WHITE HOUSE —
Thousands of Americans are planning to “scream helplessly at the sky" in a show of what organizers say is disgust and frustration at Donald Trump’s election as president exactly one year earlier.
The unprecedented protest being played out in many American cities has been mocked by conservatives, sparking incendiary exchanges on the Internet that illustrate the depth of the partisan chasm that divides the significant minority of staunch Trump loyalists and the equally vocal, and arguably larger group that detests him.
“American politics had begun to polarize long before President Trump, and crystallized into a sense of tribalism that now pervades politics,” said Dan Mahaffee, executive director of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. “We increasingly see ardent Democrats, ardent Republicans, and little in the middle in terms of pragmatism.”
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week is evidence that Trump is the least popular president in the 70 years since polling began. Fewer than four in 10 Americans say they approve of his handling of the job. Almost 60 percent say they disapprove, most of them “strongly.”
Even many members of Trump’s traditional Middle American support base say he’s not their ideal president.
“He can be awfully hard to like,” said retired Colorado business executive Eugene Bourque. “But I want someone in the White House who I believe supports the four Cs [Christianity, Capitalism, Conservatism and the Constitution] and is willing to fight down and dirty to protect them.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shrugs off the low approval ratings, noting public dissatisfaction with Congress is significantly greater.
“His numbers are a lot better than the Congress. I’d take the president’s numbers over Congress any day,” Huckabee Sanders said during a panel discussion at George Washington University marking the election anniversary.
The press secretary attributes Trump’s unpopularity in part to overwhelmingly negative reporting from a hostile press. She cited an independent study showing coverage on several TV networks had been 93 percent negative, compared to 40 percent negative during the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“For people to pretend like there isn’t a greater sense of hostility towards this administration, I think would be to ignore real facts.”
Faced with this perceived animosity, Trump has rewritten the rulebook on presidential communications.
“Trump uses [Twitter] to bypass the press in ways that convey an utter disregard for the role of journalism in democratic societies,” says Stanford University professor of communications Theodore Glasser. “Presidents often have an adversarial relationship with journalists, but I can’t think of a single president, including Richard Nixon, who comes close to Trump in terms of his fear of public scrutiny.”
Presidential scholar Mahaffee said Trump understood early-on how to exploit the partisan divide and public distrust of the media.
“Social media allows for rancor and sensationalism to triumph over fact and reason,” Mahaffee told VOA. “President Trump harnessed these divides for his own ends to get elected, and his approach has been to further them for his own ends to govern.”
White House officials have brushed aside suggestions that Trump should curb his social media habit. Huckabee Sanders says one of the reasons he was elected is because voters appreciate a politician who says what he or she really thinks.
"They wanted somebody who wasn’t scripted every single minute of the day and who wasn’t a programmed robot but somebody that was very candid, very authentic and would buck the system, and I think [Twitter] is one of the ways that he does that.”
When it comes to assessing Trump’s accomplishments, academics interviewed for this report were generally dismissive. “What accomplishments?” replied Stanford’s Theodore Glasser, noting that Republicans had failed to fulfill promised health care and tax reform despite controlling both houses of Congress.
Spokeswoman Huckabee Sanders, however, pointed to successes on foreign policy, battling Islamist extremism and the economy.
“He’s done a very good job of developing relationships with a lot of key partners and allies, particularly…[Japanese Prime Minister] Abe and [Chinese President] Xi that are helping to grow the amount of pressure being put on North Korea.”
Huckabee Sanders called Trump’s Middle East trip a “major moment in his presidency.”
“In Saudi Arabia, the speech he gave to, I believe it was 68 Muslim majority countries, bringing a lot of those individuals to talk about working together to combat terrorism; that was a historic moment,” she said.
The economy is doing remarkably well since Election Day, but economists disagree about how much is the “due to the “Trump effect.”
“Ahead of the election, everyone thought Trump would tank markets — futures markets fell the night of the election as it became clear he had won. But as he gave his victory speech, sentiment changed, and by the morning, stocks were up,” analyst Emily Stewart of thestreet.com told VOA .
In a tweet this week Trump noted that market value has increased $5.4 trillion since Election Day, and remains at record high levels.
Unemployment is down to 4.1 percent, lowest in 17 years. 1.5 million new jobs created since I took office. Highest stock Market ever, up $5.4 trill
Experts say that among the factors spurring the steady market growth is one Trump rarely trumpets. Yahoo News White House correspondent Olivier Knox told last week’s George Washington University panel discussion that rolling back regulations is Trump’s untold success story.
“It’s one of the signal successes of the Trump administration, something that doesn’t get as much coverage as the latest tweet, but it’s a very important story. The systematic methodical rollback of regulations,” Knox said.