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It’s a good question, for everything about Trump is trashy. To go from Obama’s rhetoric to his is to fall off a cliff: even his favourite insults (“crooked Hillary”) have no wit or even alliteration. Let’s leave aside the woman-grabbing, the endless schoolboy fascination with beauty contests and his campaign lapses into misogyny: when he was asked whether he’d still love his wife if an accident deprived her of her looks he replied that it would depend on what happened to her breasts. This is real trailer-trash stuff. During his campaign for the GOP nomination I asked someone who knew him well who Trump was relying on as policy advisers. Nobody at all, he told me: in the phrase the French used to use in the days of Giscard d’Estaing, he “consulted his own genius”. 

The worrying part of this is not just that Trump is clearly very ignorant (it was a revelation to him that healthcare was an extremely complicated field) but that he didn’t know that he didn’t know and nor did he understand the need for expert advice. Trump makes no secret out of the fact that he doesn’t read books (“much too busy — and since I became president, even more so”.) Indeed, his attention span is too short even for long articles, let alone for complicated pieces of legislation. This was a major complaint of Republican Congressmen whom he lobbied to pass his healthcare legislation. When asked why the bill was so important he would simply say that his administration needed “a big quick win”. When they wanted to discuss particular provisions of the bill he quickly retreated to saying they needed “to look at the big picture”. They quickly realised that he hadn’t even read the bill and knew nothing of its details.

The president’s happy toleration of — indeed, liking for — trash has political consequences. Although he has privileged access to authoritative daily intelligence briefings, he prefers, nonetheless, to rely on Breitbart, Newsmax, Fox and the Michael Savage, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh radio shows. The problem is not just that this suggests a determined triviality of mind. The Obama White House had its lowbrow side too: many people, including Michelle Obama, found the frequent presence there of Oprah Winfrey something of a trial. The point is that the president believes and happily recycles the fake news from the right-wing media, such as his allegation that Obama had been wiretapping him. And it is precisely in these right-wing media outlets that the war talk reaches a crescendo.

It is worth stressing this point. By contrast, most of the war talk by the Democrats — the “resistance”,  Californian secession and sanctuary cities — has been defensive and even that has mainly been venting. The early talk of impeaching Trump cheers up Democratic activists but is wholly unrealistic. Similarly, some anti-Trump activists obsess that the Trump forces are bent on a coup d’etat and produce alarming scenarios in which a major terrorist strike leads Trump to lay the blame on the judges (for blocking the immigrant bans), suspend habeas corpus, reinstate torture, create a Muslim register, introduce new restrictions on immigration and take arbitrary powers. None of that is impossible but it belongs purely in the realm of imagination. Even so, most such talk is badly misjudged. American voters will not take kindly to the idea of a Resistance to a duly-elected president, and polls show 80 per cent majorities believing that city officials should co-operate with the federal authorities and not defy them. What is required is dull, slogging work to help swing the key target bloc — socially conservative, white working-class voters — back towards the Democrats.

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Mark Falcoff
June 5th, 2017
7:06 PM
Mr. Johnson is not quite right about those "black" congressional districts in the South. No doubt Republicans have benefited from their existence, but they were created under orders from the courts to provide what was considered more adequate representation for black communities in the US Congress. Since in most Southern states blacks are in a distinct minority (the only exception being Mississippi, and formerly Louisiana before the hurricane/flood) under normal circumstances they would remain a minority in any congressional district where the lines were drawn by natural geography. (This would surely be the case, for example, if we went over to the list system in use in Germany and many other countries.) By the way, I wonder if Mr. Johnson has spent much time in the American South. As a Yankee born and bred, I can assure him that relations in many places there between the races are more fluid and cordial than in the cities of the North. My experience in the US Army also taught me that Southern blacks and whites have much the same sense of humor. This doesn't of course resolve all the outstanding issues of inequality and lack of opportunity (but also for many poor white Southerners, which is why I met so many of them in the military) but needs to be taken into account before positing such dramatic scenarios as he has.

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