25 July 2019
by J.R. Thomas
If President Trump is looking a bit rueful at the moment it is because for once he has slipped on his own banana skin. Usually Donald is skilled in landing the pavement slip trap in front of opponents; this time he hadn’t looked where he chucked and it was his delicate feet that went sliding away. It has caused outrage, upsets, and annoyed the USA’s friends abroad (yes, we do mean you Theresa, M. Macron is a much better player of the Great Game). The Trumpian outbursts on Twitter often have more subtle reasoning behind them than the media and opponents give Donald credit for, but this time, things have gone a bit wrong.
In this ultra-sensitive Twitter world, where subtle nuance cannot be conveyed in 280 characters, but bile and grotesqueness can, the President has perfected the art of winding his opponents up. Generally, his Republican adversaries know not to take the bait, as do Messrs Biden and Sanders and even poor “Pocohontas” Warren (or maybe none of them have the technological skills to read Twitter). But all those young Democrats do not seem to raise their eyes from their screens long enough to ponder, “What actually is going on here?” If they did, they might discern a pattern. Mr Trump broadcasts something outrageous; they condemn him and fire back in absurdly over the top terms, the President returns fire, the whole thing gets out of control, and the President moves rapidly on to something else. But generally the episodes make the Democrats look shrill, silly, excitable, and out of touch with the ordinary American in the street, whilst the President has reinforced his standing with his core supporters, some of whom the Democrats need back if they are to win the White House in 2020. Sure, Mr Trump is once again strung up in effigy at the bar of international soft liberal opinion – but you seriously think he cares about that? Or that the voter in Des Moines does?
This may not be politics as we used to know it, with carefully crafted speeches delivered on set piece occasions to pre-briefed audiences; or elegant interviews in darkened studios with erudite journalists politely exploring new policy departures. But who has time for that? Twitter your change of policy and wait for the outrage to miss the point.
Until now. Mr Trump made a rude, and for him, thoughtless slip, telling the four Democrat congresswomen who had joined forces to criticise him (for the record: Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley) to “go back home” if they did not like the USA. This has been widely jumped on as racist, and also as stupid, as three of the four are US born and raised (Omar was born in Sudan). Mr Trump hastily protested that he “has not a racist bone in my body” and indeed he has not suffered any serious accusations of racialist leanings before, but the damage was done. The big stick was for once in the hands of his opponents and they used it with alacrity and enthusiasm. In fact, had they sat down to think carefully, they might have made a much stronger point by quiet dignity and thoughtful moderation. But The Donald had chosen his targets well. They rose to the bait. Mr Trump, who of course does not do quiet dignity and thoughtful moderation, cranked things up some more, assisted by Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana (“no relation” as he jokes his middle name is) who labelled the four women “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and intensified the charm by calling them “wack jobs” and “left wing cranks”.
The President gleefully picked up this theme, commentators and Democrat politicians weighed in with yet more invective, and those of us raised on a diet of the real John Kennedy, MacMillan, and Thatcher, and Reagan, watched the whole thing descend into one of those playground brawls in which everybody gets bruised and battered. Except there is no teacher to sighingly sort the whole lot out and make the miscreants do detention for three nights.
In a way Mr Trump has succeeded in his objectives of getting the Democrats representatives to look and behave like people who his core supporters would not want to support in 2020. Indeed it is noticeable that the main Democrat Presidential candidates have been somewhat reserved in their reactions. That may be prudence, not wishing to get into Mr T’s games, or simple distractions. There certainly are distractions. Mr Biden is struggling with his own mis-steps and what appears to be tiredness, and Bernie Sanders is in union trouble. Yup, the self-proclaimed socialist candidate has been accused of not paying his campaign staff the minimum wage – the problem being that he pays agreed wages of $600 a week for 40 hours work. But some of his team are working 60 hours. Bernie then criticised the union (yes, they are unionised – Bernie suggested it) for making the dispute public, conduct which he has been warned breaches employment law – it counts as unfair influence on negotiations. The union now insists everybody works maximum 40 hours a week; so Bernie is bringing in unpaid volunteers. The union does not like that one bit, of course. Not quite so easy as Bernie thought, this socialism stuff, and no doubt the electorate is making notes.
Meanwhile, Kamala Harris has the sort of problem you only get in California. The Senator is raising money in her home state by the traditional means of spending a lot of time with the rich stars of Hollywood (not sure this is quite the thing for these strange times, but no doubt she knows best.) She gratefully attended a fundraiser by music mogul Scooter Braun [Ed: Who?] which got a good celeb turnout but has really raised the hackles of one Taylor Swift [Ed: I know who she is] who is in bitter dispute with Braun. Swift has a huge following who are all now saying they won’t support Kamala, but will go with Cory Booker. For the benefit of those of us struggling in this milieu, he is not a star but a Senator, a 2020 presidential candidate, and a friend of Ms Swift.
So, to Mr Trump. If he has supporters in Hollywood they are keeping low profiles and the “Go Home” debacle will lower them further. For once his ebullience and grasp of modern media campaigning has not done him any good. Senator Mitch McConnell, a senior Republican and Senate Majority Leader said that Mr Trump was not a racist, but that rhetoric had got much too heated right across the spectrum, and that all politicians “including the President” should concentrate on attacking ideas, not individuals. Amen to that, Sir.
However, it is so early in the campaign that this skid will not do much damage. It may be a useful lesson to the President that even he can make mistakes, and speak, or wiggle his thumbs, without proper reflection. The Republicans, though a bit taken aback, after gulping and blenching a bit, have gone along with Senator McConnell – and the fact that they have currently no other serious candidates for 2020. The Presidential daughter (there are two but we mean Ivanka), is said to have pointed out the facts of life to her father. By September, when we will return, it may all be looking – well – pretty much the same.