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That said, there is nonetheless no doubting the antipathy of Democrat voters towards Trump. Democratic senators fought every inch of the way against Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court even though his record was blameless and his judgments have almost never been overruled — because such was the hostility of the party’s base to Trump and all his works that voting for any of his nominees was seen as a sort of treason.

The result is an atmosphere quite different from anything normal. Usually, if one has a new president in power already enjoying excellent jobs numbers and a heady stock market boom, one would expect a honeymoon atmosphere and sky-high presidential approval ratings. Instead, the atmosphere is surly, even angry, and Trump’s approval ratings have fallen from the 43-46 per cent range to a spread between 35 and 40 per cent. On the one hand this is very low; on the other hand he has kept most of the Republican bloc. This is what matters to most Republican congressmen, whose first worry has to be that any resistance to Trump’s agenda could bring them a primary challenger from the Right.

But it is extraordinary and unprecedented that Trump enjoys none of the give-him-a-chance tolerance from the centre ground that an American president can usually rely upon. Ordinarily American political culture prompts an initial respect, even reverence, for the president — he is the head of state, after all, not just the head of government — and many Americans feel that after any election they lost they should reach out towards their fellow Americans who have voted differently. Now, all this is absent and the damage to the legitimacy of the institutions could be long-lasting. Hence the ever deeper polarisation of American politics. This is not just a matter of partisan attachment. For a generation and more the Democrats have been consolidating in the large cities and megacities while the Republicans have been winning more and more of the rural areas and small towns. Thus, more and more people live in politically segregated communities. Moreover, especially in the South, the Republicans have gleefully embraced polarisation, using their majorities to gerrymander congressional seats so that (say) ten marginal seats become three Democrat and seven Republican safe seats. The way to do that is to group all black voters into a few districts. This in turn guarantees that the Democratic party in the South is represented mainly by blacks and is thus viewed by most whites as “the black party”. The result, at the end of the day, is a strong pro-GOP bias and little chance that a swing can make much difference. Instead, black and white congressmen appeal to their own racially segregated constituencies against one another and polarisation grows. Previous American presidents have lamented this polarisation and many have appointed at least one cabinet member from the opposite party. Trump has scorned that. His thumping defeat over healthcare seems to have given him some second thoughts, but it is a bit late for that.

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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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