Monday morning the nation was startled by a collective wail emanating from the enclaves of Blue State America.
From Brooklyn and Cambridge to Alameda and Austin, liberals awoke to a New York Times poll that showed President Trump either leading or trailing slightly in head-to-head matchups with the top Democratic candidates in the nation’s most narrowly divided battleground states.
The thought of four more years of Trump was enough to send most progressive-minded Americans back to bed — or perhaps rending their garments.
That Trump remains competitive for reelection at the same time that polls show his approval ratings in the low 40s and losing badly to top Democrats in national polling is hard to figure.
It’s a by-product of America’s fundamentally undemocratic system for electing its president. In 2016, Trump won the presidency even as he lost the popular tally by nearly 3 million votes. It was the second time that had happened in the past 16 years.
For 2020, it seems highly unlikely that Trump prevails in the popular vote. His best hope is to win in the Electoral College by holding onto most of the same battleground states he captured three years ago (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) while holding back the blue wave in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, or North Carolina.
Indeed, by some estimates, he could lose by 5 million votes and still get reelected.
But what is even more horrendous about Trump winning two national elections with a plurality of voters choosing a different candidate is something else altogether: that we could even be having this discussion at all.
The idea that Trump has any hope of getting reelected after what he’s done the last nearly three years as president seems beyond comprehension.
One might imagine that in a healthy and compassionate society, a president who literally took children from their parents and locked them in cages would cause his popular support to plummet.
One might think that committing multiple crimes as president — repeatedly obstructing justice, intimidating witnesses, dangling pardons, abusing power, actively and flagrantly profiting from being president, using the office of the nation’s highest office to extort a foreign government in order to target a political rival — would cause even the most loyal Republican to wonder whether Trump is the best person to hold the nation’s highest elected office.
Perhaps if Trump’s policies had actually bettered the lives of those who support him — which is overwhelmingly white, non-college-educated voters — it would all make sense. One would perhaps expect that a president who cuts taxes for the wealthy (and himself), manages a disastrous trade war, leads an assault on Obamacare that threatens to take health care away from millions, attacks the environment to the benefit of wealthy polluters, makes cuts in food stamps, school lunches, etc., might give Trump’s working-class supporters pause.
How does one process the rank incompetence, the malevolence, the nepotism, the childish tweets, the divisiveness, the hatred, the bigotry, the misogyny, the anti-Semitism, the neediness, the incoherence, and then decide, yeah, this is what America needs four more years of?
But this is where we are as a nation.
In 2016, Trump famously declared that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his base of supporters still wouldn’t abandon him. Does any one truly doubt that? Indeed, right on cue, there’s a new poll out today that has 62 percent of Republicans saying they can’t think of anything Trump could do to lose their votes.
It gets to what is, hands down, the most shocking fact about the Trump era in American politics. It’s not the president’s behavior (though it’s pretty shocking). It’s not the yes-men, hucksters, and amoral hangers-on who work at the White House and Fox News and have sustained Trump while in office. There are always those who will surrender their honor for influence and power — and of course there are plenty who like the things Trump does and says.
It’s not the spineless congressional Republicans too timid and feckless to take on Trump while the democratic institutions they’ve taken an oath to uphold crumble around them. That there are politicians willing to kneel down before a golden calf and sacrifice their integrity is not new (though rarely have we seen so many willingly walk themselves into a moral abyss).
No, what is most remarkable is the sheer number of Americans whose faith in Trump can evidently never be shaken. The whole ecosystem of Trump enablers would not exist if it weren’t for the millions of Trump backers out there who will support him no matter what he does and who will punish any Republican or conservative who sounds a discordant note about him. There is no logic to the nation’s worst president — and arguably worst person — having the most loyal political supporters.
At the core of the liberal revulsion over four more years of Trump is not simply the prospect of four more years of outrage; four more years of racism; four more years of incompetence and cruelty; and four more years of presidential tweets — it’s that there are so many Americans who actively welcome it.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.