The only way to make any sense of the fierce crosscurrents sweeping over American political life now is to watch two trends that are only slightly connected.
First is the continuing great national sense of relief that the chaos and pandemonium of the Trump era is over.
There are not nightly cascades of provocative and frequently outrageous tweets and the days are not filled with confrontations in which the president’s enemies assault him like picadors, and he rises to every challenge like a compulsive single combat warrior.
To Trump’s scores of millions of admirers, he was merely returning fire from those who attacked him unfairly. To Trump’s enemies, his opponents were only doing their duty to assist in retarding the progress and hastening the departure of the Great Ogre.
To the independent voters, a beleaguered minority in the Trump era, it was Trump’s America, regardless of blame, and to the majority of Americans, the indignity inflicted upon the presidency and the strain of the constant din of needless and often witless combat became insufferable and had to end, whatever the policy consequences.
At its most acidulous, this was the Trump-hate vote, more benignly, it was the Trump-abatement vote. But the majority of people, including probably a majority of Trump voters, didn’t like it and simply could not stand the tumult of the Trump presidency.
Even thoughtful Americans who do not have confidence in Joe Biden and don’t approve of most of what he is doing, are still deeply grateful to be relieved of the nerve-racking cacophony of the Trump presidency.
This is what is chiefly supporting the Biden honeymoon 100 days into his presidency. Most of the polls remain politicized, inaccurate, and largely unprofessional, as they were in the late presidential election of ineradicable and horrifying memory (and result).
But the average of them seems to give this president approximately a 53 percent approval rating to about 42 percent negative. This is a solid and respectable result and a better showing than President Trump had any point in his term.
Though given that he was the subject of a completely unprecedented consistency and intensity of media and celebrity assault, his performance in the almost uniformly nasty and stacked polls entitles him to a special achievement award for carrying nearly 48 percent of the vote and probably forcing the Democrats to steal the Electoral College with harvested ballots in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and for producing so taut a political crisis that the Supreme Court ducked it (in the Texas challenge supported by 18 other states), assumedly under the mistaken assumption that that would spare them the threatened effort to pack the high court.
This total, the anti-Trump share of the honeymoon approval rate, as in all presidential honeymoons, is slowly declining. But it is also more vulnerable than other presidential honeymoon poll results, because it is not really based on any enthusiasm for Biden, but rather on the passage of something that has gone and is not threatening to return imminently.
The last time we saw anything of this kind was in the first year of President Nixon as the antiwar and race riots of the late Lyndon Johnson era faded, and in the Ford and early Carter years, when there was no longer any reason to think of Watergate.
The second indicator of political opinion is the independent policy areas where the new administration’s performance is measured. Here, the sands are running out in the hour-clock for the Biden administration’s attempt to smoke far-left legislation through on the threadbare flying carpet of anti-Trumpism.
The vulnerability of President Biden’s position is underscored by the fact that apart from his handling of the coronavirus and related problems, the majority disapprove of his performance in all other areas, most markedly the southern border and immigration, but also including the economy, foreign policy, and law and order and public security.
Approximately 90 percent of Americans believe that there should be a border and a process to entering the country; over 80 percent unconditionally oppose violent demonstrations and riots, the overwhelming majority support adequate police protection, if with more sophisticated rules in armed confrontations, and there is little enthusiasm for increased taxes or profligate spending.
The principal anti-Trump television networks seem to have lost about 50 percent of their viewers and the public clearly is not much interested in an indefinite continuation of mudslinging and defamation against the former president, either as a substitute for the new administration presenting and executing its policies, or for the national political media restoring a substantial element of professional reporting where for the previous four years it had self-righteously substituted Trump-hate.
It is of the nature of polling that unpleasant memories of former presidents recede and the prestigious fact of them having been presidents and in many cases the highlights of their presidencies remain comparatively well fixed in the public mind.
Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were generally reviled when they left office, but after some years they came again to be recognized as outstanding figures of American public life. President Trump was not generally a quick learner in the art of public relations while he was president, but it must be said that he has played his hand skillfully these last three months.
The initial post-inaugural efforts to torment him endlessly, portray him as an advocate of insurrection and to suborn and extort evidence against him in all manner of ubiquitously alleged imminent proceedings while pretending there was some comparison to be made between Jan. 6 and 9/11, has been a complete failure.
All the headlines and television news introductions that the Trump mob had killed capitol police officer Brian Sicknick have been exposed as pure fabrication, a campaign of outright lies. All the allegations against the Trump campaign organization of incitement of the vandalism at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 have proved to be unfounded.
And throughout these three months the former president has issued press releases without hyperbole and has given relatively few interviews and only one major speech and on every occasion he has been judicious.
Joe Biden does well with the public as an apparently amiable personality, and he probably deserves credit for at least bringing to serious consideration a far more radically left agenda than the public would approve of, in a way that has not squandered the general perception of him as a likable person.
But we are almost at the point where this administration’s attempt to revolutionize American elections by practically abolishing any verification process for ballots and turning election day into a weeks-long orgy of ballot-harvesting, while packing the Senate and the Supreme Court and gagging congressional minorities, will collide with public opposition to all of these measures.
In those circumstances, the Supreme Court, its attempt at appeasement of the Democrats by abdicating as head of a co-equal third branch of government having failed, might also reassert the legitimacy of the Constitution.
A turning in the road is almost at hand.