Charlottesville, transgender troops and the 24 Percent Salvation Army

Can Trump shovel enough red meat to keep his presidency alive?

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published September 9, 2017 8:00AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Saul Loeb/AP/Evan Vucci/Salon)
(Getty/Saul Loeb/AP/Evan Vucci/Salon)

Okay, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out at mid-week has Trump at 36 percent, down two points since June and the lowest he’s polled since the inauguration on January 20. Seven more points to go and he’s in the 20’s. When you figure that the White House runs tracking polls of its own constantly, they’ve known this new low was coming for weeks, which may give us some clue why he has been so panicked that he’s using a goddamned front loader to shovel red meat into the maw of the Base Beast for the last couple of months. Trump is nothing if he’s not a ratings guy, and he has a finely-tuned, not to say obsessive, fascination with his numbers. He was at their mercy for the 14 years he hosted “The Apprentice,” and every time he opens his mouth in the vicinity of a microphone he rattles off everything from his electoral victory margin to the number of states he won to the number of lamesters and losers he beat in the Republican primaries, usually tossing in a few lies for good measure. But his numbers have been heading south since inauguration day. That’s why the latest polls have got to be driving him fucking crazy.

Even among his own supporters, he is slipping down a slick, steep slope. A poll of Trump voters taken by Politico in early August revealed that only 41 percent strongly approve of his performance as president, with 17 percent admitting to strong disapproval. Those numbers were 56 percent and 1 percent respectively when he was inaugurated. A few days after these troubling poll numbers were published, Trump made his series of execrable comments following the murder of a young woman in Charlottesville by a white supremacist. A few days after that, a Gallup poll had Trump’s approval at 34 percent and his disapproval at 61 percent, numbers Gallup never recorded as low or as high for either Presidents Obama and Bush.

But it’s when you peer through the looking glass that the Trump numbers really look bleak. Both a recent CNN poll and Politico’s tracking poll from last week reveal what amounts to a bottom containing Trump’s Salvation Army: 24 percent of voters who, despite everything, tell pollsters that they “strongly approve” of the job Trump is doing. His Salvation Army pops up again and again as you dig deeper, suggesting that the Trump’s actual base isn’t 36 percent, but rather the quarter of the populace who believe his lies, love his tweets and will forgive him anything. Hell, they probably also like his hair. The CNN poll reveals that 24 percent trust all or most of the swill coming out of the White House; 24 percent told an ABC poll that Trump behaves in a way that is “fitting and proper for a president;” 24 percent told ABC that they approve of Trump’s unhinged thumb-thwacking on Twitter; and yep, there are 24 percent of our fellow Americans who taunted Monmouth University pollsters by asserting that they “cannot see Trump doing anything that would make them disapprove of him.”

So when you get right down to it, the fate of Trump’s presidency lies somewhere between the 34 to 36 percent who approve of him generally, and the hard core 24 Percent Salvation Army who wouldn’t be bothered if he shot down a mother holding her baby in the middle of Fifth Avenue. But while Trump can obviously count on his 24 Percent Salvation Army to have his back no matter what, he’d better not be counting on the 10 percent in the gap above them. Which perhaps explains his frenzied hoisting of red meat in their direction lately.

It’s all been bad, but Charlottesville was the worst. His descent in early August into the sweaty regions of the white supremacist moral sinkhole to validate their disgraceful cause was truly one for the ages. What the hell did he figure he’d accomplish by regurgitating their racist swill? Well, somewhere in the 24 Percent Salvation Army are the ranks of his heavily armed Confederate flag waving racists and Nazi sympathizers whose bedside reading includes the notorious anti-Semitic tract, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Trump’s performance following the riot by white supremacists in Charlottesville and the murder of Heather Heyer wasn’t a dog whistle. It was a ringing fucking endorsement of their Aryan mewlings. He reached down there and patted that snarling Doberman on the head for what reason, exactly? To chip another notch in his loyalty stick for a bunch of rednecks who are already so tightly attached to him they look like they were fastened with a nail gun?

Jeez, you’d think he would be satisfied, but noooooo. He back-hoed more red meat under the snout of the Salvation Army by tweeting that transgender troops were banned from serving their nation in any branch of the armed services. Trump, who seems never to have met a general he didn’t like and has a bevy of them surrounding him like an honor guard, didn’t consult a single one of them before he thumb-thwacked his new transgender policy. His little dollops of early morning bullshit were so out of left field, it left them gasping on the E-Ring of the Pentagon, where the generals were well down the road to including the “T’s” in the overall acceptance of LGBT troops into the ranks. The thing about generals is, they actually like people who are eager to put on a uniform and risk their lives for their country. But Trump is apparently banking that there is a large enough piece of his 24 Salvation Army who have religious, or moral, or cultural, or some inkier objection to transgender people that his ban will drive in a few extra nails of insurance into their blind loyalty.

Well, you brave soldiers in Trump’s 24 Percent Salvation Army, I’ve got a question for you. Who would you rather see walking point on a patrol over in Kunar Province, Afghanistan at 9,500 feet in the mountains, skittering through snow banks over fields of scree from one boulder to another dodging the fire of Taliban sharpshooters hiding in that copse of pines over yonder? Your worthless chickenshit ass, or a transgender infantry sergeant with two tours under her belt, a bronze star and a purple heart on her chest, and the trust of her patrol mates jammed in her pocket like a good luck charm?

Hadn’t quite thought about the transgender troops that way before, huh? Given any thought to the fact that they are out there on the front lines carrying M-4 rifles so you don’t have to? I didn’t think so.

The problem for Trump’s base with transgender soldiers, sailors and airmen is that you can’t actually tell they’re there. Want to see what I mean? Watch this: All right, Company . . .  FALL IN! Dress right . . . DRESS! Ready . . .  TO! Stand at . . .  EASE! Okay Trumpeteers, get your civilian asses over here and let’s see you pick the transgender troops out of the formation. Go ahead and troop the ranks and have a real close look and tell us who’s who. That pair of boots over there . . .  are you sure they’re on the feet of a “real” female soldier? How about the long hair under that helmet . . .   could it have been grown out from a crew cut? Having a little trouble? I thought so.

It’s the idea of transgender troops that gets under the skin of Trump’s 24 Percent Salvation Army, the notion that they’re out there hiding among the soldiers who have volunteered to serve and sacrifice their lives for our country if need be. We can’t have that now, can we? These . . .  these . . .  fakers who say they believe in Duty, Honor, Country! These imposters, who at the same time they identify as patriots also identify as someone of a gender different than the one they were born with! Why . . .  you can’t be brave wearing a bra unless you were born to wear one . . .  can you? You can’t hump that M-240 machine gun on your big strong masculine shoulders if they’re enhanced by regular shots of testosterone . . .  can you?

See, that’s what the Trump White House counts on every day, that the hatreds and resentments and fears of his 24 Percent Salvation Army will keep them in line so long as he continues to push red meat their way. But keep an eye on the 10 percent between them and the rest of us. If his stumbling and bumbling over DACA is any measure, he’s so scared they’re not actually his that he doesn’t know which way to turn. Ultimately, he’s a weak frightened little man without anyone he can really depend on, anything he really believes in. In the end, his precious numbers aren’t enough.

He’s running out of people to shit on, isn’t he? Maybe we should play a game: Who’s next?

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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