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The danger now is that the administration could be facing a series of legislative defeats. Trump has naively embraced the cause of tax reform without realising what a minefield it is: every clause of the tax code has its own special interest group and lobbying will be intense. Above all, Trump risks being undone by the same contradictions which killed his healthcare bill: a reactionary congressional majority and a cabinet full of billionaires, all wanting regressive tax changes at the expense of the poor in general, including just the sort of working-class voters who swung the midwest to Trump. The result could well be the sort of awkward compromise which could again produce revolts both by GOP moderates and the Tea Party Right. If this should happen, the frustration and anger of the right-wing media will know no bounds and the war talk will escalate.

As one surveys this dismal scene one is reminded of two separate before-the-deluge scenes. Some of the excited CEOs corralled by Trump (as a businessman, Trump believes in CEOs, not economists) have talked of this being “the most pro-business administration since the Founding Fathers”. More accurately, we are back in 1928, the era of Hoover, Jay Gatsby and the stock market boom — that is to say, in a pre-New Deal world, an era marked by savage xenophobia and the suspension of civil liberties to deal with “extremists”. But even Coolidge, Harding and Hoover never dared to present a cabinet made up almost exclusively of billionaires and generals.

The other era of which we should be mindful is the 1850s with its growing polarisation, its vilification of individuals (the abolitionist Sumner being physically beaten up in the Senate) and the increasing talk of war and secession. Over and over again men of goodwill sought to halt this slide into civil war, but we know how that ended. In the last decade I have sometimes heard the liberal Democrats who tend to be my ex-students and friends say that perhaps the South should have been allowed to secede, for then the country would have been rid of its most reactionary elements who have held it back on every issue — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, gun control, and so on. I had never hitherto expected to hear Americans — of any political hue — suggest that the Civil War had been a mistake and the break-up of the union should have been allowed.

If one relied on the right-wing websites and the talk of Democratic Resistance activists, one would indeed conclude that the country was slipping again towards internecine conflict. But in the 1850s the nation was torn by the single great issue of slavery and its extension into the Western territories. Compromises were attempted but they soon fell apart: one way or another that issue had to be settled. There is nothing like that now.

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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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