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Andrew Leber

Trump's retweet madness

The president's endorsement of a far-right fringe group has alarmed many [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 November, 2017

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Comment: Endorsing far-right ultranationalists' Islamophobic race-baiting is making a dangerous mockery of the office of the president, writes Andrew Leber.
The president of the United States is unwell.

This is obvious to anybody not ideologically beholden to supporting the man at all costs.

In the space of just a few days, he has tried to walk back his own admission of sexual assault while crowing about liberals accused of the same, attacked CNN's global credibility for petty score-settling - while boosting his beloved Fox News - and broke off from a ceremony of American Indian Second World War veterans to hurl slurs at Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren - which his office inexplicably scheduled to happen in front of a painting of President Andrew "Trail of Tears" Jackson.

And now, in a burst of retweets fired off as casually as he whines about #FakeNews, Trump felt compelled to tell his followers:

"VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!" -
"VIDEO: Muslim destroys statue of the Virgin Mary!" -
"VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!"

No context - just Muslims, Muslims, immigrant Islamist Muslims, doing terrible things that we need to watch out for.

Donald Trump retweets anti-Muslim conspiracies from Britain First leader

The fact that at least two of the videos have proven to be fake or deliberately mislabelled - the "Muslim immigrant" beating up the Dutch teenager was neither Muslim nor an immigrant, it turns out - is neither here nor there.

The author of the tweets, Jayda Fransen, helps head up Britain First, a vile amalgamation of the British Nationalist Party and Northern Ireland's militant Unionists

For those following at home, the author of the tweets, Jayda Fransen, helps head up Britain First, a vile amalgamation of the British Nationalist Party and Northern Ireland's militant Unionists - a group whose idea of a political "ground game" entails storming British mosques to hand out Bibles.

She is evidently pleased, tweeting her thanks in all-caps with the acronym for "Onward, Christian Soldiers" as a signoff.

Jayda Fransen (c) sees herself as a crusader
against the 'Islamification' of Britain [Getty]

As post-Brexit Great Britain deals with its own witches' brew of stoked-up xenophobia and political chaos, a shared language makes it all too easy for right-wing hatemongers in the United States to draw on such rhetoric in their demonising crusades at home.

Nigel Farage, not content to see his lies and demagoguery destroy the remaining global clout of the United Kingdom, is increasingly a transnational phenomenon, even travelling to Alabama - Alabama! - to campaign for now-accused-of-being-a-paedophile-but-still-likely-to-win GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Yet toxic as Farage is, he is ultimately a marginal figure bent on salvaging some sense of relevance after consigning himself and his country to oblivion.

President Trump commands the attention of millions of Americans, among them hundreds of well-educated apologists willing to leap to his defence, and bears ultimate responsibility for maintaining the - relative - unity of the nation at home, while ensuring that the myriad interests of a far-flung empire do not collide in a snarled, smoking heap of destruction.

How do you think that will turn out?

Already, the worst predictions of the late political scientist Juan Linz about the dangers of presidential systems are coming to pass: "In his frustration he may be tempted to define his policies as reflections of the popular will and those of his opponents as the selfish designs of narrow interests… The doleful potential for displays of cold indifference, disrespect, or even downright hostility is not to be scanted."

Read more: What British Twitter thinks of Britain First, Donald Trump's new favourite internet thing

Sure, plenty of pearl-clutching conservative homebodies will be glad that the president is giving voice to their fears, while plenty of DC pundits will carp that out-of-touch liberals need to understand these fears as somehow valid because of coal mines or something.

B*llsh*t.

Even a majority of Trump voters want the president to stop tweeting. And people's policy preferences don't excuse the president getting his jollies by demonising an American religious group undergoing a wave of hate crimes worse than the spate of anti-Muslim assaults that followed the 9/11 attacks - ie: worse than literally any other time in US history.

Trump has little compassion for people who don't vocally sing his praises, just as he suffers from an utter lack of empathy

He has little compassion for people who don't vocally sing his praises, just as he suffers from an utter lack of empathy - something blatantly obvious from the moment he set foot on the campaign trail.

Empathy is, of course, not a common quality among America's political elite - one looks in vain for a sign of heart-felt contrition among the Iraq War boosters now jumping on the (admittedly roomy) bandwagon of defending American norms and values against an ongoing onslaught.

Yet unless Republican leaders intend to stand up and face ample stores of xenophobia and race hatred they have long excused and stoked up among their supporters - channeling an all-too-long tradition in American politics - this kind of fear-mongering will continue. And continue. And be rationalised as the president being willing to speak uncomfortable truths, "telling it like it is". And continue.

You know which president was good at "telling it like it is"?

President Abraham Lincoln, with the end of the Civil War in sight, used the occasion of his second inaugural address not to trash his (literal) enemies or spike the football, but to drive home the evils of slavery as practiced in the American South and tolerated by the North:

"If God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword… so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'."

Great men and lesser men have occupied the Oval Office in the 200-odd years that the American Republic has endured. Yet while terrible deeds and destructive policies have issued from that office before, and will issue hence, few things have made such a dangerous mockery of the office as the president's unhinged tweeting and his ill-considered one-liners.

Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.

Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLeber


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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