’s global hegemony and bring an abrupt end to the “New American Century.”

Destroyer of any notion of domestic safety

In terms of domestic policy, Trump is nothing less than the Democrats’ worst nightmare. His over-the-top embrace of Republican ideology puts the most vulnerable Americans at risk, as he slashes and burns his way through the U.S.’s already inadequate social safety net.

His attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act was seen as retrograde and needlessly cruel. His tax cuts were seen to have benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. For Democrats, Trump is perceived as moving America backward rather than forward, threatening to turn the United States into a developing nation — a resource economy akin to that of Russia.

And for younger Americans, his repeal of environmental regulations, including his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, is considered an attack on America’s future. His repudiation of all things scientific on the basis of little more than bombast is an affront to many thoughtful individuals’ faith and confidence in academic rigor. It constitutes an assault on fact itself.

Trump, the catalyzer

For different reasons, some may look past the fact that Donald Trump is a moral abomination. Some may not care that he is anti-democratic. Others may find one or the other of his policy initiatives helpful to them, even if the benefit is mostly an empty abstraction — so much hot air.

Trump and his followers on the Christian Right consider hypocrisy a noble pursuit, provided it yields a Supreme Court judge. His fiscally conservative supporters do the same, as long as it results in tax cuts. As for the patriots, they can be bought off with empty rhetoric.


As the 2020 U.S. presidential election cycle gets underway, these levels of blatant hypocrisy are bound to resonate among the broader electorate. Long though Republicans have tried to overlook it, Trump threatens to gut the credibility of the Republican Party and all it has ever stood for.

While there are many good and valid reasons to explain Trump’s dismal poll numbers, these numbers are hardening and there is less and less scope to change people’s minds. After all, how can it be that a single man could exist without yet having formed an opinion about Donald J. Trump?

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About Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips is a New York-based international analyst with extensive financial sector experience. [United States]

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